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Balancing the Hormone Behind Stubborn Belly Fat

As women, hormones seem to be the go-to discussion amongst doctor visits when we feel like we are no longer able to control common but frustrating symptoms such as night sweats, loss of sleep, weight gain, muscle loss, uncontrollable and unpredictable mood swings (just to name a few).

Standard procedure and common occurrence is the ordering of blood tests and receiving normal results with the symptoms remaining or a thyroid imbalance with no true game plan past a prescription. But what about the other hormones? Like cortisol, insulin, estrogen, and testosterone?

How do we begin to understand which are imbalanced and how to balance them without ending up with a pantry full of supplements and a grocery list with no end?

In this article, we are going to dive into the hormone that is the culprit for stubborn belly fat and mood swings.

Understanding the Major Hormone Cortisol

What is it?

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex of our adrenal glands (triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys).

Cortisol, pregnenolone, and another hormone called DHEA support the body's response to stress. The adrenal glands also produce adrenaline and noradrenaline, which also help the body respond to stress.

It seems like keeping the body's stress levels is a large priority, so when we are in under a state of chronic stress, you can see why if these hormones, in particular, cortisol can become imbalanced, and result in signs and symptoms that we will discuss below.

What is its' role:

Cortisol is a much larger player in our bodies than it is actually known. It is involved in virtually every cells physiology in our bodies. It plays multiple roles such as the heart vasculature, blood pressure, water excretion, electrolyte balance; it's the precursor of cortisone, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and is the primary hormone directing immune function. It affects our behavior, mood, neural activity, and a variety of brain chemical processes. It affects the eyes, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive function, and the production and clearance of other hormones. This particular hormone also plays a role in stimulating the conversion of protein to energy, so the body has a large supply of energy after glucose stores are depleted.

But, I'm sure that the main reason you are reading this, is to know what its role in weight loss is and it's actually responsible for mobilizing fatty acids from stored fat in the body (adipose). Now that we know the multiple roles that no one really talks about, let's talk about how we can identify an imbalance.

Identifying an Imbalance:

When you have too much cortisol some of the most common symptoms you may experience are: anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle aches, belly fat, feeling wired but tired, trouble losing weight, frequently catching a cold, uncontrollable sugar and salt cravings, painful periods, low libido, insomnia, trouble with heartburn and upset stomach.

When you don't have enough cortisol, some of the signs you may see are: constant overwhelm by performing regular daily activities, easily stressed by every little thing, feeling tired when you wake up, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, low blood pressure (feeling dizzy from laying to standing), difficulty concentrating, anxiety, PMS, blood sugar imbalances, difficulty concentrating, difficulty exercising or recovering from exercise.

Root Causes of Imbalance:

Prolonged mental, emotional, or physical stress, nutrient deficiencies, sleep disorders, chronic illness, chronic infection, steroid medication, over-exercising, surgical menopause, chronic pain, digestive illness, low cholesterol, and anemia.

Habits to Balance Your Cortisol Levels

1. Address the way you manage stress. This is the most important step in balancing your cortisol If you have been under stress for long periods of time or have a stressful work or home environment, implementing a positive way to shift that energy is key.

Here are a few great exercises to keep your cortisol levels happy and balanced (the key is that these are not adding significant stress to the nervous system but channeling eustress)

  • Yoga

  • Deep Breathing

  • Pilates

  • Walking

  • Slow Jogging in nice weather conditions

  • Swimming or Water Aerobics

  • Lightweight Strength Training

Another great area that causes unwanted stress is evaluating your time management. Having a morning routine can be really helpful in setting the tone for how you will react to stressors that day. Letting go of being a perfectionist, but also not procrastinating, learning to delegate and be a good listener.

We dive into routines in our Women's Community as it is the second pillar of our G.R.A.C.E™️ foundation.

2. Upgrade your diet & nourish your body with whole foods and plant-powered meals

If necessary, consume smaller more frequent whole food meals throughout the day. This is helpful in avoiding a blood-sugar rollercoaster. Fluctuations in blood sugar cause more stress on the adrenal glands

  • Consume pH balancing foods like fruits and veggies and use sea salt (not table salt) for healthier adrenal function

  • Increase potassium-to-sodium ratio, potassium is essential to the adrenal glands

  • Consume good fats such as coconut oil and olive oil

  • Avoid alcohol processed foods, artificial sugars, sweeteners to avoid blood sugar swings for at least 2 weeks and see how you start to feel

3. Evaluate your gut health. If sweets are the first thing you grab when you're stressed out or in a stressful situation, you may want to look at if that craving is caused by an imbalance in gut bacteria that keeps those cravings coming back. You can learn more about what your cravings mean and how to address the root cause of them by searching the wellness library.

  • Identify any food allergies or negative reactions

  • Pay attention to your digestion. Are you constantly bloated, have brain fog or constipated?

4. Incorporate a Nutritional Supplement or Botanical. There are several plants that release beneficial effects on stress and help balance cortisol levels. These plants are called adaptogens. Adaptogens are able to enhance the response and resistance to stress. One of my favorite adaptogens that is so effective in managing stress is Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera).

This potent root will help reduce the effect that stress has on your body. If you’re feeling run down, overwhelmed, or exhausted, Ashwagandha’s ability to support normal energy levels and sleep can come in handy. (2) According to Katherine VanWyk in her book Super powders, If you’re feeling run down, overwhelmed, or exhausted, ashwagandha’s ability to support normal energy levels and sleep can come in handy. You will likely be able to enjoy your daily life with more energy and vitality."

Ashwagandha nourishes and strengthens the nervous, Adrenal, thyroid, and immune function and decreases inflammation. There are several easy ways to incorporate it into your daily routine, but you should consult your primary physician before using it as it should not be paired with certain thyroid conditions or medications.

So as you can see, there are several root causes for an imbalance in cortisol levels, but one of the most important places to start is how you handle your everyday stress, so your adrenals are not in overdrive.

Find more guidance on how to balance this hormone along with insulin, estrogen, and testosterone inside our community or work with a Holistic Practitioner!


  1. Functional Diagnostics

  2. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine


  4. Moyer, AE. "Stress-Induced Cortisol Response and fat distribution in women" Obes. Res. 1994 May;2(3):255-62.

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