The link between cortisol and weight gain


Both gaining and losing weight is generally an issue during and after stressful times. Increased levels of stress tend to cause imbalances in hormones such as cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline. Increased stress stimulates adrenal glands to secrete excessive and inadequate quantities of these hormones. Usually, when the stress subsides, the hormone levels should stabilize, but sometimes the irregular hormone levels remain persistent for long periods of time, often causing negative effects on our bodies.

Cortisol levels are often linked with weight fluctuation. Both an excess and deficiency of the hormone cortisol not only impact blood sugar levels and thyroid function but also trigger weight fluctuation and reduce the metabolism. The stressors that may lead to cortisol imbalances vary, but usually are emotional imbalances and duress, insufficient or disturbed sleep, excessive intake of sugar and carbohydrate, night shift work schedule, irregular meals, severe infections, excessive workouts, surgery or trauma, overworking, toxicity etc.

Cortisol levels are intricately related to the hormone insulin, which controls our blood sugar levels. When cortisol levels in the blood increase, it makes the cells of our body resistant to insulin. This, in turn, may lead to a rise in blood sugar, weight gain and even Type 2 Diabetes. When levels of cortisol in the bloodstream drop excessively this is known as adrenal exhaustion. If adrenal exhaustion occurs, blood sugar levels may decrease, often causing hypoglycaemia, linked to weight loss and low tolerance of any kind of stress. Both high and low cortisol can trigger symptoms of low metabolism including feeling fatigued, depressed, cold and experiencing decreased memory and poor concentration.

Cortisol levels, additionally, facilitate optimal hormone production from our thyroid gland. Correct thyroid function helps in maintaining a healthy metabolism. Notably, both high and low cortisol levels can impair the conversion of thyroid hormone from its inactive form to its active form, resulting in low thyroid levels, causing weight gain and symptoms of poor metabolism.

An adrenal friendly diet is often advised to patients healing from adrenal fatigue.

  1. There are certain foods that can further tax the body and should be avoided, these include the following:
  • white sugar
  • white flour
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • soda
  • fried food
  • processed food
  • fast food
  • artificial sweeteners

Foods to incorporate are as following:

  • lean meats
  • fish
  • eggs
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • leafy greens and colourful vegetables
  • whole grains
  • dairy
  • low-sugar fruits
  • sea salt in moderation
  • healthy fats such as grapeseed oil, coconut oil, and olive oil

2. Increase your vegetable intake to ensure you get the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals especially foods high in vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium to help support healthy adrenal glands. In case your meals seem to lack these, get a doctor to prescribe appropriate supplements.

3. It’s also important to keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can cause your body to accumulate physical stress and force your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol.

4. Timing your meals is extremely important and helps with both regulating blood sugar and supporting adrenal glands.

5. It helps to eat regularly throughout the day and not skip meals. Skipping breakfast or lunch forces your body to burn stored nutrients thereby reducing your energy levels.

6. Eating regular, balanced meals and healthy snacks, can help you maintain your energy and cortisol levels all day.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloPost.)

Contributed by Dt. Shikha Mahajan, Holistic Nutritionist and Founder of Diet Podium