Cortisol can be your best friend or your sworn enemy. The steroid hormone, which is produced by your adrenal glands, plays a role in the fight-or-flight response -- the physiological loop that gears your body up to fight against danger or run for your life. This is vital when faced with immediate danger, but increases in cortisol also occur in response to chronic, everyday stress. When cortisol is too high for too long, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly -- also called visceral fat. Because cortisol increases due to stress, you have to combine diet with stress management to reduce excess weight from cortisol, according to registered dietitian Dina Aronson.
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Manage Your Stress
A large part of getting rid of cortisol fat is managing your stress levels. Learn to meditate, start taking a yoga class and keep a stress journal to identify and deal with regular stressors in your life. Don't stretch yourself and your time too thin; learn how to say no when friends or family members ask you to do something you just don't have the time or energy to do. Get enough sleep, and avoid people who make you feel stressed or anxious. Find time for fun and do things that you really enjoy. There may be some stressful factors that you can't control, such as mishaps at work, but reducing the stressors you can control will have a big impact on your stress levels.
What to Eat
Cortisol plays a role in regulating blood sugar; keeping your glucose levels balanced through your diet will take some stress off the adrenal glands and help level out your cortisol levels. Eat three meals and two healthy snacks throughout the course of the day. Avoid foods that cause inflammation, which can cause elevated cortisol levels. Inflammatory foods include those that are high in saturated and trans fats and low in fiber, such as fried foods, red meat and full-fat dairy products. Focus on consuming high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, bran and other whole grains. Men should consume 30 to 38 grams of fiber daily, while women need 21 to 25 grams. Include avocados, lean meats and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid refined carbohydrates, ditch caffeine and minimize alcohol intake.
When to Eat
When trying to control your stress levels to get rid of fat caused by cortisol, when you eat is just as important as what you eat, according to WomentoWomen.com. When you eat, cortisol levels rise, so it's best to eat larger meals earlier in the day and let your meals become smaller as the day goes on. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up and don't let more than a few hours pass between meals.
Aerobic exercise can directly reduce cortisol levels and speed up your metabolism so you can burn off the extra calories that contribute to weight gain. Although exercise can help you reduce stress and get rid of cortisol fat, too much can actually put extra stress on your adrenals. Marcelle Pick, an obstetrician/gynecologist, nurse practitioner and founder of WomentoWomen.com, recommends wearing a heart rate monitor and keeping your heart rate under 90 beats per minute when doing aerobic exercise. If you're new to exercise, start by walking outside for 15 to 20 minutes a couple days a week and work up to a more regular routine.
- Today's Dietitian: Cortisol -- Its Role in Stress, Inflammation and Indications for Diet Therapy
- Obesity Research: Stress-Induced Cortisol Response and Fat Distribution in Women
- WomentoWomen.com: Weight Loss and Adrenal Stress
- Psychology Today: Why We Gain Weight When We’re Stressed -- And How Not To
- HelpGuide.org: Stress Management
- Today's Dietitian: The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List