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6 Effective Ways to Reduce Cortisol Levels and Overcome Weight Loss Resistance

Woman stretching with her right foot extended in front of her

There is a threshold of stress that the body can handle within a healthy, optimal range. A little bit of stress in life is good-it keeps us motivated and going! In fact, even exercise is technically a stressor for our body. But it is a good stress until done in excess. Or when performed while in a caloric deficit for too long.

The stress response, including cortisol, can either be a day maker or a day breaker! Starting your day off with cold plunges, intermittent fasting or fasted cardio is keeping your body in a constant state of stress. You cannot heal in a state of stress, shock or depravity. Being kind and gentle with your body is how you will heal it and begin to lower cortisol levels, bringing dysregulated hormones back into balance. 

When the stress threshold is exceeded, the following symptoms can become a reality:

  • Feeling tired but wired (getting a burst of energy at bed time when you should be sleeping)

  • Experiencing midsection weight gain, weight loss resistance or just feeling inflamed

  • Having uncontrollable sugar cravings or a constantly high blood sugar level

  • Having anxiety/racing thoughts

  • Noticing frequent irritability and mood swings

  • Having poor stress tolerance

  • Running and running and running and then crashing on a Saturday or after a big event

Persistent exposure to stressful situations can lead to high levels of cortisol in the body. Relaxation techniques, dietary changes, stopping smoking, and taking supplements are a few ways of managing or lowering cortisol levels naturally.

Ways to lower cortisol levels

High cortisol levels can be treated by reducing stress, which is a trigger for cortisol production. Here are some lifestyle changes that may help:


Chronic sleep issues, like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, are linked to higher cortisol levels. Try to get enough quality sleep and maintain a good bedtime routine.


Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality and reduce stress. If you're busy, you can break up your exercise into 20–30 minutes of small bursts throughout the day.


Eat a balanced diet that includes high-quality carbohydrates like whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

Some supplements, like fish oil and magnesium, may help reduce cortisol levels. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in the body's stress response.

Stress management

Be aware of signs of tension, like your breathing, heart rate, and thinking patterns, to help you recognize stress early and prevent it from getting worse. You can also try relaxation techniques, hobbies, laughing, building relationships, or getting a pet.


Limit your caffeine intake, as caffeine can increase cortisol levels.

Cortisol isn't all bad.

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It contributes to many bodily processes, playing a role in:

  • controlling blood sugar levels

  • regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles

  • managing how the body utilizes carbohydrates, fats, and proteins

  • reducing inflammation

  • controlling blood pressure

The body increases cortisol production as part of the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This helps the body adapt to potential danger.

High cortisol puts the body in a state of alertness. A person may feel “on edge” or tense. This can affect a person’s ability to concentrate or sleep.

Sometimes, cortisol levels can become unusually high due to chronic stress or an underlying medical condition. Certain medications can also elevate this hormone.

When your body is in a constant state of stress, it’s not focused on thriving. It is focused on surviving. So it down regulates all nonessential processes like digestion, fertility/libido, and even thyroid hormone production in favor of protecting itself with stress hormones to survive.

You cannot continue to blame health issues on cortisol or hormone imbalance and also choose to not do anything to help your body heal. Taking control of your health and wellness means doing hard things: working out is hard, planning meals is hard, and, if you are a go-go-go type person, slowing down is hard. 

It means you might have to pull back from the workouts you love to do. Or you might have to set some boundaries with work to allow for better stress management. You might have to nourish your body with real food, taking the time to plan and prepare with mindfulness and intentionality. 

If you are tired of “hard”, choose a different hard that can become easy. Make a plan and don’t let yourself down. You do so much for others. Don’t you deserve the same care for yourself?

Ready to commit to your healing journey?  If you are ready to help support your body’s cortisol levels, have sustainable energy throughout the course of the day, get deeper, more restful sleep, allow your body to feel safe to reach its sustainable body weight, respond to stressors as needed without constantly remaining in that stress response, just hit that restart button by signing up for the RESTART program.

Affiliate disclaimer: *Heads up: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won't pay a penny more, but I earn a small commission that helps keep the lights on!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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