Stress And Cortisol Levels - What Does It Mean?

[caption id="attachment_7556" align="alignright" width="176"]stress - cortisol - weight gain - healthy living - diet Source: LaHoriMela.com[/caption] Stress can be a key contributor to weight gain or unhealthy weight loss.  The question is why? I started asking this question recently because of stress burdens that have impacted me recently and one day I got on the scale and saw that my weight had gone up nearly 2 pounds even though I had just finished a 4 hour bike ride and 30 minute run.  What would cause that weight gain?  I was scratching my head trying to think about it and realized that I have been under quite a bit of stress in just a few days.  Throw the stress in with the fact that I was eating quite a bit during this supported ride and it made sense but I still asked why. Before I dug into the cortisol levels I wanted to pinpoint the stress markers so I could understand them better.  Here is what has happened since March 1st:
  • Karen and I put our house on the market.
  • We had a pre-inspection done and found out we have hail damage and other items that needs to be addressed before the house could conceivably sell.
  • We received a rather large tax-bill that was unexpected and working with our accountant to make sure we didn't miss any deductions.
  • Sick wife and kid and when I say sick I mean practically immobile wife and kid with no appetite or desire/ability to do anything.
  • Ironman training with a race coming up in 10 days at San Juan.
  • Thinking of packing and traveling to San Juan.
So those are just a few of the items that peaked in the past few days and thus gave me a heightened sense of stress.  When I did some digging around because I knew that the stress not only caused the angst and worry but also a body change and I wanted to know more about it. I researched cortisol to find the following: It is released in response to stress and a low-level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system; and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.  It also decreases bone formation. Source:WikiPedia [caption id="attachment_7560" align="alignright" width="269"]stress - cortisol - peanut butter - jelly - whole wheat - apple Homemade Jam with Homemade Nut Butter In An Apple Stack[/caption] Seeing that cortisol increases blood sugar it made a little more sense to me that my weight would go up and thus a direct correlation between stress and cortisol started making more sense.  I thought back to what I had eaten on the ride and I realized I consumed a number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat bread which my body is not used to and most likely stored these items since it didn't know what to do with them.  Before you say:  But Jason you eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches let me clarify.  I do consume these items but the jelly and nut butter is homemade.  I have not had a slice of whole wheat bread in as long as I can remember and my PB&Js are now on top of apple slices or a Suzy's Thin Cake. My stress has been lessened a little bit because I have had the insurance adjuster out to our house to start that process, we have had showings of the house and will have an open house this weekend, both the wife and the kid are feeling better and I am looking forward to racing to help relieve all of this stress.  For 5 hours it will be me, my goggles, my bike and my shoes and the only concern I will have is maintaining my performance based on Maria's strategy.

Are Stress, Cortisol And Weight Gain Related?

[caption id="attachment_7557" align="alignright" width="271"]stress - cortisol - weight gain - exercise - diet Not Sure Why All The Pictures Were Of Women With Food.
Source: Senior Voice America[/caption] Further research led me to uncover the following:
  • Epel et al. demonstrated that premenopausal women who secreted more cortisol during and after novel laboratory stressors chose to consume more foods high in sugar and fat. It has been thought that cortisol directly influences food consumption by binding to receptors in the brain (specifically, the hypothalamus). This can stimulate an individual to eat food that is high in fat and/or sugar. Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by regulating other chemicals that are released during stress such as CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone), leptin, and neuropeptide Y (NPY) (12-13).
    • 12 Epel, E., R. Lapidus, B. McEwen, et al. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior.Psychoneuroendocrinology 26: 37-49, 2001.
    • 13 Cavagnini, F., M. Croci, P. Putignano, et al. Glucocorticoids and neuroendocrine function. International Journal of Obesity 24: S77-S79, 2000.
After reading this I knew that the stress had been the direct factor of that weight gain spike.  Realizing that was the case I not only acknowledged the stressors but started to take care of them so that I can go into the race and life, in general, feeling better.  Tomorrow I will go to yoga and focus inward and that will help relieve some of the stress I have been having as I find that when I am done I am thinking more clearly. Of course, continuing to exercise will help to decrease the stress as well as mediation.  I am going to start incorporating 10 minutes of silence into the middle of my day to allow for my body to come down from the stress of work and life and give me an opportunity to focus without being bombarded by all the distractions one has going on. Recognizing the stress factors has played a huge role in allowing me to de-stress and I suggest that if you are stressed that you focus more on your food consumption and don't just eat whatever you want because you are having a bad day.  Since that 2 pound weight gain in one day I have lost it all and I credit it to addressing the stress, focusing my eating habits and staying on my game when it comes to working out.

How Do You Deal With Stress?

Do You Turn To Food When The Stress Hits?

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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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