Balancing out your hormones is the only way to achieve fat loss that is sustained for life.
The “a calorie is a calorie” hounds won’t agree with this, but the thing is that calories don’t control your metabolism. Hormones control your metabolism, meaning that the easiest way to fix a poor metabolism is to balance your hormones.
Managing stress is the number one thing you should be focusing on before trying to overload your body with more training, more cardio and less food. This will put the body into stress overdrive, and could be the major reason you are finding it hard to loose that unwanted weight around the lower tummy and love handles.
As the world is getting increasingly more populated and there is a high demand on the general population, this can put a whole host of stress on the body that will be hindering your fat loss. I’m sure your boss is always on your case to get more work done, your kids or partner will be stressing you out at home, meeting deadlines and never getting a promotion or thank you. Even simple things like traffic jams, losing your keys or wallet, doesn’t this sound familiar? it just seems like we can never catch a break and relax.
Having chronically elevated cortisol (our stress hormone) can have a big impact on our training and performance in the gym. Now we could have the ‘perfect nutrition and training program’ but if we can’t keep our daily stress under control we won't be getting the optimal results we are after. Let's not let that hold us back from the body we want.
Before we all think cortisol is the devil I will explain what it is and what it is responsible for. Cortisol often gets a bad wrap and is blamed for having that tubby belly. Cortisol is an important hormone in the body, secreted by the adrenal glands. Some key functions it is involved in are: Proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, immune function, inflammation response and much more.
Normally cortisol is at its highest in the morning and at its lowest at night. Although stress isn’t the only reason it is secreted from the adrenals into the blood stream, it has been termed ‘the stress hormone’. It is responsible for several stress-related responses in the body, but small releases of cortisol have some positive effects such as a quick burst of energy for survival reasons, heightened memory functions, lower sensitivity to pain and it helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Unfortunately, in our high-stress culture and the world getting more toxic with the promotion of junk food, cortisol is raised more often than it should be. And it is easy to blame cortisol for your tubby belly rather than the big mac meal you ate for lunch.
Cortisol doesn’t contain calories and doesn’t force you to eat more than you should. That being said, chronically elevated cortisol levels are associated with both increased weight gain as well as fat distribution to the trunk region. Visceral fat storage seems to be the culprit, as cortisol mobilizes triglycerides from stored adipose tissue and relocates them to visceral fat cells, deep in the abdomen. “Belly fat” produces its own cortisol, and also contains more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. That’s right; belly fat makes its own cortisol, which causes more fat to be stored in that region. Think of it as an evolutionary protective mechanism against injury and starvation. It sure does suck though when it’s the last stubborn area to go for a physique athlete deep in contest prep.
Cortisol will vary among the individual, people are biologically ‘wired’ to respond to stress differently. One person may secrete more cortisol than the other in the same situation. Cortisol may also be involved with weight gain due to its role in increasing blood glucose and suppressing insulin. Chronically elevated blood glucose levels and suppressed insulin levels send hunger signals to the brain, possibly leading to overeating. Cortisol has also been shown to directly increase appetite by binding to receptors in the brain and modulating other hormones known to stimulate appetite and the desire for high-calorie foods.
Now that we have a good scope on what cortisol is here are some simple pointers to control and manage it.
1. Don’t do long workouts (more than an hour)
Why do workouts need to be less than an hour?
First of all, if you still have energy after 60 minutes you’re not training hard enough and probably talking to your mates rather than actually training. A properly structured training program will have you fatigued and stimulated fat loss easily within the hour.
Second workouts that are extended for longer then the 60-minute mark can have your cortisol raised even further putting your body into a state of stress again. This will hinder your recovery and stop fat loss along with breaking down precious muscle.
Interval training is an awesome way to stimulate fat loss if you're stuck for time, a hard and fast 20min session with minimal rest periods is more than enough to get you the results you are after.
2. Be physically active throughout the day
It's super important to avoid sitting around all day because the lack of physical activity also leads to high cortisol and hormone imbalance. Sedentary people that start daily physical activity improve cortisol balance and always report back to feeling better and less stress.
I highly recommend just simple things that take your mind of the daily tasks we have to achieve. Things like a beach walk, surfing, yoga, going for a swim or a bike ride can make a big difference in your overall stress management.
3. Don’t eat junk foods when you feel stressed out
Elevated cortisol literally blunts your ability to make smart food choices. When you're stressed out, a part of the brain is activated that desired pleasurable foods.
So you’re never going to opt for a chicken breast broccoli and sweet potato when you are in a state of stress. It's very easy for the office worker to go get a piece of cake or doughnut that’s sitting there when under pressure.
The best solution is to eliminate high processed, high sugar junk foods. Having some sensible cheat meals or even carb cycling. Doing this will have a positive influence on serotonin, the brain messenger that makes you feel good, but gets reduced with elevated cortisol.
4. Stay hydrated
This is always a problem with people not drinking enough water. Research shows that being in a state of dehydration your cortisol hormone will be elevated. Water is a very important mineral the body needs to keep metabolic hormones working optimally.
Drinking more water and less soft drink, juice and sports drinks is an easy way to manage your hydration and keep metabolic hormones in check.
5. Don’t have caffeine all through the day
Now I love a cup of coffee, coffee has a whole host of benefits and antioxidant properties. But if you are having coffee or redbulls all day, you are going to be nailing your adrenal glands and having your body back in a state of dehydration again.
Aim to only have caffeine upon rising or in the morning and avoid it throughout the afternoon. This will ensure your cortisol stays high in the morning and tapers off throughout the day so you can get to sleep at night and recover from your day.
6. Do some fun stuff: laugh, play with your pets, listen to music, be social.
Doing activities that make you happy is a very simple way to manage your stress. Think about it have you ever been really cranky and annoyed when you spend a nice moment with a loved one or your pet?
This will have a calming effect on the brain and you will be less stressed the more often you do FUN STUFF you enjoy.
Ty Lucas is a certified strength coach, bio-signature practitioner and is currently studying naturopathy. He is a strong believer is having healthy body function and hormonal profile, then getting the body to optimal body composition and performance levels. Ty the owner of Myathletes coaching which is one of the leading contest prep and body composition businesses in Australia.