The Cortisol Connection to Weight Gain

December 30, 2018

The Cortisol Connection to Weight Gain

It may surprise you to learn that the stress you live with might actually be causing your weight gain. Stress increases cortisol levels and can lead to belly fat. Sometimes we can’t control our environmental or emotional stress, but we can control our food stressors. Listen in as we talk about some of the bad food habits that could be stressing your body.

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Transcript 

LEA: Thank you for tuning in today. I am pleased to tell you that we have a brand new topic for you. This morning we're going to talk about the cortisol connection to weight gain and you might be asking yourself, what exactly does this mean? What is cortisol? You might be saying to yourself, you know, I thought that those numbers on this scale were sliding up because of all of those Christmas cookies and treats that we have been eating. There was tons of that this last week. Of course, we do agree that your weight gain may be from eating all of those Christmas cookies, your favorite holiday brownies or indulging in those white chocolate peppermint lattes or it could also be from getting stuck in traffic or those long checkout lanes at the holidays or any of those other holidays stresses that you can think of and there are many. It may surprise you to learn that the stress that you live with might actually be the cause of your weight gain.

MELANIE: Yeah. That's something that I don't think people really think about.

LEA: And we don't talk about it. I mean we talk about connections with that, but it can be a big component to this.

MELANIE: It really is. And it's something that we have to really get focused in on with our clients. So at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we call it the cortisol connection to a slow metabolism and weight gain. It's something that people don't really talk about, especially they don't think about that with nutrition, but we hope that we've piqued your curiosity so you're going to stay tuned for some new and interesting information. I'm Melanie Beasley and I'm co-hosting today's show with Lea. I'm a licensed and registered dietitian and I've been working with clients for about 30 years in a variety of settings and we share an office.

LEA: We do. We never see each other see each other. We work opposite days at the Mendota heights location. So I see you in passing. I see the stuff that you're working on.

MELANIE: The notes that we take that we leave on the desk.

LEA: But yeah, so it's great to be in the studio with you today and I am Lea Wetzel. I'm a certified nutrition specialist and I have a master's degree in human nutrition and many of our long-time listeners have heard me on the show share about my story about how I had asthma and I put it into remission by changing my diet and how I was able to lose 50 pounds 16 years ago through eating real food that we talk about every week on this show. You know, even through my two pregnancies, I still maintained my 50 pound weight loss.

MELANIE: That's awesome. As nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness we say over and over that food matters. And because of our personal health issues, both Lea and I do not really indulge in Christmas cookies or those special holiday brownies or peppermint mocha lattes. Just the boring coffee, right? Because we understand that these foods are too stressful for our bodies. So I drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and I don't know if you do Lea?

LEA: I've switched over to black tea, but I used to drink a cup or two of black coffee every day.

MELANIE: And I love my coffee, but I'll tell you what, I don't use any fancy creamers. I use full-fat canned coconut milk or I'll have my clients use heavy whipping cream, but absolutely none of those sugary flavored syrups.

LEA: Right? And I think that's huge because those sorts of drinks really add up as far as sugar intake.

MELANIE: And we think it's just a beverage.

LEA: And I have clients where it's kind of an afterthought. You know, they had a big stressful day and this is my reward or they're out shopping and you know, this is a quick stop on their holiday gatherings and errands. But yeah, it's amazing how much sugar, on par with a lot of sugary sodas, those Christmas beverages end up adding up to.

MELANIE: They really do. Or that Coke in the morning. I have a lot of clients that will come in and that Diet Coke or Coke in the morning.

LEA: Yes, definitely. So we know that too much coffee is stress producing. So we limit our daily intake of coffee consumption. Like we said, usually what I suggest as a max ideal is one to two cups of coffee per day and having that earlier in the day. I try to have people cut off the coffee by noon because extending it out too long can be cortisol producing if you're drinking too much too late in the day.

MELANIE: Absolutely. And then you've got that sleep connection with coffee too.

