Cortisol is kind of fascinating in my opinion. It’s a hormone, and its vital to managing weight loss, stress and a variety of other things, like migraines, anxiety and insomnia. Also called the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol regulates blood pressure and our body’s flee/fight mechanisms. It’s the way our bodies have evolved to deal with danger and pressure.
Back in the Stone Age, when we were running away from sabretoothed tigers and other predators – or when we were hunting them – ‘our’ bodies would flood themselves with a healthy dose of cortisol, telling our systems to consume more kilojoules so that enough energy was available to do what was needed. It would then settle down ans dissipate, leaving the bodily systems to calm down and take stock.
Sounds pretty straight forward right? It is! Unfortunately we no longer run after or from sabretooth tigers or lions or whatnot, most of us are lucky enough to go through life without ever facing life-threatening danger. (For those of you who have, I seriously salute you.) So since we’re not running for our lives or accomplishing life-defining, death-defying feats as often as we used to, our cortisol comes into play when we’re stressing out about work, school or personal matters. Whenever you feel pressured, that’s when cortisol kicks in, trying to help your system to prepare and cope for the steps you need to take to deal with that stress.
Think of it as if cortisol hasn’t quite picked up on the fact that you’re not running from a tiger, it hasn’t learned the difference between predatory danger and the panic of a deadline.
This means we’re not getting the right evolutionary release of cortisol after the fact either, it doesn’t just ‘go away’ because we’re not using it up in a burst of adrenalin-fueled running away in panic scenario, we’re just powering through it, finishing our essay or paper, and then that’s it, no outlet, no nothin’!
In the meantime, cortisol has been triggering our ‘stuff your face with everything in sight because you’re going to need the energy to fight or run away!’ instinct. This is important to realise, especially when you’re trying to control your eating with a diet: stress will make you seek out food, whether it’s comfort food or not, you are more likely to overeat when stressed out!
How can you deal with this? Well, some people like to go for a run, get the cortisol out of your system by giving it what it’s expecting. Others suggest meditation. Essentially calming yourself down to allow for your body to realise you’re not about to be attacked is a good thing!
Some people are more prone to anxiety than others for a whole variety of reasons: mineral or vitamin deficiencies, genetics, post traumatic stress, or a number of other disorders or issues. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with stress, but trust me when I tell you that stuffing your face full of whatever you find in the fridge or pantry isn’t going to help the issue! Jump up and down, go for a run, drink camomile tea, read a book, but avoid the face-stuffing! Especially if you’re on a diet, you’ll only feel guilty and that’ll just trigger more stress, generating a vicious cycle you’ll have to break out of with some force.
Sustained levels of high cortisol can mess with your immune system, your blood pressure, and not to mention your state of mind! It can also mess with how your body absorbs nutritience and medication, so that’s something to keep in mind.