Manipulate your cortisol levels
Cortisol is high during periods of stress, and low when relaxing.
According to Dr. Shawn M. Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, the imbalances that cause us to gain weight often hinge on disruptions in these cortisol rhythms. Here are the steps to manipulate your cortisol levels so that you can find your balance again.
Tip #1: Recognize the chemical that’s making you eat.
The stress/weight connection is driven by cortisol. The chemical will signal “hunger” to the brain (so a stressed-out nurse may eat more junk) and signals “store” to the abdominal fat cells (so you gain more belly fat).
Stress/cortisol also leads to the fatigue/depression mentioned above, which saps motivation (what experts like Dr. Talbott measure as “vigor” in their studies) so you exercise less.
Tip #2: Watch your energy levels.
Cortisol is supposed to be high in the morning when you’re at your most alert and have the highest energy and best mood—and lowest in the middle of the night, when you should be the most relaxed and in a deep sleep. Overexposure to stress and chronically elevated levels of cortisol eventually lead to a “flat” cortisol rhythm—never high enough for energy or low enough for relaxation—so you’re tired all day and restless all night.
These same disruptions in cortisol balance can also suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cholesterol, elevate appetite, increase fat gain—especially in the abdominal region (belly fat), reduce sex drive, and lead to memory and emotional problems.
The best answer? Get more sleep, and be consistent about it. Shift nurses, you may not have the luxury of being awake in the morning when your cortisol is at its highest, but you do have the responsibility to your body and your mental well-being to get the sleep you need. Read our tips on sleep for shift nurses for more ideas on how to get there.
Tip #3: Change your diet to optimize cortisol levels.
According to strength and conditioning specialist John Alvino, you can naturally combat cortisol disruptions by doing the following:
* Reduce alcohol consumption. “Alcohol intoxication will increase cortisol levels at a rapid rate. Can anyone say â€˜beer belly?’”
* Cut out caffeine. Tough for a nurse, yes. But significantly reducing your coffee intake or cutting out that latte will help you lose that belly fat.
* Eat smaller meals. “Eating one or two big meals per day puts preventable stress on the body. This leads to increases in cortisol levels.”
Tip #4: Don’t forget to do all that good healthy stuff.
Some of the “standard” recommendations to maintain cortisol levels and your overall health include eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep and doing regular physical activity (psst…Alvino recommends you don’t overdo the physical activity. “Overtraining to burn belly fat can actually be encouraging your body to store it. Too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing!”)