LEA: Oh, for sure. And also with high fructose corn syrup sweeteners that are found in a lot of those mochas and cappuccinos, are also stressful to our bodies. So we really try to have clients avoid those fufu coffee drinks and we respect our bodies and frankly, we don't want to add to the daily stress that we already have. We can't always avoid out of control traffic or you know, picking your kids up from daycare on time, you know, trying to find that perfect gift for your special loved one. But we can avoid those high sugar, high caffeine coffee drinks.

MELANIE: And let's talk about why that's important, Lea. Let's go through the cortisol connection to weight gain step-by-step. Are you aware that rushing around and feeling out of control may be slowing your metabolism and leading to weight gain?

LEA: Have you ever wondered why people store fat on certain areas of their body? You know, our metabolism does not decide to burn or store body fat just based on calories alone. The quality of those calories and your hormones are also determining factors. We have talked about the quality of food you eat on other shows, and today we're going to zero in on just one hormone and that's cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands and too much cortisol can certainly lead to weight gain.

MELANIE: And when, when we're talking about this, sometimes I think it sounds like a lot of science gobbly gook. So let's break this down for people even more. Stress increases cortisol levels and can lead to belly fat. Now, I think I have some people's attention here. What this means is that when we are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released from our adrenal glands, which can then cause our body to store fat around our stomach. I have clients that say I've always had a flat stomach, and now I'm starting to get a pouch, or I'm gaining weight in my belly. So, the adrenal glands are found on the top of the kidneys and they produce both adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism and your blood pressure.

LEA: Yes. And so a Yale researcher found women who had more belly fat also had experienced more stress and even more negative moods. And I'm sure many of you are thinking, why do we put on abdominal fat when we are stressed? Well, actually this is really fascinating. Abdominal fat has four times more cortisol receptors than any other fat cells in our bodies. Isn't that amazing? Four times more receptors. So our belly fat is just really more susceptible for storing body fat when we're stressed out. That fat goes right onto our bellies. You may be thinking, I must be eating too much and that is why I'm gaining weight, but maybe not. Maybe it's due to your stress because I could very much a test, working with clients in the office where their eating hasn't changed too much. They've been getting about the same for this extended period of time. But what has happened is during this period where they gained a lot of belly fat, they had a big stressful event. Maybe it was work related, maybe they were afraid of losing a job or there was downturns and they had more work to do or it could also be our family. You know, a lot of times I hear that a loved one is sick and they're doing a lot more caretaking and their self-care is not what it used to be.

MELANIE: I hear that a lot. They’re caretakers now. And teachers, I have a lot of teachers and the stress is very high in their classrooms. And we really have to work on lowering their stress so that they can achieve their goals if it's weight reduction.

LEA: Right. And we're going to talk a little bit more about that too throughout the show, but a lot of times people don't really take value in the fact of how much the stress in their lives that have this sort of impact. And I have seen people gained 10 pounds of belly fat based on stress.

MELANIE: And that's stressful. Gaining that weight in itself is stressful. So if you think about this, stress equals cortisol, which equals belly fat. Centuries ago, stress may have saved our lives, when you ran for your life while you're being chased by pack of hungry wolves. However, today our stressors may be a high credit card balance, or you know what you were saying, Lea, about maybe an upcoming divorce or caregiving for a parent or maybe you have a really stressful job. These are all emotional stressors, but there are also physical stressors such as having a surgery. A lot of people don't realize that training for or running a marathon can be a form of stress. It sounds like it's a really healthy thing, but that's stress on the body, too. Eating too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, or even eating gluten when you're gluten sensitive. A physical stressor might be a morning muffin or that entire bag of chips that you eat while you're watching TV. It doesn't count if you don't look at the bag, right? You're just watching TV.

