Cortisol: Why Stress Control and Reduction = Belly Fat Reduction (and so much more!) by Matt Kelly


Often the best way to lose a client is to delve into deeply scientific terminologies which are of no practical use to them on a day to day basis. People love practical: Tell the ladies to drink 6 cups of green tea a day and it will help them attain leaner legs… Like a drop of blood in a piranha tank…

In this sense I suppose I am risking losing a lot of you by using the term ‘cortisol’ as the subject of this post.
However, I have seen too many committed clients and trainees do all the ‘right things’ to improve their health, or reach a fat loss goal, and fall short because of factors external to exercise regime and/or nutrition. Without needing an in-depth understanding of certain chemical processes in the body you NEED to accept their presence and how they may inhibit you from getting what you ultimately want – this is why you NEED to understand cortisol’s role in your body.

Well – What is cortisol?
It is a hormone, produced in the brain. It deals (mostly) with blood sugar control, and metabolism, as well as the immune system. So you can guess its important for fat loss….
Now, let’s continue to be practical.

Why is controlling it important?
Put simply, an excess of cortisol and other stress hormones leads to an inability to metabolise fat, or FAT STORAGE (especially around your belly!) Oh ye, by the way, good luck trying to add lean mass with elevated cortisol….

Remember you are not that different at all from our prehistoric counterpart, on a physiological level that is! In times of high stress e.g. getting chased by a mountain lion, or a long period without food. Your body, in all its wisdom would have used things like cortisol, or adrenaline, to elevate your blood sugar…keep you going, and essentially keep you alive! Now since not much of this has changed over the many, many years…. You guessed it, this still happens!

At a meeting and you didn’t eat lunch….
Went straight to the gym after work, no dinner….
Skipped breakfast…. (an all too common SIN!)
Prolonged Elevated Cortisol…. The net result – your body actually begins to waste muscle and activates processes which lead to you storing fat, it begins to panic! This is harmful to many processes in the body!

So, you might ask:
Why do I have this cortisol stuff if it’s so bad?

We do need cortisol yes:
It controls the body’s natural rhythm in terms of sleep
It carries out and facilitates many important processes during exercise
It helps control the immune system.

But, as mentioned above the issue is
Which is an unfortunate symptom and reality of modern society, and modern living.

So what can we do Matt?
What? Apart from train with me and receive all the advice and solutions one could ever need?? Well….

In my experience, the worst culprits for elevating cortisol and thus inhibiting fat loss (or just quality of life for that matter!) are:

Too much caffeine
Not eating (/eating correctly) regularly/ calorie restriction
(The two above in combination seem to make each other even worse, coffee, a meal does not make!)
Lack of sleep – DON’T DODGE THIS ONE!
Exercise without the proper nutrition, or extended cardio especially!
Any psychological stress!!!

Here’s some ways to help:

Sleep more
Eat breakfast (cortisol wakes us up in the morning – when it is high, so you have to eat to normalize it!)
Create a more alkaline environment in the body
EG More green veg, more water (add some lemon and lime juice!)

Take any of the following supplements:
Magnesium – at night on an empty stomach
Vitamin C – as above or post exercise
B vitamins – support your nervous system, it will be less nervous!
Phosphatidylserine – what?? Who cares about the name it’s an excellent cortisol blocker, great to take at night and wind down the system for rest and repair.

Lastly, try to relax. This is where it gets a little ‘airy fairy’…. sorry, but relaxation, yoga (which i have found to be very effective) and just having a good ol’ laugh have been shown to reduce Cortisol levels time and time again. So get down to the cinema and see that new Adam Sandler film…. Although, wait… doesn’t that increase cortisol…?

Bad jokes aside, the bottom line is if you want to ramp up your fat loss, have a generally firmer body, lose fat around the middle especially, sleep better and feel generally better and happier –

Take the steps above, It’s not that hard to make a difference, and it becomes even easier when you see the results!

Listen to your body, care for it, work within your means to the best of your ability for it’s sake – It is, without a doubt, the best thing you will ever own – hate it or love it!



Matt Kelly – Personal Trainer


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