The Cortisol Effect. The secret to avoiding belly fat

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As a fitness coach, one of the most frustrating comments I get is “Laurent, I work out regularly, I eat well, I’m a nice person, I pray everyday but yet I don’t see physical results. What I am doing wrong?”

Hey, I get it. It is frustrating to spend hours at the gym, weighing every ounce of food you eat, depriving yourself of deserts and then on top of that, not see any physical results.
It would be like working a full time job with no pay and having your boss yell at you for leaving work early. How would I answer that? Well first, I like to dig a little bit more.

A few questions I like to ask are:
Can you describe a typical workout?
Are you a cardio freak or are strength conditioning exercises performed regularly?
And then I want to know more about the diet. Do you skip meals or do you adhere to the “less calories I eat, the slimmer I get” approach?

Are you eating enough fiber Are you getting your 64oz of water or more a day and are you getting enough sleep? I then look at your answers. If everything looks good, I go for the kill. How do you handle stress?

Say hello to my little friend. Cortisol

Ah, yes!! The famous C word. Something you must learn to love and hate at the same time. Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands which sits just above the kidneys. It helps maintain blood pressure, blood sugar and metabolism. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory and influences memory formation. It controls salt and water balance and helps with the development of the fetus. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few important things but you get the picture. Cortisol is important!!! And now, the ugly.

Cortisol also happens to be the fight or flight stress hormone, which means that if smoke comes out of your nose like a bull every time you find yourself picking up your husband’s or boyfriend’s underwear from the floor, well then you become a breeding machine for cortisol. And that my friend, will contribute to your body holding on to fat especially in t helps store the extra sugar in cells to be used at a future time. When stressed, cortisol will inhibit insulin production which prevents blood sugar from getting stored into the cells. And with time, the cells become “starved” cells since they are not getting the energy they need. You’ll find yourself scavenging for high fat, high calorie foods even though you might not be hungry. So in other words, you’ll end up eating more unnecessary calories. And the blood sugar that is not stored, because of that cortisol dam, will affect the distribution of fat making you store more fat around the organs. And the worse is that it becomes very difficult to get rid of.

Problem #2 Certain foods you’ll end up craving might be inflammatory such as: -high glycemic foods - foods with saturated fats - high sugar foods -processed foods. Other things like alcohol in excess, low fiber diets, trans fat and vegetable oils are also inflammatory foods. That will promote the release of more cortisol since cortisol acts as an anti-inflammatory. On top of that, inflammation leads to every major chronic disease including aging, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and obesity. Problem #3 It messes up with your sleep. Have you ever had a great night sleep while being stressed? No, I didn’t think so. Neither have I. And the lack of sleep, my friends, will begin a cascading effect which will affect the functioning of the ghrelin and Leptin which are 2 chemicals that control appetite. When these 2 suckers play together, they make you crave more foods (mostly carbs) in order to keep you awake. And that will make you gain even more weight over time. But wait, that’s not all We’ve all heard that famous tagline in every good infomercial, and in this case, there’s actually more. We all know that exercise is good for us but too much of it might also promote the release of cortisol. Think about it. If you punish your body for too long, too many days in a row, you are in essence “stressing” your body.

Solution? Opt for workouts that are challenging but limit yourself to 30 minute sessions instead of spending your entire mornings at the gym. So now what? I presented the problem to you and now it’s only fair that I suggest a few solutions. 1- never underestimate the power of breathing. If you become the Tasmanian devil every time something doesn’t go your way, you should consider meditation and breathing techniques. I personally end my day with a “night ritual” which includes breathing and stretching techniques. This helps me release the day’s stress which contributes to a better night’s sleep. This is how I do it. I’ll stretch 3 key muscles. The lats in order to elongate my body, the hamstrings and my lower back. As I stretch, I’ll take a deep breath through my nose. I hold the stretch and my breath for 4 seconds and I exhale though my mouth while I release the stretch. I repeat this 5 times per stretch. It takes me between 5 and 8 minutes but it really works. Try it now. 2- Avoid inflammatory foods. Certain foods that I mentioned earlier will promote inflammation. So why don’t you opt for an anti-inflammatory diet instead?

The Mediterranean diet is a perfect mostly plant based, high in fiber and is not restrictive which means that you can pretty much eat everything you want within reasons, of course. It includes foods like: -Olive oil -Green leafy vegetables -Nuts like almonds and walnuts - Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna - Fruits such a strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges. Avoid at all costs fad diets, diets that restrict certain foods groups and diets that promote meal replacements through daily shakes. To me, they do not promote health and they are not sustainable. You might lose weight initially because of the calorie restriction but weight will always creep back up as soon as you ease off of them. 3-: Exercise. You cannot avoid movement. You need to move your body. That helps you get rid of stress and lower your cortisol levels. But as I mentioned earlier, exercise in moderation. The best way to gage it is to listen to your body. If you leave the gym and all you can think of is a nap, you might be going to hard. In conclusion: At the end, stress will always be around us like a bad virus. We simply have to know how to deal with it in order to limit the outbreaks. It begins by understanding and believing that we are surrounded happy and stress free things. Spending time with friends and family over a meal, going for walk in the woods or simply adopting a positive attitude. So next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, stop, take a deep breath and you’ll soon find yourself in a calmer frame of mind free of cortisol.

A bientot