LEA: In all of this too, when you're stressed, these are things that you're more likely wanting to do. You're going to want that bag of chips when you're stressed out, so it's a vicious cycle. And we're going to get into more of this after our first break. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Research points out that if we lose just 10 percent of our body weight, many areas of our health will improve. Ten percent of your body weight may be as little as 10 pounds or maybe 30 pounds or more. Maybe 2019 is the year to start working on this 10 percent. We understand that 10 percent in and of itself is not magical. It is the food you are eating to lose that 10 percent that makes the difference with your health. We have many ways to help you lose that 10 percent. Stay tuned because we are offering you real food solutions that often tastes delicious.

MELANIE: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. I’m Melanie Beasley, registered dietitian, and I'm here with Lea Wetzel, certified nutrition specialist, and we're discussing the cortisol connection to weight gain. Starting in January, we're offering a number of solutions to help you with weight gain and your health. First, I have many clients who meet with me every other week to change their eating habits. They like that accountability. They like to have a face that is going to help them walk this journey with them.

LEA: It's really helpful if you do need that individual attention to come in regularly.

MELANIE: Just having a team.

LEA: Yes, yes. Keep that accountability going.

MELANIE: It's true. You want that person who's on your side and as you know, at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we believe in eating real food several times a day. And when our clients actually follow the meal plan, they’re magically losing weight and they often say, I have more energy, I have fewer aches and pains, I sleep better and I feel so good. And a bonus is they say, I'm just not hungry all the time. And we have 11 dietitians or nutritionists to serve you. So call 651-699-3438 to set up an individual appointment. Find a location that works the best for you on our website, www.weightandwellness.com.

LEA: Yeah. And we really help you map that out, we're sitting down with you and we are writing out what that day of eating looks like and giving you lots of good tips and tools of what to do in the grocery store and we're here to tweak it along the way as you get better, you know, we'll also adjust the plans based on your individual needs. So it's a really helpful tool that lot of people have used to turn their lives around.

MELANIE: If you think about it, Lea, we have so many foods that are coming out on the market and so it can be a really confusing maze for a lot of people who are already stressed, already busy. And to have someone that can sort of sort through the food aisles in the grocery store, help them understand labels. It's kind of critical if you want to really pursue this journey.

LEA: And there's a lot of fads out there too with dieting. And so we're here to kind of simplify things and help people, really empower them to know what to do with their health.

MELANIE: And their family's health.

LEA: Exactly. A lot of times all of a sudden I have a whole family of clients or coworkers. It's a really great offering, I would say.

MELANIE: Yeah, the word of mouth of when somebody says they feel great and people can see they are losing weight or their health is improving. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for people, and people want to help other people. So we get a lot of referrals that way.

LEA: I do. A lot of my clients are coming from referrals. So today we're talking about the cortisol connection to weight gain and belly fat. Really, when we get back to it, it's estimated that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care doctors are stress-related problems that we talked about. Cortisol is coming from stress, right? That hormone is secreted when we're all really stressed out. So how can you get your stress under control? This is something I talk about all the time as an important goal factor for clients. How can you put your cortisol response in remission? Or how can you reduce your cortisol to lose weight?

MELANIE: That's true. So sometimes we can’t control our environment or our emotional stress. So, I think of it sort of as dominoes. We can control our food stressors. So we look at what are the stressors in your life and what do we have control over. And food is one of those stressors. Most people are not aware that every time they drink a soda or stop for a mocha latte or order a pizza, they're putting stress on their adrenal glands and more cortisol is released into the body and it's heading straight to the abdominal area, which results in more belly fat. And like we said, that’s stressful when you're already stressed. And you're eating this way and the stressors in your life you don't have control over and now you're gaining weight in your belly. I mean, nobody needs that. It's really important that we look at the total picture and total health with our clients. We don't just look at food.

LEA: Exactly. So are you still practicing bad food habits? This is number one focus of how to help reduce your cortisol. You know a soda, the candy, the wine, alcohol in general, the crackers, the pizza, the chips, the cookies, which are all food stressors. When you understand these foods actually our stress producing, it is easier to give them up. When you know better, you can do better.

