Updated: Jul 23, 2019
We are in mid summer so no doubt a few of us are looking into strategies to try and tone up and feel our best.
But for some of us, no matter how hard we try or how well we eat, we may still struggle to achieve the results we were hoping for.
There are several factors which can impact an individual’s ability to lose weight including food, exercise, lifestyle and hormone levels.
Most people appreciate that food can have the biggest impact on weight loss and may attempt to lose weight by caloric restriction, or ‘dieting’. While creating an energy deficit is essential to losing weight, making sure an individual is not excessively exercising or severely energy restricting is important as these factors can result in immense physiological (physical) or psychological (mental) stress. Physiological and psychological stress can ultimately have detrimental effects on any weight loss attempt due to a disruption in your delicate hormone balance.
Cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone, is secreted by the adrenal glands as a response to stress. While having a little in your body is healthy, elevated cortisol levels disrupt the bodies blood glucose control by stimulating glucose secretion from stores in the liver and limiting the release of the hormone responsible for removing excess glucose from the blood stream, insulin. This results in high blood sugar levels. Eventually, more insulin is secreted to remove the excess glucose once cortisol levels have dropped, but this cycle results in poor glucose control which also makes losing weight very difficult as the excess glucose can be stored as fat. Therefore, managing cortisol and insulin levels are both important when trying to lose weight
Any stress on your body, whether that is being chased by a lion, excessively exercising, restricting energy intake or getting road rage, promotes the same hormonal response in your body. Therefore, if someone is over-training and their intake does not match their requirements, this can place physiological and psychological stress on the body, which can stimulate cortisol secretion, making weight loss that much harder
Here are a few ways to mange your cortisol levels.
In recent times, there has been some interest in a new ingredient called Bluenesse, which is a lemon balm extract (Melissa officinalis). The interest in this ingredient stems from preliminary researchwhich has indicated Bluenesse may help provide beneficial physiological effects for mental health while simultaneously having calming and improved alertness effects.
To date there have been two pilot studies in humans which have shown promising results for the use of Bluenesse in maintaining and improving mental focus while reducing the effects of physiological stress.
The first pilot study showed Bluenesse is absorbed within 60 minutes and participants reported beneficial effects 1 hour after intake. The second study contained a larger cohort and also had some promising results. In this Study, stress was induced by a multitasking activity. Participants also consumed a beverage and a fruit bar which contained 300 mg and 600 mg of the lemon balm extract. Study results demonstrated intake of 300 mg lemon balm extract per day showed the strongest effects. One hour after consumption beneficial effects could be seen relating to improvements in alertness, working memory and word recall, as well as a reduction of cortisol levels which we know is elevated during periods of stress. While research is only in its infancy and it is still an emerging area, the preliminary research is promising and indicates Bluenesse may aid in reducing stress-induced cortisol levels and may also support mental focus and cognitive function.
Focus on foods that nourish your body. Avoid not on restriction and punishment
Ensure that you are nourishing your body with a diet that is rich in vegetables, lean proteins, slow release grains and healthy fats. You should also make sure your diet is high in fibre to help you manage your sugar levels and keep your hormones balanced.
Reduce your intake of artificial ingredients including sweetened beverages and foods high in refined sugar (think lollies, cakes and biscuits, for starters) which are going to have a negative impact on insulin and cortisol levels.
Periodise your carbohydrate intake around your training
If you are active, aim to have the majority of your carbohydrate intake before and after your training session to ensure you’re providing your body with what it needs before to perform and to recover. Instead of eating carbohydrate based foods across the day, try having small regular amounts of slow release carbohydrates as they are beneficial for managing blood sugar levels. Good quality carbohydrates can play an important role in your weight loss journey, but you need execute the distribution of them correctly.
Don’t take this point as a reason to not train. You should be moving your body in some way every day. but it’s important to vary your training routine and allow your body to rest. Each person will have an individual threshold for what constitutes overtraining so it is a matter of listening to your body and also assessing your own results and energy levels. Too much exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion and hormonal imbalance.
When the body is not under stress, cortisol levels are naturally increased upon wakening and decreased at night. When the body is under stress, cortisol levels can be low across the day, and elevated at night. Getting adequate sleep and regulating your sleep cycle is an important strategy in managing your cortisol levels.