I have heard many people say they're eating and exercising well, but they just can't seem to shift any cms. When I start to ask more questions, there is often a common theme and a possible underlying issue with Cortisol.
Many people have heard of cortisol, but few really know what it is and what role it plays in managing your body composition and your general health and wellbeing.
Cortisol is a hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism. It also plays a very important role in helping the body respond to stress. Cortisol can both help and hinder fat loss efforts. When balanced, it can be beneficial by triggering fat burning. However, when we are physically or psychologically stressed, cortisol levels get chronically high and tells the body to store fat.
We all have stress in our lives, but how we manage it can make all the difference when trying to achieve fat loss and/or other health and wellbeing goals. This article will provide some suggestions of ways you can effectively manage your stress levels.
SET ASIDE TIME FOR THE ACTIVITIES THAT HELP YOU RELAX AND UNWIND
Make time to do something just for you, whether it's spending quality time with friends and family, going for a walk, treating yourself to a massage, having a relaxing bath, or making time to read that book you've been meaning to start. Whatever it might be, organise for the kids to be minded or ask your partner to cook dinner that night, schedule that time officially into your week and make it happen.
MAKE SMALL CHANGES TO YOUR DAY TO DAY LIFE:
Stay well hydrated by aiming for at least 2 litres of water per day. If you’re really far off the mark, aim to slowly increase your intake over a couple of weeks.
Limit caffeine to a maximum of 3 shots of coffee a day. If you’re having trouble sleeping, even if you don’t believe caffeine is at fault, try reducing your intake or having your last coffee earlier in the day.
Find a youtube clip that makes you laugh and keep it on your phone to watch in times of stress. Laughter really can be the best medicine.
Buy a plant for your desk or home. Research has shown that simply being around plants can induce a relaxation response.
Take sufficient breaks at work and step away from your computer screen regularly.
Download a guided meditation and/or breathing app. There are lots out there and many of them are free. Several of my clients use them and find that they help in times of acute stress or when trying to fall asleep.
I have also read research that says kissing relieves stress by helping your brain to release endorphins, so pucker up!
FOODS TO EAT TO HELP REDUCE STRESS & CORTISOL:
In conjunction with some of the ideas above, you can also choose to eat certain foods to both reduce cortisol, and boost feel-good hormones.
When we are stressed, we often want to reach for 'comfort foods' that are usually highly processed and full of sugar. While you may think they help, they can actually make you feel worse.
By eating certain foods, you can fight the acute symptoms of stress by boosting your feel-good hormones, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing cortisol levels. This will help you to feel balanced and calm.
Capsicum reduces the amount of cortisol in the blood stream which helps manage stress. They also contain a decent amount of vitamin C, which boosts immunity. Chop up some raw sticks to take to work and munch on them on their own or with some hummus when you’re feeling stressed.
Cooked tomato is a major source of lycopene, which has been linked to a reduction of depressive symptoms. Like capsicum, it can also reduce your cortisol levels. Try adding cooked tomatoes to your breakfast routine or make some tomato soup for lunch or dinner.
Spinach and other dark leafy greens
Spinach and other dark leafy greens (such as kale, broccoli and cabbage) are rich in folate which helps your body produce serotonin and dopamine, regulating mood. Spinach is also high in magnesium which helps to lower high blood pressure. The body becomes depleted in magnesium when under stress, so getting increasing intake through food or a good supplement is a great way to bring your body back into balance.
Salmon is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids which help regulate your hormones and mood. Salmon also contains zinc, which is often depleted in the body during times of stress.
Cacao and dark chocolate
I’ve mentioned the importance of magnesium during times of anxiety, and cacao and good quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) are great sources so you don’t have to feel guilty about a few pieces when you’re stressed.
Walnuts contain a plant form of Omega 3 fatty acids that the body converts into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to lower norepinephrine, a hormone which can make your feel anxious and irritable. Add some walnuts to a salad or have a handful as a snack.
Turkey is a great source of tryptophan, an amino acid that your body converts to serotonin, the ‘happy chemical’. Research has shown that people who consume tryptophan become significantly more agreeable! You can grill or pan fry turkey steaks. I also use turkey mince when I make lasagne or bolognese. I actually prefer the taste to other mince.
ADDRESSING THE CAUSE OF STRESS
While the above suggestions will help you reduce levels of stress, unless you address the root cause, it will keep impacting your life. Some causes of stress have relatively straight forward solutions, while others are complicated to solve and difficult to face. I am far from suggesting that this process is easy, but if there are situations that cause you ongoing stress, it is worth looking at ways to make your situation even just a little easier. Sometimes even the act of taking action can provide some relief.
From my background in HR, I know that many companies have an EAP (employee assistance program) scheme which provides free counselling to employees on a wide range of issues, including financial difficulty, family or work issues. This is strictly confidential from your employer.
You also have options available through your GP. If you feel your mental health is an issue at the moment, it’s possible to receive large rebates for the cost of counselling via a MHP (mental health plan). It's a great idea to book an appointment to discuss your situation with your GP.
Health and wellbeing is not just about eating and exercising well. Unfortunately most of us are time-poor, but it's so important to consider all the things in our lives that negatively impact our health. If you make time to take action here, your future self will certainly be thankful! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.