How to Stop Cortisol Related Weight Gain & Lower Cortisol Levels

The Stress, Cortisol and Weight Gain Connection (& How to Stop it)

Can too much stress increase cortisol and lead to weight gain?

The answer is a definite yes. 

Stress influences multiple systems in the body and may lead to the dysregulation of one of the most important hormones in your body – cortisol. 

Learn more about the influence stress has on cortisol and other hormones in your body and how to manage cortisol to help with weight loss…

How Stress Causes High Cortisol and Weight Gain

There’s this idea that all weight gain must come from overeating or under-exercising. 

While food is certainly an important part of the weight gain puzzle, it’s not front and center for most people. 

In fact, with few exceptions, most people are overweight because they have one or more serious hormone imbalances in their bodies (1).

These “fat impacting” hormones regulate energy production, fat tissue growth (2), and even modulate your appetite (3).

One such hormone is cortisol. 

Cortisol is the major stress hormone in the body and it is primarily secreted in large amounts during times of stress (4).

The release of cortisol triggers changes in the way that your body metabolizes glucose, how much energy your muscles burn, and your tolerance to stress. 

This is a good thing and we want it to happen. 

The problem with stress (and cortisol) only comes when your system gets turned “on” too frequently and doesn’t have time to adequately recover. 

This constant stress results in the pathology of the endocrine and cortisol system otherwise known as the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (or HPA axis) (5).

Over time the constant release of cortisol turns from being a good thing to being pathologic to the body. 

The constant release of cortisol may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance, raise your blood sugar, alter your appetite, reduce your ability to burn fat, and increases the rate at which you store fat. 

In most people, this results in a spectrum of symptoms along with characteristic weight gain in the abdomen or belly (6).

Put in simple terms the pattern looks like this:  

High stress = high cortisol = high insulin = elevated blood sugar = weight gain in the belly

You’ll notice that the inciting event is “stress” and this can be stress from basically any cause! 

So how does stress lead to these pathologic changes? 

We can use patients who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome as a prototype. 

These patients tend to experience 4 very specific changes to the HPA axis…


There may be changes to serum cortisol levels (7) – these changes tend to be mild and difficult to spot but usually result in a slight reduction (examples of specific serum levels will follow). 


There may be attenuation of the “normal” diurnal variation to cortisol throughout the day. 

Normally cortisol peaks in the early morning and reduces in value throughout the day. 

People with chronic fatigue may experience changes to this system. 


There is an enhanced negative feedback loop associated with further stress to the body. 

In essence, there is some point where stress results in positive changes to the body, but with over-stimulation of this system may “tip” the scale in favor of negative changes or pathology. 

Once you “tip” to the negative side, stress is no longer beneficial to the body – at this point further stress causes worsening symptoms and more damage to the HPA axis.  


There is a “blunted” response to the HPA axis. 

You can consider this as a “tolerance” mechanism put in place by your body. 

It’s a protective mechanism that may be present to prevent the onslaught of damage that occurs with further stress. 

When we evaluate HPA dysregulation it’s important to realize that these changes all occur on a spectrum. 

What this means for you is that damage builds up over time.

The more stress you are under and the longer you are under it will determine the severity of your symptoms. 

All 4 of these changes are seen in those patients who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) but they may be occurring to some degree in your body (perhaps just not as bad). 

And what’s important is that we KNOW that these changes do indeed happen. 

Alternative medicine practitioners like to throw around the diagnosis of “adrenal fatigue” while many conventional physicians simply refuse to believe that any such condition exists. 

The reality is somewhere in between. 

We certainly know that chronic stress leads to undesirable changes, but these changes don’t always follow the traditional “adrenal fatigue” pattern that most people discuss. 

Instead of obvious changes to serum cortisol levels in the body, there are most likely changes to cortisol receptor sensitivity (8) which results in many of the characteristic symptoms of adrenal-related problems that many people face. 


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Symptoms of Excess Cortisol & Cortisol Dysregulation

The symptoms of excess cortisol vary widely among people but there are several “key” symptoms (9) that most people tend to express. 

These symptoms include: 

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Weight gain especially in the belly area
  • Reliance on caffeine and carbohydrates as energy sources
  • The characteristic crash around 2-3 pm each day
  • Characteristic “second wind” in the evening (usually around 9-10 pm)
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning or increased fatigue first thing in the morning
  • Strong cravings for sugary carbohydrates
  • Difficulty sleeping at night, constant waking up in the middle of the night, difficulty falling asleep
  • Decreased tolerance to stressful situations
  • Changes to mood to include increased symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Racing mind or thoughts (inability to control your thoughts)
  • The feeling of “burnout” (10) or not enjoying your work or social life

This list of symptoms is quite non-specific but it may help you to nail down the diagnosis. 

Many of these symptoms may be caused by other problems including hormone imbalances, lack of sleep, etc. 

The important part to understand is if you are experiencing these symptoms that you then move on to the next step which is evaluating or testing your serum cortisol level. 

How to Test your Cortisol Level

Can we reliably test for cortisol problems?

Not all the time. 

Serum cortisol only tells the story about what is happening in the bloodstream, it doesn’t necessarily give us information about what is happening at the cellular level. 

But it’s still the best that we have, so it’s worth discussing. 

