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When setting out on a health kick or weight loss journey, we all know how important diet and exercise are, but did you know that stress also plays a role? Even if you eat well and exercise daily, stress can wreak havoc on your health, and it’s all thanks to a little hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol is naturally released into the bloodstream in times of stress and is automatically regulated by your body. For short term bouts of stress triggered by the famous ‘fight or flight’ response, cortisol levels temporarily spike, but are quickly returned to a regulated level, however prolonged periods of stress can result in the production of too much cortisol, which can have a negative impact on your health, and in particular, your waistline.

When cortisol levels rise, so too does the body’s insulin levels, causing an immediate spike in blood sugar levels, followed of course by the inevitable sugar crash. This leads to the body craving foods high in sugar, salt and fat as a means to regain energy.

Signs your body might be producing too much cortisol:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Stomach ache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unhealthy food cravings
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Cold and flu symptoms

These factors might be causing your cortisol levels to spike:

  • Overcommitted schedule
  • Working long hours
  • Exercising more than once a day
  • Doing a lot of HIIT training
  • Drinking excess caffeine or alcohol

How to lower your cortisol levels, naturally:

  • Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol
  • Exercise regularly, but at a moderate level (limit HIIT training to 1-2 per week)
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep every night
  • Switch off from technology a few hours before bed