How Does Cortisol Affect Weight?

Ever wondered why no matter how hard you try, you can’t get rid of the spare tyre around your waist? The chances are your problem may be hormonal, especially if you’re over 45 and female.

The sad fact is you can look fit and even be relatively thin and have a layer of visceral fat around your organs and a thickening waistline. According to the NHS website, visceral fat is a combination of hormones (Cortisol) and gut health. There’s little doubt the two are interlinked, but that’s not all; the knock-on effect of too much Cortisol can affect your mental health.

To tackle our thickening waistline and foggy brain, we need to understand what we are dealing with, how too much Cortisol affects our health and how we can effectively manage the symptoms with the long-term goal of better overall health.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone, often called the stress hormone; our body produces the hormone in conjunction with adrenaline in reaction to danger, enabling a fight or flight reaction. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal gland. It functions to increase blood sugar to suppress the immune system and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

We need some cortisol in our bloodstream to function correctly; however, prolonged cortisol levels created by chronic stress have adverse effects on health. These effects are blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia. The knock-on effect of this is decreased bone density, suppression of muscle tissue formation, and may even cause osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, that is not all. Too much Cortisol in the blood can cause mood swings, which shows anxiety, depression, or irritability. If that’s not enough, weight gain and the laying down of fat around your organs are all side effects of too much stress hormone.

What Are The Symptoms? 

Some common signs of excessive Cortisol in the body from chronic stress include dry mouth, headache, heart palpitations, sweating, loss of libido, overeating, and gastrointestinal problems. The symptoms manifest in the body in the following ways:

Rapid weight gain in the face, chest and abdomen, while the arms and legs remain slender, giving the appearance of an apple-shaped body. You may also have a flushed face; the skin on the remainder of your body can take on a bruised or purple appearance, your skin and hair could appear dry and lacklustre.

Positive Steps To Combat The Effects Of Too Much Cortisol

The obvious way to tackle the release of too much stress hormone is to deal with whatever is causing the problem. Dealing with the situation may seem like an uphill battle, especially when circumstances seem out of our control. When the war against stress seems relentless, tackle it one battle at a time, small changes adopted individually but interlinked can solve your problem quicker than you think.

Start by keeping a journal; by doing this, you can identify your stress triggers and address them. Quite often, merely by regularly documenting your thoughts, you can control your stress levels.

Take Regular Exercise

20 to 30 minutes of cardio activity such as fast walking, jogging or an exercise class that raises your heart rate at least four times a week pays huge bonuses by lowering your cortisol level and counteracting the effects of stress. It’s worth considering what your brain needs to regulate your body’s response to Cortisol along with physical exercise.

Why not try a 30-minute workout with Joe Wicks – Joe is a former PE instructor turned lifestyle and exercise guru. You can find his workouts available to view on YouTube, and Joe addresses every level of fitness no matter if you’re an advocate of exercise or just starting there’s an episode for you.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Any style of meditation will reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Only taking a few deep breaths sends a signal within your nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease Cortisol. Begin by setting aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to practice deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation.

Several websites offer meditation help and advice, a handy set of podcasts created by a mental health charity called Mind Allies, and they are available on Instagram or The good news is these podcasts are completely free of charge.

Combine meditation, mindfulness with exercise; you need to consider your diet.

Consider Your Diet

According to the NHS website, the fat that lays around your organs is exacerbated by a bad diet and lack of exercise. Interestingly a study was carried out on behalf of the NHS by researchers from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London. There is a link between an unhealthy diet resulting in poor gut health and a lack of exercise and excessive Cortisol.

The fact is this – if you’re eating too many processed foods such as refined carbohydrates, biscuits, cakes and fast food and not taking care of your stress levels and not exercising regularly, you will increase the amount of visceral fat in your body.

The NHS recommends eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetable every day. Along with this advice, the following is essential for good gut health and overall wellbeing.

Base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes (skin on), wholemeal bread or sourdough bread, brown rice or pasta.

Eat some beans, pulses,

Eat a small amount of fish, eggs, meat and other protein.

Drink lots of liquid in particular water.

Feature some herbs, spices and fermented foods in your diet every day.

In the end, choose to commit to improving your health, manage your stress reduction. Take more breaks, engage in deep breathing, and remove yourself from stressful situations whenever possible.

Consider your diet, eat well, take a break from the daily stressors you face, and know that with each exercise or meditation session, you’re chipping away at those high cortisol levels – and carving a path toward better health.