8 Ways to Lower Cortisol and Avoid Weight Gain

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a fantastic weekend!  I met some of my family at Yankee Candle flagship store in Massachusetts on Saturday.  My thoughts on this experience are:

  1. Eat somewhere else – their candles probably taste better than their food.
  2. Be prepared to pay $3.00 for a bottled water.
  3. It’s probably the biggest place I’ve ever seen full of things you absolutely never will need.
  4. Eat somewhere else beforehand, can’t stress this enough.

yankee Collage

SO, I’m officially under two weeks away from my big move over to Glasgow, and no, I don’t have all my affairs in order.  I am sure that I am forgetting to do something of the utmost importance, but, such as life.  Obviously, I’ve been whining about being stressed, which I am, so I thought, what better a topic to talk about today than the benefits of lowering stress and the production of cortisol?  Right?  Perfect.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is not a mouthwash brand.  It totally sounds like one though, right?  Cortisol is the “stress hormone” and it’s produced by the adrenal glands to help regulate your blood pressure and immune system in times of “bodily crisis.”   Cortisol essentially helps by giving your body energy and fighting off infection.  Sounds like a good guy, right?  However, higher levels of cortisol can lead to some pretty nasty habits and the worst part is, these things are happening unbeknownst to us every single day!  Don’t worry, now that you’re about to get schooled on it, you can totally take control of your cortisol production and avoid weight gain in times of stress.  You’re welcome, guys!

seriously, I can help.

8 Ways to Lower Cortisol and Avoid Weight Gain

  1. Move your body.  This seems so obvious, but did you know that getting some movement actually tricks your body into escaping stress?  Yep!  When your body starts moving your blood circulates more quickly and transports the cortisol in your body out through the kidneys.  You’re literally moving the stress out of your body.  So, next time you’re feeling super stressed, do some squats, pushups, or go walk up some stairs!
  2. Quit dieting, and start eating a balanced diet.  Dieting actually CAUSES your cortisol levels to rise and when cortisol rises, so does your blood sugar (right before it nosedives downward not long after).  I know a lot of people try to avoid sugar, and that’s fantastic, but make sure you’re still getting some natural sources of it on a daily basis to avoid this chain reaction.
  3. If you’re craving something, have it.  Unless you’re craving an entire deep dish pizza, you should just have a slice NOT the whole thing. (Been there, done that, and you don’t want to)!  Again, cortisol is lurking behind that craving so it’s best to cut it off by allowing yourself the treat.  If you can’t stop at one, make sure you keep a single mini treat on hand to avoid overindulging.
  4. Make breakfast count!  I am a big offender of skimping on nutrition first thing.  I actually really don’t like to eat a lot in the morning.  However, when we don’t nourish ourselves fully early on, we’re just asking for our cortisol levels to spike!  Be sure to choose foods that contain vitamins B and C as well as calcium and magnesium.  Choose whole grains, fresh fruit, and nut butters to ward off a cortisol rise early in the day!
  5. Make sure you get enough sleep.  This one is a toughie.  I recently got a white noise app and that has made a huge difference in my length and quality of sleep.  Some studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep can keep your cortisol levels high as well as trigger higher levels of ghrelin, which is a hunger boosting hormone that makes you crave sweet and salty snacks.  So work on giving yourself at least 7-9 hours of sleep if you can.  Easier said than done, but definitely worth putting some focus on!
  6. Eat slower!  I am DEFINITELY guilty of scarfing my food.  I come from a long line of “gulpers”.  Seriously, it’s not pretty.  However, researchers have found that eating fast (even with healthy foods) can lead to overeating and bigger portions.  This is totally common sense, but sometimes we don’t even give ourselves time to realize we’re getting exactly what we need.  Eating slowly can also help to keep cortisol levels lower which can help us to eat less and store our food differently.
  7. Back off on the caffeine.  Caffeine is everywhere these days; in gum, coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and energy shots.  However, caffeine consumption and high cortisol levels go hand and hand.  When you continue to consume a steady amount of caffeine throughout the day, your cortisol will steadily rise as well — up to 30%. If you haven’t figured it out at this point of my list, high cortisol levels make us want to eat more.  Aim to drink more water to stay hydrated throughout the day.  Believe it or not, water keeps us alert better in the long run and is less costly.  You don’t have to boycott Starbucks, but just make it one trip!
  8. Listen to an awesome playlist!  However, aim to make the music calming and relaxing to you.  Research has shown that people who listen to calming music while working, eating, and before sleep, have been able to drop the level of cortisol they produce.  You don’t have to put Enya on repeat, by the way, whatever makes your relaxed and less stressed will do!

I am a highly strung person, for the most part, so I know that my cortisol levels need a serious overhaul.  Remember that carrying weight in our midsections is a precursor for many bad news bears;  high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack.  However, by being aware of what we can do to keep our stress (and cortisol) levels lower, we can stay ahead of the health game.

Do you ever think about cortisol? How do you fight stress and cravings? Do you like Yankee Candles? Don’t get me wrong, I love the candles, but that flagship store is ridic-u-lous!


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  1. March 3, 2015 / 6:02 am

    This is a great article, thanks Erin. 🙂

    It’s a great reminder for us all, especially 1) keep moving and 2) balanced diet. These are key things that you’re gonna have to kick into a lot of Scottish people who think that deep fried pizza is nutritious. Still I’m sure you’re husband will have told you all about that. And the deep fried mars bars……. 😉

    Not long for you now until your big move here to Glasgow eh?

    • Erin
      March 3, 2015 / 11:21 am

      Thank you, Neil. I have to admit this (and shouldn’t) but I’ve had deep fried pizza!!! I know. It’s really, REALLY too much. I am so excited about my move – I am leaving next Sunday! Now, if I could just finish my packing I’d be all set! 🙂

  2. March 3, 2015 / 6:52 pm

    Ah I love these tips – thanks for sharing! I’ve actually also heard that distance running contributes to cortisol levels. So weird how it works like that!

    And by the way — #3 is definitely something I can get behind 😉

    • Erin
      March 3, 2015 / 7:01 pm

      Thanks, Emily! Yes stress on the body from distance and intensity can also cause spikes in cortisol — it really is a sneaky one!

      I also love #3 and totally take advantage of it. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

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