How Stress May Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts

April 18, 2023

Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress and often referred to as the body’s “stress hormone.” While cortisol is important for the body’s stress response, chronically high levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the body’s metabolic health and overall well-being.

Cortisol can affect metabolism the following ways:

  1. Increased blood sugar levels: Cortisol stimulates the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. This can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and increase risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  2. Increased fat storage: Cortisol promotes the storage of fat, particularly in the abdominal area. Have you had a hard time ditching the belly fat, even with reducing sugar and carb intake? Stress may be contributing to your belly issues as it increases body fat percentage and risk of metabolic disorders.
  3. Decreased muscle mass and reduced metabolic rate.
  4. Increased appetite and cravings: Cortisol can also stimulate appetite and cravings, particularly for high-calorie, high-sugar foods. This can contribute to overeating and weight gain.

One of the most successful ways for you to manage stress and your metabolic and overall health is first and foremost being aware of your body. Acknowledging stressful times, events, or situations, being aware of what stresses you out, and getting in tune with your body is key to understanding how the effects can physically be impacting your body and what you need to successfully manage.

Proper breathing exercises and breathwork practice, meditation, and body scans are keyways to tune in to your body at times of rest. Practicing these techniques can serve you well during stressful moments and build your metabolic resilience when you are placed in high -stress situations.

Other ways to decrease cortisol levels:

  1. Exercise: regular exercise, particularly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, has been shown to help decrease cortisol levels. Exercise can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can contribute to elevated cortisol levels.
  2. Get enough sleep: lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can lead to increased cortisol levels. Aim for 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night to help keep cortisol levels in check.
  3. Eat a healthy diet: Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help to reduce cortisol levels. Avoiding processed foods, sugar and excessive caffeine can also be helpful.
  4. Spend time in nature: Spending time in nature, whether it’s’ going for a walk in the part or hiking has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote feelings of calm and relaxation.
  5. Connect with others: social support and connection have been shown to help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels. Spending time with loved ones, joining a community group, or volunteering can all be helpful ways to increase social connection.

Overall, there are many different strategies for reducing cortisol levels, and it’s important to find what works best for you. If you’re concerned about high cortisol levels or experiencing chronic stress, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for further guidance and support. Dr. Mary Rose Strickland is currently available for lifestyle medicine evaluation and treatments. Contact her at to learn more.