The key to weight loss

I had a few conversations this week with some people looking to lose weight. They were on a calorie deficit already but not losing the weight they wanted and were getting really frustrated.

This happens quite often to be honest and most people think they need to eat less. More often than not that is the last thing you want to do.

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room.


Family problems, deadlines at work, overtraining in the gym and being chased by saber-toothed tigers can all trigger the “fight or flight” response in your body.

When we experience stressful events, our adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol. No, not cortisone…that’s a shot you receive to help with pain and inflammation. Cortisol is a response designed to help humans respond and prepare to imminent danger.

Cortisol is also released after high intensity exercise and near maximal lifting. That’s why we have at least one day per week of lower intensity workouts. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cortisol is all bad; in fact it is totally natural and needed. However, just like anything too much of something can be bad.

So how does this prevent you from losing weight? Especially if you’re already in a calorie deficit?

Well, elevated cortisol levels stimulate glucose secretion and limit the hormone responsible for removing that excess glucose, insulin. Basically, it creates very high blood sugar levels. When this happens the excess glucose is often stored as fat and this can be a vicious cycle to break. Chronically elevated cortisol levels have been shown to cause weight gain, especially around the abdomen.

So besides saber-tooth tigers what else causes this and how do I prevent it?

Well, working long hours, drinking a lot of coffee and alcohol, doing more than one hour a day of high intensity exercise, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition habits all exacerbate the problem.

So here’s a few ways to help lower your cortisol levels and get you back on track with your weight loss goals:

  1. Make sure a majority of your diet comes from whole foods and minimize your processed foods.
  2. Make it a point to get 7+ hours of sleep each night.
  3. Try not to exceed 300-400mg of caffeine per day. (equivalent to one Bang energy drink or 4 cups of coffee)
  4. Make sure you have at least one rest day from high intensity exercise per week. (CrossFit, spin classes, HIIT, bootcamps, Orange Theory are all forms of high intensity exercise)
  5. Add in some light/recovery type of exercise like an easy jog, walk around the neighborhood, swimming, etc.
  6. Schedule time to unwind each night.
  7. Make sure you’re consuming your minimum required number of calories each day.
So there you have it. While calories in vs. calories out is the main key to losing that stubborn weight, if you’re not consuming enough calories, are too stressed from work and not getting enough quality sleep your body will be in constant “fight or flight” mode and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

If you’re looking for extra help to get that stubborn weight off or want to speak to one of our coaches about your goals, click the link below to schedule a free 15 minute consult.