MELANIE: You can. And I always ask my clients to sort of frame how they look at that list of foods that you just mentioned. To frame it differently instead of framing it as, I really deserve it because my boss was crabby with me or my children or snarky with me or I have to run to the hospital. I mean these are stressors. And so people will say, I deserve, and then you fill in the blank. It could be cookies, it could be the latte, but I always ask them, do you deserve inflammation, pain and high cortisol levels? Or do you deserve someone to nurture you? And a lot of times it gets down to yourself. Your self has to nourish and nurture. So here's something to think about. Eating a bag of chips may produce just as much cortisol as bolting to escape from being eaten by a lion. So that's a lot of load of cortisol right there being dumped into your system. So to get rid of your belly fat, would you be willing to give up stressful food habits? It really is chemistry. It is not people's character. It's just what they've always done and what they know to do.

LEA: And it gives you that quick fix, right? All of these foods, you do feel good for a minute.

MELANIE: You do, that 15 minutes it took you to eat.

LEA: Yeah, exactly right. But all of what you just said, Melanie, is exactly right. And the end result, what these foods do to us, is they caused more stressor, right? More cortisol, more weight gain, more inflammation. And having that as a focus, that's a really excellent tool to use with clients to empower them in these moments of do I eat it, do I not eat it, to make the right choice.

MELANIE: And to say I deserve something to bring my stress down, not something to eat that brings my stress up. So it's a matter of decreasing your stress with the one thing you have control over, which is your food and your beverages.

LEA: Yep. That's exactly right. I am a good example of this, right? You know, in the past I would drink several glasses of juice in a day.

MELANIE: Sounds like a healthy choice. Right?

LEA: It does, right? I thought so. And I didn't realize that I was increasing my cortisol levels all day long by just flooding myself with sugar and which ultimately showed up as belly fat. I definitely had a lot of belly fat back in the day and when I learned that juice has just as much sugar as soda, I stopped drinking it. When you know better, you can often do better. When I say I realized that I wasn't doing something good for myself, it was harming my body,

MELANIE: Which is what our clients and our listeners are doing is they're learning better in listening to these podcasts.

LEA: Yeah, exactly. And I can attest that just after a short period of time, I was able to start to lose weight and my belly was starting to get smaller just by giving up the juice. And I would also say, reflecting back at that time in my life, that I was pretty stressed out and maybe too, like thinking about it, maybe I didn’t need to be so stressed out. My cortisol I know was through the roof based on my sugar choices and the diet.

MELANIE: And you know, looking at you, this is radio so people can't really see you, Lea.

LEA: I have a great face for radio.

MELANIE:            But looking at you, I mean you look like the picture of health and I know you have two children and I know you're raising a family and you have a career, so you are the picture of health. So obviously, the little stressors that come from parenting and having a career, you're managing beautifully and I know you eat spot on.

LEA: I have to, I have to to manage all of that. It's a lot to manage. Everyone, you know, it's not just me, but in order to keep my stress managed, I have to eat well and keep my blood sugar stable.

MELANIE: And I know how I feel when I'm not eating well and I never want to go back to that place.

LEA: Exactly. Well it's break time again. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. As Melanie mentioned earlier, if you want to lose 10 percent of your body weight, we have numerous options for you. And one option is individual nutrition counseling. We find it works best when you meet once a week or once every other week until you are successful. No contracts, just a fee for each appointment. We also have a couple of series of nutrition classes that we offer which start in January, so after break Melanie will describe one of those series to you, so be sure to stay tuned. We'll be right back.

MELANIE: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition and our discussion about cortisol and weight gain. I want to talk to you about option number two to lose weight. Starting January 14, our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss class series starts in all seven of our locations. The cost is $399 for 12 classes and we've also included two individual appointments with a dietitian or a nutritionist to personalize your plan because we're all individuals and we're all different, so we have different needs. To help you be successful, you meet with a dietitian or nutritionist and they really listen to what you've got going on personally, physically, emotionally, and in your life so that we can work with you. If you sign up by January 6, you can take advantage of our early bird special and save $50. So it's a really big steal. You can call 651-699-3438 today. Or you can sign up online at weightandwellness.com.

