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Does Cortisol Make You Fat? (Can It Make You Gain Weight)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Last updated: October 27, 2022

Yes, cortisol can make you fat, but only if it gets out of whack.

It is crucial that your body maintains and makes enough cortisol to regulate most of your body system's vital functions.

But when your body undergoes any form of stress, your cortisol levels get shaky and start to rise more than what your body needs.

So, we did all the research to help you understand the connection between cortisol and stress and its contribution to weight gain. We also cover the risks of high cortisol levels and what you can do to control them.

Let's begin.

Why is Cortisol Called a "Stress Hormone"?

Cortisol is called a "stress hormone" because of its direct connection to a stress response.

When you're in a difficult situation, the hypothalamus stimulates the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol into your bloodstream and raises your heart rate and blood pressure.

What is the Role of "Stress Hormone" Cortisol in Weight Management?

A stressed woman holding her head

Cortisol, also called the "belly fat" hormone, plays a significant role in weight management.

Research suggests that excess cortisol production due to stress may cause weight gain.

When stress becomes chronic, levels of cortisol remain high in the blood.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels can increase appetite for comfort foods, making you gain weight and increase fat reserves.

Also, the body produces less testosterone. In effect, your muscle mass declines and slows down your metabolism. Your body burns fewer calories, making it difficult to lose weight.

Furthermore, too much cortisol may also make your brain less receptive to leptin, increasing your desire to overeat.

It may explain why people under stress have bad eating habits. The need for emotional eating during stress might result from insensitivity to leptin.

Does Elevated Cortisol Always Result in Weight Gain?

A person holding excess fat

An elevated level of cortisol may always result in increased abdominal fat and abdominal weight gain.

However, high cortisol production due to a stressful event may not readily predict weight gain.

The amount of cortisol released in direct response to stress levels may differ from one person to another depending on their responsiveness.

Furthermore, stress is not the only factor that raises cortisol. It can also be caused by the overactivity of the pituitary gland, the presence of adrenal gland tumors, and certain medications like oral contraceptives and corticosteroids [1].

Overall, whether your high cortisol levels are due to stress or not, studies show that the possibility of weight gain is always present.

Aside from gaining weight, increased cortisol has other effects on the body.

Other Effects Of Increased Cortisol On The Body

When chronically elevated, cortisol can block your body's most essential functions, which can lead to some health problems, including:

  • Immune system suppression
  • Inhibited protein synthesis
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Chronic heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Digestive disorders like metabolic syndrome

On a lighter note, understanding how increased cortisol levels affects the body can motivate you to start some good habits to lower cortisol and achieve good health.

How Can You Lower Stress Hormones?

A man on a weighing scale

Experts agree that you can effectively lower stress hormones through stress management [2] and lifestyle changes.

Here are some lifestyle shifts you can do to manage stress:

Increase physical activity. Regular exercise may result in cortisol reduction because it stimulates the release of endorphins, which help relieve pain and boost happiness. High-intensity workouts can also help your body increase tolerance to stress.

Practice mindfulness. Deep breathing activities such as yoga and meditation can help you train your focus and increase awareness to achieve mental clarity, emotional calm, and stability.

Don't cut the carbs. When the body lacks carbs for energy provision, it will undergo glycogenesis, which stimulates the release of cortisol to break down protein into an energy source. Instead, you can opt for eating complex carbs such as whole-grain, fiber-rich vegetables, and whole fruits to achieve a balanced diet.

Keep in touch with loved ones. It always feels good to say hello to your friends and family that you don't get to see a lot. Or you can start a conversation and share meals with a family member at home without your gadgets on.

Start a journal. Writing down your thoughts and emotions may help you gain clarity on personal psychological battles. Whether you're struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety, understanding them in a more profound sense can help you take control of your mind.

Other simple things you can do are listen to music, practice mindful eating, pray, sleep more, go outdoors, and play with your pets. But, it still depends on what satisfies your "mood", lessens your tension, and increases your calmness.

Does Managing Cortisol Levels Help Promote Weight Loss?

Yes, managing cortisol levels can help enhance weight loss and more.

Start at a level of working on your everyday diets and lifestyle. Take dietary supplements to support your workouts to manage and be free from chronic stress successfully.

Being stress-free can help reduce cortisol in the blood, which lowers your appetite and hastens losing weight.

But beating those extra pounds is not the only battle to be won.

By maintaining healthy cortisol levels, you are also winning the battle against chronic diseases and mental restlessness.

So, smile and be grateful. Explore the many opportunities and be excited for what's to come. Bring back the happy times and make room for the people you love.

After all, human life isn't about ideals. It's about being fully alive.


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