Is cardio helping or hurting you?

We often think to exercise more when we want to get lose stubborn weight. However, adding more cardio to your routine may actually be a hindrance to slimming down, if your cortisol levels are not in balance. Curious if you fall into this category?

If you are looking to trim down and tone up for summer, read this before you start slashing calories, ramping up your cardio routine, or trying keto.

In my twenties, I always looked to cardio to hit my final goals. With age, however, it became glaringly obvious that increasing the intensity of my workouts, or the lengths of my runs, was not a solution to leaning out and instead, a hinderance to remaining trim. 

As a Nutritionist, a nourishing diet is always at the forefront of any wellness plan I create for my clients, or myself, but it is no secret that being active remains vital for overall well-being.

While a short twenty-minute walk may not be enough to move the needle drastically, a three mile run may not be the answer either and the reason is cortisol.

Cortisol, which is made by our adrenal glands, is often referred to as our body’s “stress hormone” because the body produces more of it as a response to any sort of stress, be it emotional, physical, or mental (whether, real, or perceived). Historically, cortisol has kept us safe, igniting that “fight or flight” boost of energy we needed to escape an angry mama bear, dodge a fallen tree in the forest, or whatever it was we had be on the lookout for in the “olden” days. 😉

By itself, cortisol is considered one of the most important hormones because it directly affects every other system in the body, including our blood sugar levels, blood pressure, sleep, sex drive, metabolism, moods, digestion and yep— our ability to gain, or lose weight. 

While we may not be encountering fallen tree branches, or bears, on a regular basis, we are now more prone to a steady stream of stress that may lengthen the time we are exposed to elevated cortisol levels and make it harder for the body to find homeostasis, or balance. When you combine this sort of new age “stress” with America’s addiction to caffeine and tequila/wine, we run into the potential for crazy cortisol issues.

In other words, the body cannot self regulate. 

Speaking of stress, exercise causes physical stress. While exercise may be vital to hitting your wellness goals and even relieving stress, the kind of exercise you do may be even more important, as specific types of exercise can exacerbate pre-existing cortisol imbalances. 

You do not need a blood test to know if you may have elevated cortisol.

A few common symptoms of such an imbalance may include a combination anxiety, depression, or irritability, stubborn weight gain in the chest and around the waist, bruising easily and increased thirst.

If this is you and you are looking to trim down, instead of that run, try consistently assigning yourself an hour long walk. A lengthy walk will not only burn calories without elevating your cortisol levels, but may help you to balance it. If you are looking for more of a class structure, skip the high intensity boot camps and choose a good strength training class, like Pilates, or Lagree. Combined with consistent walking, this can help to further tone your body, build muscle and burn fat. If you are looking for something a bit more intense, try a hot sculpting class, or a low intensity cardio session. Consistency is important. A brisk 30 minutes walk each day, is better than an 90 minute walk once a week. For the best results, create a schedule and stick with it. 

Some of my favorite Dallas spots are: SculptHouse, Ritual One, Online: Ashley Eckhoff Fitness & Eve by Taylor.

Outside of cardio, it is also common to feel the need to slash calories, focus obsessively on protein intake, or to take up a new “extreme” diet. Naturally, this too creates stress on the body and when we are not eating enough nutrient dense meals (especially if you are working out), we can create digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, low energy and a whole slew of health issues. 

Get Fit and HEALTHY.

Instead, focus on proper hydration in the morning, and get your gut health in check. If you live in Texas, we love the naturally alkaline water brand, CrazyWater, to stay hydrated. Not in Texas? No worries… just be sure you are drinking a clean and filtered source of water… not the tainted stuff from the tap. (While we are at it, coffee and tea do NOT count as hydration).

Help get your gut in check with the superfood– colostrum, by ARMRA.

Eliminate processed foods, including low-fat, and low-calorie options and choose a colorful, simple meal, over the protein bar, of meal replacement shake. Instead of that protein bar with all those dense nuts and processed pea proteins (which is a digestive NIGHTMARE), try local and organic, hard boiled eggs with a side of a healthy fat, like avocado. Vegan? Try: Chickpeas or sweet potato toast + with mashed avocado.

The body is far more intelligent than we give it credit for.

It understands and can better utilize and metabolize the calories, fat, vitamins, minerals and protein in a juicy avocado than it can a dense protein bar with 52 obscure ingredients. Choose real food and always add leafy greens, or at least one low-starch, steamed or sautéed vegetable as a buffer to your higher protein, more concentrated meals. 

Coffee lover? Drinking coffee black, on an empty stomach, or drinking coffee (with cream, or not) throughout the day, as a way to stay alert, or curb hunger, can also wreak havoc on your adrenal glands. Yikes! Coffee is tasty but coffee is not food.

Reduce your stress levels with Ashwaganda (adaptogen), CALM (magnesium) and even these delicious SOUL CBD, no THC gummies (that we are totally obsessed with. Seriously. They taste so good and just clear the mind of anxiety without changing anything else).

Nothing in the body happens in isolation.

Everything is connected.

Try your morning coffee with a healthy fat, like coconut milk powder, an organic butter, homemade nut milk, or even a splash of organic, full fat cream, to prevent it from spiking your cortisol levels.

You can achieve your goals with a consistent plan that focuses on nourishing your body into greatness, instead of putting it through a daily obstacle course. 

P.S. Consistency with ANY diet or regimen is key.

Interested in a customized plan for you? Shoot me an email! Lauren@laurengillan.com