LEA: So are you teaching any of the classes coming up?

MELANIE: I am teaching in Lakeville and I love teaching. It's one of my joys. So I'm teaching Nutrition 4 Weight Loss in our Lakeville location and also corporately. So we do corporate classes.

LEA: We do. That's really great. Yeah. I love teaching, too. It's fun to get out there and really connect with people in the big group and it's in that class setting that you get to hear not only the teacher’s experience but also, you know, talking with the other classmates and what’s working for them. And so a lot of people walk away from that series with just a lot of knowledge and practical information they can use.

MELANIE: It's a lot of support. And we encourage our clients in class to share as much as they're comfortable with or not share at all depends. It just depends if you just want to sit and absorb or you want to have that conversation in class, it's really a great place for support.

LEA: And the individual appointments, especially for those people that don't really love to share in groups, but like more individually with a professional, they can get that support there, too.

MELANIE: Absolutely. We love it. I love teaching these classes. It's one of the high points for me.

LEA: That's really great. All right, so back to our topic at hand. We're talking today about the cortisol connection to weight gain.

MELANIE: Another physical stresser, too, Lea is skipping meals. So when we meet with these clients, we find that they are skipping meals. Well, skipping meals equal stress, which equals cortisol, which equals belly fat. So at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we call it the magic three, which is eating protein, carbs, and fat every three hours to avoid the cortisol belly fat problem.

LEA: So for our new listeners, when we say that protein, carb and fat, what would be an example of a dinner per se?

MELANIE: When we say carb, I really emphasize vegetables. So, for instance, for breakfast I had two strips of nitrite free bacon. I stir fried two cups of organic spinach in my bacon fat, and then a couple eggs. So I had the fat in my bacon fat, I had the protein in my bacon and eggs, and then I add the nutritional boost of that organic spinach to it. That was my carb. So I'll eat again in three hours. Love my life.

LEA: That's great. So that's what we mean. We say pfc: protein, fat and carb. Our carbs are usually we're talking about the real carbs, fruits and vegetables, and healthy starches like root vegetables, sweet potatoes.

MELANIE:  Anything you find in a farmer's field, right? You don't find it in the grocery store when you open a package, but definitely the farmer's field. When you skip meals, your blood sugar can drop, creating stress, and in response to the stress, your adrenal glands put out more cortisol. Then you put on more belly fat. In the past we were taught to skip meals to save calories. That was such bad information. I feel like I just need to write all my clients from the eighties and apologize.

LEA: Right. But again, we didn't know better. Now we know better that that's really not the best way to eat throughout the day for your blood sugar. So here is another situation when cortisol is produced. Lack of sleep equals stress equals cortisol, which equals belly fat. You know, we know that 20 percent of people are sleep deprived. And are you sleeping less than seven and a half hours most nights? To reduce your belly fat try sleeping eight to nine hours most nights.

MELANIE: I think I heard some of our listeners do an eye roll, so talk more about that, Lea.

LEA: You actually lose weight while you sleep. This is such an important conversation. Nationwide, right now I think the average amount of sleep is almost close to under six hours a night. The lack of sleep is a serious problem and it's a problem that I help many clients with nutritionally. And sometimes it's as simple as for some people adding a bedtime snack of apple and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter so people can sleep better through the night if they have a lot of blood sugar issues.

MELANIE: And that is when you have been someone who has grown up doing that calorie in, calorie out, the idea of eating before bed just seems shocking. But when they get sleep, they're a believer.

