How Does Cortisol Affect Weight Loss? | And 6 Ways To Recover

What is cortisol and how can it affect my weight loss journey? This post will share the impact of cortisol on our metabolism and why it’s super important to keep our stress levels in check. 

If y’all have been following my journey, you know that all this was born out of my struggle with weight. I’ve wrestled with it for so long and a major turning point arrived when I weighed myself and realized I had reached 202 pounds. 202!!!

Dustin, my then 6-foot-3-inch-tall fiancé, weighed 230 pounds and I almost weighed as much as him…at 5-foot-8-inches. Yikes.

It’s no coincidence that I was pretty stressed at that time in life. And, as you’ll read in this post, stress is linked to cortisol. And cortisol – spoiler alert – is linked to weight. Both weight gain and weight loss.

This post takes a deep dive into the topic. You’ll learn the role that cortisol is likely playing in your weight loss journey. And you’ll get tips to regulate your stress response for better overall health. Let’s get started!

How Does Cortisol Affect Weight Loss

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone, a.k.a the “stress hormone” that is released when we’re stressed. It’s gotten a bad rep for that but the body knows what it’s doing.

Cortisol has many helpful functions like…

  • Regulating our metabolism
  • Reducing inflammation 
  • Controlling our blood sugar
  • Controlling our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle)
  • Boosting our energy (to handle stress) 

When it comes to weight loss, the focal point of this post, it’s crucial to know that cortisol plays a huge role in our cravings and our metabolism. 

How Does Cortisol Affect Your Weight?

Do you find yourself reaching for that extra donut at work when rushing a deadline? Or – if you’re like how I used to be – seeking comfort in a big slice of cake whenever the scale reflects numbers that spike anxiety and disappointment? 

Yep, cortisol makes you do all that.

  • It makes you crave sugary, salty, and fatty foods.
  • Cortisol does indeed make you stress eat.
  • It’s your natural “flight or fight” response.
  • It makes your brain think that you need to load up on food to fight off whatever (or whoever) is causing you stress.

Yep – Stress eating is real and it’s a normal reaction of our body. The weight gain, however, comes in when we’re chronically stressed and our cortisol levels get “stuck” on overdrive.

All the more reason to eat the best foods for stress relief to break the cycle!

How Does Cortisol Affect Weight Loss

What Are The Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels?

So what happens when we’re chronically stressed and our cortisol levels stay up? 

Below are some signs and symptoms our bodies show when we’re constantly on overdrive: 

And for women, it can definitely affect our period cycles

How Does Cortisol Affect Weight Loss

Does High Cortisol Make It Hard To Lose Weight?

Too much of the stress hormone affects various bodily functions related to our weight (metabolism, moods, digestion, and even sleep patterns). So yes, it can have a huge impact on your weight loss goals.

As discussed above, chronic stress has been proven to make us overeat and it can knock our metabolism out of whack. Studies have shown that women who secrete higher levels of cortisol really do tend to eat more than those that secrete less.

Another reason weight loss becomes challenging is that high levels of cortisol cause our bodies to produce less testosterone. Testosterone helps us build muscle mass but a decrease in this makes us burn fewer calories. 

Can Cortisol Cause Belly Fat?

Cortisol doesn’t only affect our weight but where we put on the weight. Women, in particular, with higher levels of cortisol tend to store excess fat in the belly.

It’s also important to know that most of the fat stored around the abdominal area is the visceral type of fat. And this is the kind of fat we want less of as it can eventually lead to strokes and heart attacks

But fear not! I’ll be sharing some tips below that you can begin implementing today.  

How Does Cortisol Affect Weight Loss

How Can I Lower My Cortisol Levels To Lose Weight?

Now that we know exactly how cortisol levels affect our weight, here are 6 proven ways to make sure we’re able to keep our stress hormones at bay. 

  1. Eat clean and be mindful of your intake: We REALLY are what we eat. I. Cannot. Stress (pun intended). This. Enough. Unhealthy food like fried, overly fatty, and sugary food can spike up your cortisol.

    Foods with a good dose of vitamin C, complex carbs, and omega 3-fatty acids are the best foods for reducing stress. Doing meal prep is also a great way to get on top of things and be mindful of our caloric intake.
  1. Stay active: I’ve talked about the benefits of walking for weight loss and how physical exercise can have a significant impact on our mental health.

    Don’t enjoy walking? The key is to find ways to move more throughout the day. Be it cycling or simply parking your car farther from your office, it helps to keep things fun for you so that it’s sustainable. 
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  1. Make sure to get enough sleep: Another underrated relaxation and weight loss tool, my friends. It’s simple: getting enough sleep makes people happier. When we lack sleep we’re barely human in mind and attitude.

    At least with me, that is. And when we’re happier, our bodies are less prone to excessively producing cortisol. Lack of sleep can also directly affect our weight
  1. Practice breathing exercises: Yoga, meditation or simply doing deep breathing exercises can help keep stress and anxiety levels low.

    Deep breathing causes your brain to think you’re in a relaxed state. It lowers your heart rate which then lowers your blood pressure and cortisol. Namaste.
  1. See the sun or surround yourself with nature: Various studies have shown that not getting enough sun or nature can affect your stress levels.

    If you plan to take that walk, I suggest taking it outside for an added boost of vitamin D and good vibes. 
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  1. Stave off from cigarettes or too much alcohol: Not only can alcohol add up in calories but yes, also your cortisol. Studies have also shown how smoking can increase your stress levels in the long run.

    I get that alchohol is a social thing and can be tough to cut. Next time you’re hosting, mix up a batch of my Non Alcholic Raspberry Mojito (pictured above). It’s really gorgeous and tastes great!

Moving Forward

It can be overwhelming to expect change overnight so remember to focus on progress over perfection. If you need help in jumpstarting your clean eating journey, then you might want to check out my 7 Day Meal Prep for Weight Loss.

Ultimately I hope these tips can help you on your self-love journey. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Celebrate your wins, eat well, and keep going. I’m rooting for you!

This post contains affiliate links for products I use often and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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