Inflammation and cortisol play massive roles in contributing to weight gain. Both are reactions that occur within the body in response to certain triggers. These triggers are caused when the body perceives that there is a threat or stress. We can avoid these outcomes and ensure optimum health and body composition by making certain lifestyle choices.
So, what is inflammation? Inflammation is the body's immune system response to protect and repair some kind of damage. It will be triggered by anything that will irritate or stress the body out.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is triggered by certain stimuli to let the body know something isn't right. Stress, sugar, and stimulants such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can trigger cortisol release. Adrenaline is also released as a ‘fight or flight’ response to let the body know something is wrong and that action needs to be taken.
We want to lower inflammation and cortisol in the body for greater health through making smart lifestyle choices. This will then promote the release of the hormone leptin, needed for greater body composition.
What is Leptin?
Leptin is the ‘satiety hormone’ that regulates your metabolism and hunger by telling your brain you are full. It is released in response to nutrient dense foods.
As you can see in the diagram, cortisol creates a vicious cycle. The cycle starts with stress triggers. These stress triggers stimulate your adrenal glands and put you into a fight or flight mode. The fight or flight mode then creates inflammation as something isn't right in the body.
Inflammation will generally worsen the longer you are in this state. High amounts of inflammation in the body will affect overall well-being, especially the strength of your immune system, as the immune system will be in full flight to lower the inflammation already placed on the body. It will also create fluid retention in the body which is where you'll see the number on the scales go up.
Next, leptin hormone release is not stimulated and therefore our hunger is not satisfied. People will often reach for low nutrient dense foods containing sugar or carbs. Excess blood sugar is then stored as fat in the process, and that’s when you get a crash. This is what you call the ‘ups and downs’ affecting your energy, mood and hunger. Then you are back to the start and the whole cycle begins again.
This is how people find themselves stuck in the vicious cycle of sugar addiction and even with regular exercise they find themselves getting bigger and their health worsening.
So, what lifestyle choices do we need to make to lower inflammation and cortisol?
The best approach is a holistic one that covers all angles. There's no quick fix or pill to take, a combination of factors are involved.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the 70, 20, 10 lifestyle model is the way to go.
What you put into your body is the first key to getting it right. The trick is reducing the inflammation response.
Steer clear of junk food such as sugar and food rich in transfats.
Limit refined carbs such as bread, pasta, rice, white potatoes.
Cut down alcohol consumption and stimulants such as caffeine.
Lactose in milk is acidic and should also be avoided.
Eat only a small amount of fruit, with nutrient dense berries the main preference.
Focus on clean eating - eat more vegetables and organic meats, nutrient dense foods.
Increase consumption of fats to increase leptin and lower inflammation. The ‘good fats’ are in coconut oil, raw olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish and fish oil supplements and avocado. For many people, saturated fats like animal fat, eggs, ghee (clarified butter) and goat's cheese can be good.
I also recommend magnesium as a supplement to help with stress and reduce cortisol. Best to try and get it from green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, but it's proven we don't get enough of it.
By following these tips and reducing the cortisol cycle you will be well on your way to losing weight, reducing sugar cravings and getting super healthy!