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Cortisol and Fat Loss

We have touched on this before, the exercise and diet only approach to losing body fat simply doesn’t work for everyone. For many people it may, as it relies on a very simple formula. Its energy in vs energy out. If you expend more energy than you intake, you go into calorie deficit and thus lose weight. Then it becomes a case of the right calories, and having enough protein to ensure that weight loss is fat and not muscle.

But what if you are working a stressful job? Not sleeping well? Troubled relationships? When your body is in a state of flux, is becomes that age old argument of fight vs flight. We are genetically hardwired, in times of stress, to preserve tissue, to go into “fight mode”. Think a caveman getting ready to hibernate. In today’s environment, these external stresses, the inflammation in our bodies, and the raised levels of cortisol will make weight loss a tough ask, and weight gain the more likely.

Let's look at the science:

Weight gain or loss is generally an issue both during and after times of elevated stress. Heightened stress levels tend to cause imbalances in hormones like cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline. Increased stress stimulates our adrenal glands to produce excessive and inadequate amounts of these hormones. When stress subsides, hormone levels should stabilise, but occasionally the irregular hormone levels remain in tact for long periods of time, often having negative effects on our bodies.

Cortisol in particular is often linked with weight fluctuation. Both an excess and deficiency of cortisol can impact blood sugar levels and thyroid function, trigger weight fluctuation and symptoms of low metabolism.

Major stressors that may lead to cortisol imbalances vary:

• emotional imbalances

• insufficient sleep

• excessive sugar and carbohydrate intake

• shift work schedule

• frequent skipped or delayed meals

• severe infections

• overworking (mental or physical)

• surgery or traumatic injury

• excessive exercise (especially endurance)

• toxic exposures

Cortisol has an intricate relationship with the hormone insulin, which controls our blood sugar. When cortisol levels increase, the cells of our body can become resistant to insulin. In turn, this may lead to an increase in blood sugar, weight gain and potentially Type 2 Diabetes. When cortisol levels drop excessively this is known as adrenal exhaustion. If this occurs, blood sugar levels may decrease, causing hypoglycaemia, linked to weight loss and a low stress tolerance. Both high and low cortisol can also trigger symptoms of low metabolism such as feeling fatigued, depressed, cold and experiencing decreased memory and poor concentration.

To a large extent, cortisol levels also facilitate optimal hormone production from our thyroid gland. Proper thyroid function helps to maintain a healthy metabolism, but both high and low cortisol levels can impair the conversion of thyroid hormone from its inactive form to its active from. This can result in a low thyroid situation (hypothyroidism), causing weight gain and symptoms of poor metabolism.

So how do we combat this? We need to look at factors beyond nutrition and exercise. It might mean fixing your sleep before starting a weight loss program. Maybe doing Yoga before HIIT training. Maybe you need a holiday?! Or even just smile more…

To aid you in this, we have created a 9 point test based on our Universal Wellbeing Philosophy. I ask you to rate yourself on each of the 9 points below out of 10. Anything less than a 7, gives you something to work on…. It may just be the trick that unlocks your weight/fat loss puzzle.

1. Natural Movement. Are you moving naturally? Or are you sitting on a machine at a gym or just lifting heavy weights in a one planed direction? Are you walking, biking, taking the stairs, doing as much INCIDENTAL AND NATURAL activity as you can? Remember our bodies were created to move, functional movement needs to be priority. What’s you score out of 10 here?

2. Green Nutrition. Is your diet full of natural whole-foods, vegetables, fruits and unprocessed foods? Grown naturally and locally? For at least 80% of your week? What’s your score out of 10 here?

3. Conscious eating. It takes the stomach 20 mins to tell the brain it is full, meaning most of us overeat... Are you aware of this and practicing it? Score out of 10.

4. Belong and Love. How are your relationships with your close friend and family? Causing you stress or ebbing and flowing? Think about how this may affect you.. Score out 10

5. Find your tribe. Living within a thriving social circle is said to add 7 years to your life. How is your tribe? Don’t be afraid to cut ties with those who bring you down, spend time with those that bring you up. Score out of 10

6. Downshifting. This is maybe the most important one. How do you de-stress? Do you make time for yourself to have downtime, to unwind, to relax, to do your hobby? Netflix and Facebook are not down time (blue screen light increase cortisol). Honest score out of 10

7. Embrace Challenges. Yes life can he hard. Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full type person? Try to be the latter. Do you have a mindset to achieve and overcome? Score yourself out of 10 on this last point.

8. Purpose. Those who get out of bed each day with clear purpose , live longer than those who don’t. Do you have purpose, a reason for what you do, that brings you gratitude and self-belief. This can be work, spiritual, your family, a philanthropic approach. You score out of 10 should reflect whether you believe you have a purpose or not, not what your purpose is.

9. The bigger picture. Dan Buettner says charity workers are the happiest people on earth. What are you doing to make the world a better place and bring self-awareness, mindfulness and gratitude to yourself? Honest score out of 10

What is working for you and what isn’t? Hopefully the above gives you a clearer picture of ways to improve your overall wellbeing, so that if you are looking at fat loss you can then get your body and mindset into a position to achieve.

Kia Kaha

Jimmy August



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