All About Cortisol and Weight Gain

Woman who looks stressed, to illustrate worries about cortisol and weight gain
Medically Reviewed
April 18, 2024

In the health and wellness world, the link between cortisol and weight gain receives increased attention as people become more stressed year on year. So it’s worth paying a little more attention to what you can do to avoid this link in your own life.

The truth is, cortisol – the body’s primary stress hormone – has a role in many bodily functions. These range from regulating metabolism to influencing your immune system. Yet, the hormone’s impact on body weight is grabbing the most attention. So, let’s take a deep dive into:

  • the relationship between cortisol and weight gain
  • how to lower cortisol levels and lose weight
  • supplements to help lower cortisol

The Complex World of Cortisol and Weight Gain

When danger approaches, stress rises, and cortisol spikes. This is a survival mechanism from our ancestors, when you might be suddenly faced with a woolly mammoth and need to fight it or flee – a real survival threat that requires food for action!

Yet, in today’s world, stress appears in many other forms that do not threaten your survival. So – with lifestyle stress seemingly everywhere and food abundant, this can lead to cortisol weight gain.

Persistent lifestyle stress, linked with poor sleep, erratic eating habits, and excessive caffeine, can elevate your cortisol levels. As cortisol is a hormone, this disrupts your hormonal balance – which is always likely to lead to weight gain.

Moreover, cortisol not only affects your metabolism but also influences how you store fat. Fat usually accumulates around your midsection, which is not where you want it! This emphasizes the need for balanced nutrition and regular exercise to counteract its effects and promote overall health despite a pressurized world.

How to Fix Cortisol Levels and and Avoid Cortisol Weight Gain

Genetics can influence how your body responds to stress and regulates cortisol, but lifestyle choices and interventions can significantly mitigate any genetic predispositions you have. We’ll look at lifestyle modifications and then some nutritional approaches.

Lifestyle Modifications: The Cornerstone of Balance

Achieving hormonal balance and managing cortisol and weight gain can be done by strategically implementing targeted lifestyle changes to prevent and remedy unbalanced cortisol levels.

  • Lower stress levels. Meditation, deep-breathing exercises, or engaging with nature all work well.
  • Take moderate exercise. Brisk walking, swimming, or yoga are effective in burning calories and reducing cortisol levels. The key is to balance exercise intensity and ensure it complements rather than disrupts your body’s stress response.
  • Get quality sleep. This is foundational in managing cortisol levels, but inadequate sleep can lead to elevated cortisol and weight gain.
  • Align your lifestyle with your circadian rhythm. This supports hormonal balance, including cortisol regulation. It means being mindful of your exposure to natural light, meal timings, and activities in a way that promotes consistency and harmony with your internal clock.
  • Enhance your sleep hygiene by creating and maintaining a conducive sleep environment and routine to improve sleep quality. Try establishing a regular sleep schedule, optimizing bedroom conditions for sleep, and engaging in calming pre-sleep activities.
  • Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine can significantly impact your cortisol levels and sleep quality, especially if you consume it late in the day.

Incorporating stress management and healthy habits into your busy lifestyle is possible but requires planning and prioritization. Small, consistent changes, like short meditation sessions, choosing healthy snacks, and setting a regular sleep schedule, can make a significant difference.

How to Lower Cortisol Levels and Lose Weight: Nutritional Approaches

Your diet plays a pivotal role in modulating cortisol levels, bolstering your body’s resilience to stress through thoughtful nutritional choices. Here’s how a strategic approach to eating can support cortisol balance:

Antioxidant-rich foods

Consuming a diet abundant in antioxidants can combat oxidative stress, which is often made worse by elevated cortisol levels. Foods like berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are nutrient-dense and rich in antioxidants. This helps neutralize free radicals and supports your overall health.

High-fiber foods

Fiber plays a crucial role in digestion and satiety, and it also has a positive impact on cortisol. By stabilizing your blood sugar levels, a high-fiber diet can help mitigate the spikes in cortisol associated with rapid changes in glucose levels. This helps avoid weight gain. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber that you can integrate into daily meals.

Healthy fats and Omega-3s

We cannot overstate the significance of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing cortisol levels, especially during periods of stress. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as in plant sources such as flaxseeds and walnuts. Incorporating these foods into your diet can aid in maintaining hormonal balance and mitigating stress responses.

The Role of Supplements to Lower Cortisol

While lifestyle and diet are foundational, supplements to reduce cortisol can give you that extra push in your cortisol-management toolkit. Cortisol and weight gain are not inextricably linked if you take on these tips!

  • Ashwagandha has been shown to effectively decrease stress and cortisol levels.
  • Phosphatidylserine can be found in soy or sunflower lecithin; research found that daily supplementation can significantly lower cortisol, indicating its potential in stress management.
  • Omega-3 Supplements: Echoing the benefits of omega-3-rich foods, these supplements can reduce cortisol levels during stress, with research indicating their role in enhancing stress resilience and potentially slowing cellular aging by modulating stress responses.
  • Magnesium (aka the “relaxation mineral’” is essential for stress response, improving sleep quality, and reducing stress and anxiety levels.
  • Rhodiola boosts stress resistance, lowers cortisol production, and improves stress symptoms such as fatigue and anxiety.
  • Beyond its immune-boosting capabilities, vitamin C helps to reduce stress, with studies showing its efficacy in lowering cortisol levels and aiding in stress-induced hormonal balance.

Your Path to Cortisol Management and Healthier Living with Nava Health

Understanding the complex dance between cortisol and weight gain empowers you to take action. Embrace a balanced lifestyle, mindful nutrition, and regular physical activity as your toolkit for managing stress and fostering a healthier you.

Our doctors and nutritionists at Nava not only understand and practice integrative medicine but also know about stressful lifestyles and the problems of cortisol. Schedule an appointment today and let’s talk.

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All About Cortisol and Weight Gain
Cortisol not only affects your metabolism but also influences how you store fat. Learn how to beat the challenge of cortisol and weight gain!