As a woman it can sometimes feel like we are putting in a lot of effort to look and feel good and yet our body doesn’t appear to be on the same page.
Whilst our endocrine system is quite large, these two hormones when out of balance can lead to fatigue, exhaustion and, what can feel like unexplained, weight gain.
Cortisol, our stress hormone; it’s the one that we want when we are in fight or flight, but how often in our modern world is that a reality?
Unfortunately for most of us, we are in this state every day with many people living with their sympathetic nervous system switched ON, barely stopping to allow it to switch over to rest and digest (the parasympathetic nervous system).
Whilst we aren’t running from wild animals to stay alive, we are juggling long To Do lists, work crises, family responsibilities, finances, getting to the gym and that daily stress when it is time to think about ‘what to cook for dinner’!
Chronic long term stresses, without appropriate lifestyle and nutrition changes, leads to excess cortisol production.
Cortisol is what gets us out of bed, but if it is dysregulated it may be waking us up at 2am instead of 6am leading to excess coffee consumption (which also increases cortisol production) and those 3pm must-reach-for-the-sugar-slumps.
When cortisol is in excess and you aren’t burning it off, it leads to increased weight (particularly around the waist), muscle weakness and fatigue, and it impacts our digestive hormones, in particular, insulin.
Cortisol needs to be burnt off by moving our body and reducing our stress levels, however, cortisol levels can also be increased by over-exercising, so if you aren’t including yoga, Pilates or gentle walking in your movement each week you may find that the weight you are fighting so hard to lose just won’t budge.
Insulin is released into the bloodstream after we eat. A meal higher in carbohydrates will release more insulin than a meal that is higher in protein but what happens when we have high cortisol?
Firstly, low levels of insulin stimulate the production of cortisol because, cortisol can tell the liver to start producing more glucose whilst also making your cells resistant to the insulin, meaning you are not able to use up the glucose you are eating from sugars and carbohydrate rich foods.
If you find yourself chasing sugar or carbs for energy and when you go to bed you feel wired and tired, then it might be time to start looking beyond the belief that you just ‘love sugar’.
To sum up this relationship – cortisol and insulin (can) work with each other, however if your cortisol levels are chronically high (stress) then you are most likely heading towards insulin resistance.
This is because high levels of cortisol make fat and muscles cells resistant to insulins action, whilst it is also increasing glucose production (from the liver), which in turn produces more insulin.
To top it off, high levels of insulin in the blood will switch off leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating), and so the cravings, exhaustion and weight cycle continues.
Not ideal, right?
So how do you fix it?
Simply put, start adding mindfulness and relaxation into your day so you can learn to switch-off, watch your intake of high sugary and processed carbohydrates and aim for more wholefoods over anything in packets, don’t over-exercise and learn to deeply breathe into your belly to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system when you go to bed at night.
And if you need help, don’t wait. Consult a qualified practitioner to get to the root cause sooner rather than later to bring balance to your hormones so that your weight feels easy to maintain, your cravings are under control and your sleep and energy levels feel stable.
Natropath, Nutritionist & Holistic Health Coach
Carissa works as an online practitioner and coach helping women build a better relationship with themselves and their body from the inside out.
Carissa works holistically using a mind-body protocol and Naturopathic Coaching that includes naturopathic and nutrition principles with mindset and lifestyle shifts to create bio-individual plans that bring about lasting change.
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