So, most of us think of calories when it comes to fat loss, but if you have ever tried to lose weight/fat, you probably have realized that our own bodies do not work exactly like calculators.
The reason for this is that the way our bodies function has a lot to do with hormones. Yes, calories matter but if our metabolic hormones are not balanced, it will be extremely hard to achieve our goals. There are so many hormones related directly and indirectly to fat loss, but this article is about one you might not have thought of…cortisol.
You may be familiar with cortisol.
It’s a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Its purpose is to help us fight or flee when we are in immediate danger. We also have a natural cortisol curve. It peaks in the morning and then falls and is low at nightfall. This makes sense since we want to be calm and relaxed, not in fight or flight mode, at night. In times of chronic stress (HELLO motherhood), cortisol can stay abnormally high. When under this chronic stress, with cortisol chronically elevated, cortisol begins to cause us to burn the muscles in our arms and legs and actually accumulate abdominal fat.
But if we are under chronic stress long enough, the adrenal gland (which produces cortisol and other hormones) begins to fatigue and then fails.
The result of this during the fatigue stage can be an altered cortisol curve. It might be low in the morning and high at night. This can cause many problems including fatigue during the day and difficulty sleeping at night. When you enter adrenal failure, cortisol levels are chronically low. This is also a problem for fat loss and improved body composition. There are several reasons for this. Cortisol aids in fat loss when released with human growth hormone and testosterone (in situations such as exercise). Balanced cortisol levels are also necessary for thyroid hormone to work properly in our bodies. If cortisol levels are low but thyroid levels are normal, you can still present with hypothyroid symptoms (including weight gain).
So, how do we balance cortisol to keep levels optimal for fat loss as busy moms? There are supplements called adaptogens that help support adrenal function and vitamin C is also important for proper adrenal function. But I think these things are secondary to lifestyle issues.
Here are the top exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle techniques I use and teach my clients to manage stress and keep cortisol levels optimal.
1. Keep steady state cardio to a minimum because it elevates cortisol but does not elevate human growth hormone and testosterone. Instead, do resistance training (YES LIFT WEIGHTS) or do cardio intervals. Both of these things raise cortisol, human growth hormone, and testosterone which is a recipe for fat loss.
2. Try to do stress/cortisol reducing activities daily. These activities include leisurely walking, Epson salt baths, yoga, meditation, massage, and manicures/pedicures. This is important because a mom’s life is stressful. There is only so much stress you can remove, so you have to help your body cope instead.
3. A tip that works really well for me is to eat starchy carbohydrates at dinner. Starchy carbohydrates lower cortisol levels and raise serotonin levels. This is perfect for supporting the cortisol curve and aiding in sleep.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when overwhelmed. I am a mom of 4, business owner, homeschooling mom, and physical therapist. I do seek out help at times so that I can carve out a little time for myself. It helps me be a better mom, lower cortisol levels, and sets a good example for my kids!
I have my doctorate in physical therapy and have expertise in orthopedics, manual therapy, sports rehab, and women’s health (including incontinence, prenatal and postnatal pelvic instability, and lymphedema). I also have certifications in personal training and Metabolic Effect nutrition levels 1, 2, and 3 and am a Metabolic Effect Fat Loss Coach.
I work part-time as a physical therapist and also have a budding business, Nurturing Fitness, through which I develop personalized nutrition and exercise programs for busy moms. My passion is helping moms reach their maximum potential in the realm of physical, emotional, and mental fitness. I have learned over the years how to balance 4 kids, homeschooling them during the week, working weekends, and taking care of myself with proper exercise and diet.