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Cortisol: Why you’re not losing weight

November 30, 2017

The stress hormone: sabotaging your diet & exercise

Jessica Spendlove, noted performance dietician to several high profile Australian sports teams, recently revealed why your diet isn’t working. Are you eating right, training right and still not seeing the expected results? Have you, in fact, become a little too stingy with the calories and too liberal with the exercise? And still nothing?!? Here’s why…

It’s all down to cortisol. What is cortisol? The short answer is that it is a naturally occurring steroid hormone which all of us have. The long answer is very long indeed and involves a lot of special characters from the drop-down symbols menu. Instead, think of cortisol as adrenaline’s little brother. It is the shot of espresso in your hormonal latte that gets you out of bed in the morning and wanes as the day wears on, leaving you with plain steamed milk by bedtime. (This is called your diurnal rhythm.)

Except that modern life isn’t conducive to a healthy diurnal rhythm. Any kind of stress to your body, from garden-variety existential dread to spluttering road rage, messes with your cortisol - which is rightly referred to as the stress hormone. Unfortunately, stress also includes over-exercising and starving yourself. All of which can lead to a topsy-turvy diurnal rhythm, where you have low cortisol levels during the day and spiking levels at night.

None of which would matter, except that cortisol is also responsible for several other crucial functions. To start with, it affects how you metabolise glucose and stands in direct opposition to insulin. For another, it controls your body’s “starvation” mode and might decide that all non-essential calories should be diverted from muscles and sent to long-term storage. In other words, your excessive diet and exercise are making you fat. Talk about counter-intuitive, right?

The trick, then, is to maintain a healthy diurnal rhythm by avoiding stress. While we’re not suggesting that you quit your job, you should definitely pay attention to what your body wants. Don’t go spinning just because it’s Tuesday. If your body is craving a rest, give it one. Plan your meals around your exercise, with the major intake of calories (especially carbohydrates and lean protein) just before and after, to maintain a neutral energy balance.

Most important: get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is the ultimate form of long term stress and can turn your diurnal rhythm on its head. Get up and get to bed at approximately the same time each day to cement your diurnal rhythm in place. This can sometimes be a tall order, especially after a stressful day. Jessica recommends green tea before bed, to counteract the effects of cortisol. Other studies have also suggested that music- and message therapy (and, weirdly, regular dancing / laughing) can help lower one’s cortisol levels.

None of which can replace the appeal of your own bed and welcoming mattress, topped with a decadent duvet and sprinkled with pillows to taste. Take ownership of your diurnal rhythm and sleep yourself thin: browse our line-up of excellent products, guaranteed to ship you off to health and happiness, today.

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