Cortisol & Eating Clean, by Jill Rudison IFBB Pro

Most people are guilty of engaging in the same singular activity when they are under stress. It doesn’t matter if you are fit, not fit, old, young, black, blue, pink, unemployed, over employed or what – you’re probably going to engage in some good old junk food binging when you are stressed out. It’s just what we humans do. The problem is, that when you do it over and over again, it eventually becomes a habit, and an unhealthy one at that. Regardless of whether we are eating to fill an emotional void, or giving in to fast food because we simply “have no time”, living a stress-filled lifestyle is rarely living a healthy one. You’ve heard all about how being stressed out can actually lead to weight gain, and now you will learn how this happens and what you can do to avoid being such a statistic.

Cortisol is known as the primary “stress hormone” in the body. It has been deemed this because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress, and the normal pattern of cortisol secretion can be altered. Cortisol is termed catabolic as it has the opposite effect to testosterone, insulin and growth hormone in that it breaks down tissue. In fact cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands under conditions of high mental and physical stress as well as high temperature, is the body’s primary catabolic hormone.

The three main functions of cortisol are:

  1. The reduction of protein synthesis.
  2. The facilitation of protein to glucose.
  3. The halting of tissue growth.

Cortisol also stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, as well as stimulating the insulin release for overall maintenance of your blood sugar levels. Cortisol is secreted in a diurnal variation, which translated means that your cortisol levels in the bloodstream fluctuate depending on the time of day. Cortisol levels tend to be highest in the early morning hours when you rise, and lowest at around midnight, when your body is shutting down for the day. Now, actual foods don’t contain any cortisol themselves, but what you eat can affect the cortisol levels in your body. And the end result of all of these hormonal actions can unfortunately sometimes be an increase in appetite or difficulty sleeping.

The disruption of cortisol secretion may not only promote weight gain, but it can actually affect where exactly on your body you will put the weight on. Stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition to occur particularly in the abdominal area. (Beer belly, anyone?) This fat deposition is referred to as “toxic fat” because it is closely associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.

There are a number of culprits that cause disruption with cortisol levels, stress not being the exclusive factor. Diseases and medical conditions can result in abnormal levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, and generate Cushing’s Syndrome, which is a medical term used to describe a condition in which various medical problems result in very high levels of cortisol, ultimately leading to changes in the body’s appearance and function.

The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress factors varies amongst individuals, with some people being more responsive to stressful events. Unfortunately, whether or not an individual’s stress levels will result in high cortisol levels and weight gain is not something that is easily predictable. Studies have revealed that women who tend to react to stress with high levels of cortisol secretion also tend to eat more when under stress than do the women who secreted less cortisol when reacting to stress. And what do we tend to eat when we’re stressed? Besides everything? Usually we eat crap. Processed sugary crap, thus perpetrating the theory that poor eating and nutrition can indeed have a direct impact affect on our cortisol levels.

Further studies revealed that women who store their excess fat in their abdominal area also have higher cortisol levels and tend to report more lifestyle stress than women who store fat primarily in their hips. Sadly, the diet industry has made a mad dash to capitalize on these findings by promoting dietary supplements that claim to lower cortisol levels in addition to enhancing weight loss. However, no single respected medical journal has shown that these supplements have any value in either the reduction of cortisol or weight loss. Not a one. And one ancient proven method for reducing cortisol levels time and time again is still the best solution yet; Exercise. Exercise is the best method for reducing cortisol levels that have risen as a response to stress. And the added bonus? Exercise burns calories to stimulate weight loss. Double win!

Even though we have determined that foods themselves do not contain cortisol, what you choose to eat can work for or against the battle of lower it. If you are trying to lower your cortisol levels, you should eat foods that are considered low-glycemic. Such foods include eggs, meat, poultry, fish and vegetables, aka all foods that are good for your body and your diet. Steer clear of foods that fall under the high glycemic category, such as grains, sugars and refined starches. Cortisol levels respond rapidly to the foods we eat, so make sure to ingest quality whole foods, such as those found in Modern Proteins’s prepared meals.

Proper nutrition is important at all times of the day in order to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle. To properly control your cortisol release, make certain to eat first thing in the morning and again directly after a workout. Why? Because this is the most stressful times on your body when insulin does not have the nullifying effect it normally has on cortisol and your diet must directly facilitate an insulin release. With Modern Proteins’s meal prep delivery service, you’ll never be without a healthy clean meal that you can take with you on the go or enjoy when you get back home. Let us help you lower your cortisol levels by eliminating the guesswork of cooking and preparing meals and replacing your stress with meal convenience and reclaimed time.  Life gives you enough to stress about. Try the brilliance of Modern Proteins’s clean food delivery and see how much better life can be.

Jill Rudison
IFBB Professional Bodybuilder
Contributing Author
Twitter, @jillrudison
Instagram, @jillrudison