Shown is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) which leads to the release of cortisol when you are ‘stressed’.
Cortisol is GOOD because it leads to a chain of events that provide us with energy, controls inflammation, and even INCREASES FAT BURNING by stimulating lipolysis. This mechanism is what provides you with energy and focus when exercising, and ultimately is a necessary process for survival.
BUT like most things in biology it follows an inverted U shape curve. You want the right amount but too much (chronic cortisol) becomes detrimental.
Here’s a list of SOME of the other things that increases cortisol:
High intensity exercise
High sugar/pro inflammatory diet
STRESS (physical or mental)
So when you pair caloric restriction + high intensity exercise, initially it works. But after a while, high cortisol becomes chronic and the body & brain ADAPT.
It adapts by STORING BODY FAT (especially around the abdomen) and literally becomes resistant to releasing stored fat cells. Studies have shown that ADRENALINE RESISTANCE can develop, which is where fat is no longer released in response to this normally “fat releasing hormone” [Carel et al., J Clin Endocrin. Metab., 1999].
This is a SURVIVAL MECHANISM; if the brain detects chronic cortisol it will store fat so that we can survive without food.
It will also start to BREAKDOWN muscle 💪 because fueling muscle requires ALOT of calories (why muscular ppl can eat more) while fat can provide energy for MUCH longer than protein or glycogen in the absence of food.
“The body must feel comfortable in order to burn fat.”
Now you know why rest days, meditation, adaptogenic herbs, “refeed days” (these are NOT cheat days), stress resiliency and so on are all important factors for BODY COMPOSITION.
So, does this sound like you? If so, consider the following interventions:
- If you train 6-7 days a week at HIGH intensity, mostly conditioning and ‘cardio’ workouts, consider reducing the number of days you workout in a week to 4-5. Add in some full body complex strength training (squats, deadlifts etc.) and add in soem restorative exercise, like yoga.
- If you are on a LOW CARB diet, consider increasing your carbs, especially around your training window. This will help to control inflammation and cortisol, which in your current state could worsen symptoms and progress.
- Consider supplementing with adaptogenic herbs, like ashwaganda or rhodiola rosea. These have been shown to help return the body to homeostasis, regulate hormones, and control inflammation.
- Adopt a mindfulness or meditation practice! The easiest place to start? Yoga, or even 5 minutes per day JOURNALLING. That’s right, simply writing things down and getting them off your mind before bed can have HUGE improvements on stress and sleep. Another great option is to write down 3 things you are grateful for at the beginning of each day. There is an actual physiological response in the brain when we feel grateful; you’d be be amazed at how this little habit can set the tone for the entire day!
Not sure how to implement these practices into your daily routine? Well that’s what I do at Brain Ignition; I help people just like you incorporate these nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle habits in order to feel and perform better than ever! Just fill out this simple form to get started for FREE!
Carel et al., J Clin Endocrin. Metab., 1999