LEA:  Oh for sure, yes. And I put a lot of people to the sleep test, like if sleep is not your priority and you can't lose weight and you're not sleeping enough if you're sleeping under seven hours a night this is part of the problem. And I'll have people part of their to do list is you need to prioritize your sleep. So you're getting more sleep throughout the night, I even have clients who, and I'm sure you do too, are those avid exercisers and they'll get up at 4:00 in the morning because they think that they need to get that exercise in and that's part of their struggling metabolism, but they're only sleeping five hours a night and they have stressful, stressful jobs and stressful and stressful that. And I'm like, well, we can control this piece of it by getting you more sleep and more times than not, I don't think it's ever failed, but putting people to the sleep test versus exercise, they will lose weight better if they get more sleep than if they prioritize exercising six, seven days a week.

MELANIE: It’s the truth. I mean, we need that exercise, but I think more critically is we really need that sleep. If we're stressed and we're reaching for caffeine because we're only getting that minimum amount of sleep, then we're adding stress upon stress.

LEA: When you're sleep deprived, your cortisol's going to be higher. Your choices around foods are going to be poor, right?  You're going to have more sugar cravings.

MELANIE: When we're sleep deprived, we crave sweets.

LEA: And I can totally attest to this. I just kind of feel like I'm coming out of this phase of little babies and young kids who do not sleep well and not getting enough sleep and up throughout the night, I can tell you that my cortisol levels were definitely a lot higher when I was not getting enough sleep. To get my adequate amount of sleep, I have to go to bed really early. My kids get up super early in the morning. So I'm getting ready for bed at 8:00 at night most nights to get myself to sleep at the right time. And it's worth it.

MELANIE: I struggled with insomnia for years and having that connection in my life where my quality of sleep, I've become a little sleep Nazi in my world because I understand the relationships biochemically what happens when you're under chronic stress of all those components you were talking about. When you're under stress, the Cortisol releases glucose into your bloodstream to handle that stressful event. And if you don't use up all that glucose, the extra glucose gets stored as belly fat that. So for example, you use up all the glucose when you frantically pick up the rear end of a car to save someone. We all know the story. Someone's pinned under a car. But when you're driving helter skelter so you're not late picking up the kids from daycare, I mean, that's stressful. You're in traffic. You don't use up that extra glucose that was poured into your system. And all of the unused glucose from that stressful car ride gets stored as belly fat.

LEA: Because remember our belly fat has all those cortisol receptors right? Four times. So just think of it, you're shoving all that sugar into your blood and then it's sucking up right into your belly.

MELANIE: So long ago it was more frequent that people used up all the extra glucose that was released from excessive stress because the situations or events they encountered were often dangerous or life threatening. However, we live in a different world. Our stress looks differently. The extra glucose doesn't get used up for the constant emotional stress many of us are under. It’s just stored as fat.

LEA:  Well, it's a break time again. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. We will be right back.

MELANIE: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. We have one more option for you to get nutritional information that’ll make a difference in your health and your life. Option number four is Nutrition 4 Weight Loss online for you to take in the comfort of your home, office or cabin up north. Our snowbirds in Florida can listen. This is an amazing program that is presented in a way that will help you make the necessary changes to lose that extra 10 percent of weight or even more. If you live outside of the Minneapolis St Paul area, or just don't want to fight the traffic, this is a great option to change your health. Call 651-699-3438 or sign up weightandwellness.com.

LEA: And so for all our podcast listeners, this is a great way to connect with us. You will get those online classes but then too, you still have those appointment options. So we would meet with you over the phone or Skype or if you are in the Twin City area, I have some busy, busy, online, class participants that are working too much to get here every week, but they really like the option that they could come in and do appointment in person so that I see them in person for their appointments.

MELANIE: I think they really liked the option of being able to go to class in their jammies.

LEA: I've heard for years the podcast listeners that feel like, well, I wish I could take classes that you offer. We're starting to get into a lot more with the online classes and it’s great information.

MELANIE:  It is great. It's a great way to participate and have that continued support to keep you on the right path.

LEA: Exactly. So before break we were talking about the cortisol connection to skipping meals. So every time you skip a meal, your body is stressed and the extra glucose gets stored as belly fat. So, skipping meals can put on belly fat. So, remember this. Stress means a release of Glucose and any unused excess glucose turns into belly fat.

