Let’s Get Down to the Root Cause: Weight Gain and Cortisol

Are you over 40 and want to lose weight, but you’re feeling frustrated, confused, and lack self joy?

If so, you may be like the majority of my patients who are going through peri-menopause and menopause.

Do these symptoms sound familiar?

  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Disruptive sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Less resilience to stress

It can be really frustrating to not only experience these symptoms but to also see the number on the scale not budge day after day. Or worse – to see it increase.

Young women who start their menstrual cycles are well supported.

Pregnant and postpartum women receive support when they have children.

But when it comes to the 40+ year-old women, it feels like people don’t care.

You no longer have your menstrual cycle, so you should be happy. Right?

Nope, that’s not how this works. 

You don’t have to feel abandoned and lost. I’m here to help you. 

I want you to experience a thriving, symptom-free life even when you’re going through peri-menopause and menopause.

I’ve helped my patients achieve this, and I know it’s completely possible for you too.

After getting to the root cause of my patients’ weight loss issues, I found that there are two reasons why they experience weight loss resistance or weight gain after their 40s:

  1. They’re more sensitive to carbohydrates.
  2. They’re more sensitive to stress or less resilient to stress.

And here’s what not enough people are talking about – hormones are the culprit behind these two reasons. And one of these hormones is cortisol, which greatly contributes to your body’s stress response. 

So, let’s start by investigating cortisol to see how this hormone may be preventing your weight loss goals.

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is known as your “stress hormone.” It’s made in your adrenal glands, the glands on top of your kidneys. And when it’s released, it travels in your blood. 

Cortisol helps your body’s “fight-or-flight” response, as well as other processes in your body.

Because cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” it gets a bad rap.

But did you know it’s more of a “Goldilocks” hormone?

You need some cortisol, just not too much and not too little.

You need a high but appropriate amount of cortisol when you get up in the morning. Why? 

Because cortisol:

  • Gives you the energy to get out of bed
  • Breaks down your fat tissues for energy
  • Protects you from autoimmune disease.

Throughout the day, you want your cortisol levels to steadily decline until a rise occurs again the next morning.

But what happens if your cortisol levels are too high? 

What Happens if My Cortisol Levels Are Too High?

Chronic stress is at an all-time high. If you have it, you feel stressed all the time.

This stress could come from:

  • Environment
  • Foods that you’re eating
  • Poor gut health
  • Lack of sleep
  • Exposure to constant blue light

Regardless of where your stress is coming from, you’ll experience a rise in your cortisol levels.

Here’s what can happen if your cortisol levels are too high: 

  1. Cortisol increases muscle breakdown which leads to a slower metabolism.
  2. Cortisol promotes stored fat around your midsection. This isn’t good because scientists suspect a link between weight around the midsection and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
  3. Cortisol increases bone breakdown which brings a risk of osteoporosis.
  4. Cortisol triggers your appetite to increase and lowers leptin, the hormone that helps you feel full after eating.
  5. Cortisol decreases your brain’s hippocampus size which leads to stress-related disorders like depression and PTSD.
  6. Cortisol reduces your brain’s frontal lobe function, so you’re not able to make sound decisions.
  7. Cortisol reduces progesterone, your “zen hormone.” It’s also the hormone that helps you have a baby. This leads to hormone imbalances, estrogen dominance, and PMS.

So, it’s easy to see why high cortisol levels are the root cause of many symptoms I’ve seen in my patients over 40. 

Let’s investigate in more detail how this relates to weight gain.

Will I Experience Weight Gain if My Cortisol Is Too High?

The short answer: yes

But why? Why do extremely high cortisol levels lead to weight gain, especially in women 40+ years old?

Research shows that you become less resilient to stress as your age increases. You also learned that high cortisol levels can lead to muscle breakdown, stored midsection fat, and lower leptin levels.

Another reason why high cortisol levels can make you experience weight gain is that cortisol impacts your insulin levels and increases your desire for comfort foods and sweets. 

If you’ve ever heard of the term “stress eating,” that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Increased cortisol causes stress eating which can lead to weight gain and poor sleep.

Overall, high cortisol levels lead to:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Sugar cravings
  • Increased belly fat

These factors may contribute to weight gain.

What Happens if Cortisol is Too Low?

Remember – cortisol is a “Goldilocks” hormone.

You learned that high cortisol levels can lead to health symptoms, challenges, and weight gain.

But low cortisol levels also aren’t good. 

Cortisol naturally lowers at night for melatonin production to aid in sleeping, reduced inflammation, and immune system support. But, if cortisol levels are low at any other point in the day, you may experience:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Food and sugar cravings
  • Poor exercise tolerance or recovery

As you can see, cortisol levels need to be just right in order for your body systems to function optimally. 

When you’re going through perimenopause and menopause, you have an excess of cortisol. It’s okay to have elevated cortisol levels, but you want to be sure cortisol levels are high for the right reasons, at the right amounts, and at the right duration. I work with my patients to have this control in their cortisol levels. Controlled cortisol levels will help you to not experience symptoms of perimenopause and menopause and will help in your weight loss journey too.

Let’s discover what you can do to control your cortisol levels.

What Can I Do to Balance My Cortisol Levels?

Hormones play an important role in weight loss. So, if you’re on a weight loss journey, it’s important to keep your hormone levels in check.

Here are my tips to address cortisol.

  1. Consume an anti-inflammatory diet. Reduce or eliminate alcohol, sugar, and any foods that you’re sensitive to (gluten, dairy).
  2. Get adequate, quality sleep every night.
  3. Drink plenty of water so you’re not dehydrated.
  4. Exercise at the right amounts, at the right time, for the right reasons. I’ve seen that exercise can prevent my patients from seeing their weight loss goals due to the increase of cortisol during high intensity workouts.

Cortisol can affect important thyroid nutrients like selenium and magnesium. It can also reduce your liver’s ability to clear estrogens. I highly recommend a full thyroid panel to identify nutrient deficiencies and to balance cortisol levels.

How Our Metabolic Reset Program Can Help

Your cortisol levels can have a huge impact on your weight loss journey.

I want to give you the tools that you need for success, so I created our Metabolic Reset Program.

In this program you’ll receive the accountability, coaching, and foods you need to help you overcome stubborn weight loss resistance. We can also help to determine if your cortisol levels are the culprits of your weight loss struggles.

To speak to a health coach, book an appointment here.

And if you want to learn more about how hormones may be the root cause of your weight loss, subscribe to my Youtube channel and follow me on Instagram.

I’m cheering for you,

Breanne

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