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ArrayCortisol and Insulin: The Goldilocks Hormones

Cortisol and Insulin: The Goldilocks Hormones

It used to be as simple as calories in vs calories out. Now studies show hormones play a vital role in health and weight maintenance as well. There’s no denying that a calorie deficit needs to exist in order for your metabolism to dip into stored energy. But how you get there and how you create that deficit has everything to do with hormones. Having a better understanding of your two main metabolic hormones, cortisol and insulin, will tremendously help you reach your physique goals in a healthy way.  If you can understand how to handle insulin and cortisol and make them work for you, then you’ll be able to manage your food intake without experiencing crazy cravings and hunger. Plus, you’ll balance a number of other hormones at the same time to achieve better overall health.

Let’s Talk Cortisol

Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” is a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone). It Is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It is normally released in response to events as acute illness or stress and increases alertness and decreases the need for sleep. Cortisol is best known for its involvement in the “fight-or-flight” response and temporary increase in energy production, including raising blood sugar levels, at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. The resulting biochemical and hormonal imbalances ideally resolve due to a hormonally driven negative feedback loop.

The problem is that with our ever stressed, fast paced lifestyle, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly. When your body experiences it in small doses it is necessary for fat-burning and is even anti-inflammatory. Yet, when your body experiences in too high doses, it can cause an increase in body fat, slow the metabolism by affecting thyroid hormone levels, lead to inflammation, induce cravings and create a big metabolic mess.

The Low-Down On Insulin

Insulin is an anabolic hormone, that means it builds both muscle and fat tissue. It is also a storage hormone. It stores sugar, vitamins and fats for later use. You release insulin in response to any rise in blood sugar, whether it’s due to eating or stress. It also plays a role in helping you feel full or sensing satisfaction signals.

However, because of its interaction with other hormones such as cortisol, combined with our modern lifestyle, this aspect is nil for anyone who struggles with their weight or hormonal imbalances.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

IR occurs when your cells don’t respond appropriately to insulin’s messages. Your body becomes less efficient at shuttling nutrients into your cells for use, so when you do eat, you experience an exaggerated response to any rise in blood sugar. This inefficiency creates prolonged blood sugar elevations an excess insulin secretion and can produce a low blood sugar effect as a rebound after insulin’s signal finally gets through, leaving you hungry and craving the foods that got you in this predicament in the first place. The more often this happens, the more insulin resistant you become. Usually you get to this point by chronically over-eating or over-stressing.

In Come In Weight Gain and Obesity

One way repeated elevation of hormones can lead to weight gain is via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can move triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells (those under the muscle). It also aid adipocytes development into mature fat cell by converting cortisone to cortisol in adipose tissue.

When blood glucose is also consistently high along with insulin suppression it can lead to cells that are starved of glucose. Those cells are crying out for energy, and one way to regulate is to send hunger signals to the brain. This leads to overeating and of course, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.

The Good News

It seems as though stressed out folks are destined for failed health despite their best intentions. Fortunately, there is much we can do for ourselves to reverse the path of destruction. The best approach to keeping cortisol levels at bay is mastering stress management and optimizing diet.

Stress Management

Reducing stress is difficult, but vitally important. Contrary to popular belief, sitting in front of the television or computer is a poor way to relieve stress. Instead stress relief is an active process.

If you’re having trouble taking you mind off everyday life, give these a try:

  • Breath work. Breathing exercises are one way to quickly stop the stress response. The calming ability of breathing exercises is two-fold. Focusing on the breath directs attention away from fearful and stressful thoughts and it stops the “fight or flight” response in the body. To perform the exercise, breathe in deeply and slowly through the nose. Allow your chest and abdomen to expand and fill with air. Breathe out slowly, for as long as you inhaled, repeating a phrase or word that makes you feel calm and peaceful. You’ll get the greatest benefits by performing breathing exercises for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  • Exercise. Exercise benefits mood in many ways. Physical activity helps take your mind off everyday worries. It also releases mood-boosting endorphins. Whether working out at the gym or taking long walks is your style, any type of exercise reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Sniff some lavender. Wondering how to stop stress at work? Reach for lavender. Certain smells can elicit the relaxation response. One study compared the stress levels of nurses who had vials containing lavender oil pinned to their clothes to those who did not. The nurses who were exposed to lavender scent reported feeling more relaxed than those who were scent-free. Lavender essential oil may also help with stress headaches and migraines too.
  • Meditation. Meditation is undoubtedly one of the best and most popular stress management techniques. Meditation makes you more resilient and less reactive to stress by decreasing the number of neurons in your amygdala, the area of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress.
  • Yoga. Yoga slows your breathing and heart rates, lowers blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. If you’re concerned you aren’t flexible enough, give the ancient martial arts tai chi or qi gong a try instead. They offer similar relaxation benefits but you won’t have to get on the floor and flexibility is not a prerequisite.
  • Get more and better quality sleep. Believe it or not, your stress could be mounted as a result of a lack of rest. Sleep is vital for both your physical and mental health. When you sleep, your metabolic rate slows, which allows your body and mind to repair itself. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you are overrunning your system.

Dietary Guidelines

In order to keep hormones balanced it is important to encourage healthy eating patterns, recognize that individuals will need to make shifts in their food and beverage choices to achieve a healthy pattern and acknowledge that all segments of our society have a role to play in supporting healthy choices.

The Guidelines:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits. Choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Cut back on foods and beverages in these components to amounts that fit within healthy patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods across all food groups in place of  less healthy choices.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for everyone. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy patterns across multiple settings.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Eat a variety of vegetable from all of the groups and colors.
  2. Eat fruits, especially whole fruits.
  3. Consume grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
  4. Try fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages.
  5. Add a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas) nuts and seeds.
  6. Oils


  1. Saturated fats and trans fats to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
  2. Added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
  3. Sodium to less than 2300 mg per day.
  4. If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation. Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

A Final Word

With all this talk on hormones and fat, it’s important to remember that hormones aren’t the problem, they are the solution! Hormones can be your biggest ally in achieving balance, managing your body composition, and enjoying better overall health. The more we learn about the way the body responds to the demands placed on it the more we can effectively change our lives by improving health, and inspire change. Treat them with respect and they’ll return the favor.


Christina Agundiz is a Certified Medical Assistant and Lead Technician for Austin Body Contouring. She is currently pursuing her Associate’s Degree in Nursing and looks forward to helping her patients and clients lead healthier and more nutritious lifestyles.


Austin Body Contouring has been providing Austin Texas area clients with FDA Approved, 100% Non-Invasive Body Contouring successfully for more than nine years. We offer a painless way to eliminate stubborn body fat and achieve your body contouring goals. Our lipo-laser weight loss is proven to remove stubborn body fat and excess inches. To schedule a complimentary consultation, call 512.660.2810 or email us at

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