MELANIE: When I'm working with clients, I often find that many of them still believe if they skip a meal or a snack, they're going to lose weight faster. And a lot of times when they're skipping, they'll go ahead and have that diet coke or that fancy coffee drink because they need that energy boost. Well they are still locked into old wrong message of calories in, calories out.

LEA: Right. And a lot of times this profile of clients, too, it leads to these sugar cravings, right? Because their body is being deprived and it wants that quick fix. So often I find when my clients are skipping meals, their blood sugar level drops and of course they automatically reach for the sugar. They need that pickup when they're with their blood sugar is low. So that process carb fits with the extra sugar, plus the cortisol release doubles the trouble and the result is even faster weight gain. Unfortunately, they just don't understand that it is a biochemical reason not a simple calorie in problem. It may be unusual, but for many clients we have to teach them that eating real food several times a day to lose weight is the right way. And when I learned in order to put my body into fat burning mode, that I needed to eat real food several times a day, initially I thought, wow, this is a lot of food.

MELANIE: We have clients that look at us with terror. Am I going to lose weight eating all this food?

LEA: Right. I decided though, it was coming out of taking that Weight & Wellness series and I was like, well, I'm going to put this to the test. I'll try it for a few weeks at least to see how I feel. And it really helped. I was able to, at that time I had already lost the weight, but still struggling with certain types of inflammation. And I definitely felt that I had a lot of better blood sugar and I didn't gain weight doing so. That's oftentimes the fear, like how am I not going to gain more weight by eating all these food.

MELANIE: I get to eat and be healthy and be slim.

LEA: But I've had a lot of clients to where they actually were able to lose weight eating more than they were before.

MELANIE: Which is surprising, but like you mentioned, it's biochemical. It is definitely something that happens on much further level than just calories in, calories out.

Okay. Let's recap, Lea. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands when we are stressed. It can be any stress, right? Not Sleeping. Having a problem with skipping meals, going to court, being late to a meeting or any kind of stress. Excess Cortisol is produced to handle the stress. Then extra glucose is released and with simple everyday life stressors that extra glucose is not used up. So, it is then stored as, the term of the day, belly fat.

LEA: Yes, definitely. And so what can you do to prevent this cortisol release? So we know that there's only so much that we have control over our life stressors. So the thing that we need to prioritize is our self care, right? And number one is what we preach every week on this show and in counseling and in our classes is that we need to eat in balance and we need to eat regularly. Depends on your day, but it could be five to six times a day eating every several hours to keep our blood sugar stable. So we aren't having these highs and lows with our blood sugar leading to high cortisol.

MELANIE: Lea, say that again. How many times a day?

LEA: Five to six times a day dependent on your day for a lot of people work really, really well to keep their blood sugar stable. And some people that we work with, they're only eating maybe a    couple times a day.

MELANIE: Or the, “I save up and have a great big meal at night. I don't understand why I am overweight.”

LEA: Yes, they don't eat all day long and then they eat all their calories right before bed.

MELANIE: And guess what, that's a cortisol producer.

LEA: Exactly. So, that is important, and in general sense, when we look at that eating and eating plan of eating five to six times a day, what would that look like? Starting from the morning, and when are we starting?

MELANIE: Yes. And when you, when you get up in the morning, usually within 30 minutes, get that breakfast on the plate. And I say plate, I don't say unwrap the bar. Sometimes it might be make an egg bake and you reheat a square in the morning if you're super busy. That’s a delicious way to start the day and it's back to that self nurturing. And then about three, three and a half hours later, I definitely want to see my clients eating again. Sometimes they'll make a smoothie in the morning and put it in a coffee mug that looks like coffee like everybody else, but they might drink half of that smoothie that's got some vegetables in it.

LEA: For years I would make a meal smoothie for my snack and I drank half of it in the morning and then half of it in the afternoon.

