Cortisol, appropriately named the “Stress Hormone”, is a hormone produced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. It is used in the body’s normal response to stress, labeled the fight-or-flight response. During the fight-or-flight response, cortisol is released to allow blood sugar to be more available for use. In small doses, this does not cause harm to the body. However, in periods of prolonged stress, cortisol can be toxic and may lead to age-related neurodegeneration2. Excess cortisol increases cravings for fatty foods, increases abdominal fat deposits, and increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose.
Exercise at moderate levels will help decrease cortisol levels. However, with frequent intense exercise, cortisol levels stay elevated. This elevation in cortisol can hinder weight loss and even sleep.
Being well-rested is critical to keeping cortisol levels in the normal range. Lack of sleep causes an increase in food cravings especially late at night. It has been shown that people eat more than 200 extra calories per day when they are sleep deprived. So although exercise is good, adequate sleep is critical to keeping your mind and body in balance.
A well-balanced diet is important for cortisol too. Avoiding carbohydrates and sugar help keep cortisol at healthy levels.
If you are struggling with your weight, or feel like you have no energy, start with small changes in your habits. As you progress, you will find you have more energy and mental clarity. This will make it easier to modify your habits even more. Don’t wait, start making the change today!