MELANIE: Yes, brilliant. It's helpful. And if you're busy we can figure it out for you. We can help you problem solve. And then, having a lunch that you've packed. Having another snack.

LEA: What would be, for example, for a lunch. Like what are some common lunches?

MELANIE: Common lunches that I recommend, I want my clients to keep it simple so it's doable. So, a common lunch might be something, a leftover protein that they made from dinner. Leftovers are great and it just feels so much better than the old sandwich. So, I like leftovers a lot. It might be another square of that egg bake if you were just too busy or you ran out of leftovers. And then I always encourage them, put everything on some field greens or some vegetables. A pan of those roasted vegetables that you can just toss that protein on. And if they're super stressed and they didn't get a time to food prep, maybe a roasted chicken and a box of organic field greens and a healthy salad dressing. A little cutie oranges, you've got it.

LEA: And I also do this time of year, being in the thick of the winter, I do a lot with frozen vegetables too. I'll go to Costco and I'll buy a big bag of mixed organic vegetables or two, they have cauliflower rice and I always talk that in my freezer. So again, being busy or trying to fill in and making sure eat more vegetables, I'll throw in those frozen vegetables. Heat came up with some butter with my leftover meat.

MELANIE: Or soup with the leftover meat and those organic veggies. I love to make soup with bone broth. We've got recipes on our website. And that's just an added nutritional bonus. And boy, you can make a batch of soup in your crock-pot and not even think about it while you're busy going about your day.

LEA: Yep. And so if you think about this, like all of the things that we're talking about, generally when I’m cooking for my work week, I'm making big batches maybe a few times a week. I'm not having to do things everyday all the time.

MELANIE: And I have people say I don't want to eat the same thing every day. So I'm like, squirrel away a lunch portion of those leftovers into the freezer in four to six ounce portions and then what you do is you look through your freezer, it gets full and you've got to do something and look through your freezer. What have I got? Oh boy. I have clients that say, “It just doesn't look good to me.” Well of course not. It's frozen. Everything looks the same. Nothing looks good frozen. So I'm like trust that it’s just as Yummy as when you put it in there. Trust the process. Pull out four or five of those leftovers, put them in on Sunday night. So you're ready to go for the week.

LEA: Yeah. That is great. And too, for me when I'm thinking about dinner, we have our afternoon snacks. I'll do a mirroring of what I did in the morning, like that half protein shake in the morning, half protein shake in the afternoon, not having to rethink another option. But for dinners this time of year, you were kind of alluding to soup, I had soup three times this week and I've been doing a lot too with the Instant Pot. Those are really handy for when you don't have a lot of time.

MELANIE: I've just really started digging into mine. I felt like I own it so I should really figure it out. But oh my gosh, I'm loving it! But I use my crock pot during the night. I set it up, I turn it on low, I go to bed. And in the morning I take what's been cooked through the night, throw it in my refrigerator and when I get home I'll have to do a scoop and nuke.

LEA: So soups, we're getting all those veggies and you're getting that protein, healthy fats build into that too. Well, nourishing, balanced meals and those leftovers are delicious.

MELANIE: They are, they are delicious. And I batch cook. If I'm going to cook, I'm cooking for me. So if I'm going to cook one chicken thigh, I'm going to cook 12 because then I'm freezing. I don't want to stand in my kitchen all day. So, that works really well for me and I know that I'm nourishing my body. It's a way to self care when you're stressed. Knowing you have food prepared, that alone brings your cortisol level down because be prepared. A lot of stress is the not knowing of what's coming next, not having a plan. That is stressful. And this is something that we said in the beginning. It's doable and it's something you can control. Having a plan, nourishing and taking care of yourself, feeling like you're on top of it. Wow, that can be huge.

LEA: It is. It's great, and this is the place to focus.

MELANIE: It is. So, our goal and Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thanks for tuning in with Lea and I today and together let's make it a wonderful new year. Thank you.

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