You can test your serum cortisol with a simple blood test. 

To get the best results you will want to check your cortisol at 8 am in the morning (11) (it’s a good idea to check other hormones at this time as well including thyroid function and sex hormones). 

8 am is when your serum cortisol should be at its highest or at its “peak”. 

Basically what happens is your body produces a large amount of cortisol which helps get you through the day. 

In those people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, morning serum cortisol may be slightly on the low side. 

While in other individuals the serum cortisol may be slightly on the higher side. 

When assessing serum cortisol levels you want to look for an “optimal” range. 

In my experience, the optimal 8 am cortisol range is somewhere around 14-16 mcg/dL. 

Elevated levels tend to be higher (greater than 20 mcg/dL), while lower levels (hypocortisolism) tend to be less than 10 mcg/dL.

To illustrate these ranges I’ve provided real examples below:  

This serum cortisol is flagged as “high” with an absolute value of 30.5 mcg/dL and you can see the reference range is from 4.0 – 22.0 mcg/dL. 

As another less obvious example, you can see this patient who has a serum cortisol level of 20.7 mcg/dL which puts her technically in the “normal” range but at the very high end of that range. 

Lastly, you can see sub-optimal cortisol in the “low” range at 9.7 mcg/dL. 

What’s interesting is that all of these patients presented with similar symptoms but have vastly different 8 am cortisol levels. 

These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they may be helpful if you are struggling to find a diagnosis and treat your symptoms. 

Another important factor worth discussing is that serum cortisol doesn’t necessarily correlate with the disease state. 

Meaning you can have a relatively normal cortisol level but still have cortisol receptor resistance and therefore experience adrenal/cortisol-related weight gain and other symptoms. 

One final point is that you may need to ask your physician to order your cortisol level and then interpret your lab result on your own. 

Conventional physicians tend to only recognize 2 extreme cortisol-related states: Addison’s disease and Cushing’s Syndrome, they really don’t recognize issues between these two disease states. 

The bottom line?

Even with normal serum cortisol, it is worth exploring treatment options. 

How to Stop Weight Gain from Cortisol

If you have symptoms related to cortisol dysregulation and you have abnormal serum cortisol then it may be time to explore treatment options. 

I’ve included below a list of several therapies designed to help reduce the impact that cortisol has on your body and “reset” the system so to speak. 

Some of these therapies are common sense and others may be counter-intuitive at first but I can tell you from experience that they work. 

#1. Reduce or Eliminate the Source of Stress

The first and most important step is to remove the source of your stress. 

This isn’t always possible, I get that, but it should still be the thing that you focus on if possible. 

Your symptoms will not resolve completely until the source has been removed. 

If you can’t remove the source then the next best step is to increase your tolerance to stress in general. 

You can do this using several therapies (many we discuss below) including things like ensuring that you sleep at least 8 hours each night, taking adrenal supplements, eating healthy sources of carbohydrates, and practicing meditation or mindfulness (12).

A word of warning:

Don’t neglect this step. 

Many people will do basically everything but address the source of their stress and taking this route will not lead to long-term success. 

Potential sources of stress include:

  • Physical stress too much exercise, lack of sleep, increased demand from your job, acting as a caretaker, etc.
  • Social stressPressure from peers, tension in relationships (spouse or children), difficulty with relationships at work, etc.
  • Emotional stress – From an emotionally demanding job (therapist, educator, physician, health professional, etc.), emotional abuse from close relationships, history of PTSD or other emotional trauma, divorce, etc.
  • Environmental stressPoor air quality, spending the majority of your day indoors (13), working in a stressful environment (lots of noise, bright lights, etc.), exposure to chemicals, etc. 
  • Health-related stresschronic medical conditions (high blood pressure, metabolic disease, high cholesterol, etc.), hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, history of depression/anxiety, etc. 

Something as simple as taking a walk in nature, enjoying some time in the sun, and spending time relaxing or enjoying your family can dramatically improve your resilience to stress. 

#2. Don’t Over-Exercise

This part can be confusing for many people. 

You’re taught that in order to lose weight you must exercise, exercise, exercise. 

The problem with some forms of exercise is that they actually put increased demand on the body and increase cortisol secretion (14).

Studies show that cortisol increases as exertion and intensity increase (which makes sense). 

You can read that as they are causing stress to the body. 

Under normal healthy circumstances, this is a good thing. 

Your muscles recognize the stress, they break down slightly and then they repair but this time stronger and more capable to tolerate the stress. 

The problem with excessive exercise is that you may never allow your body to heal from the last time you exercised. 

This leads to over-exercising, chronic exhaustion, and even weight gain – even if you are exercising daily! 

Many patients that I treat are always concerned when I tell them to reduce the amount they are exercising but they are all pleasantly surprised when they paradoxically start losing weight once they do. 

Figuring out the amount that you need to exercise depends on your body, the amount of stress you are under, what medical conditions you have, etc. 

The goal of exercising is to make sure that you are left energized afterward. 

If you feel that you are overexercising you may find more luck switching to more low-intensity and adaptive exercise routines that include yoga or pilates. 

Low-intensity exercise, at around 40% of VO2 max (15), does not seem to impact cortisol secretion significantly. 

Contrary to popular belief you can actually lose weight doing these types of exercises! 

#3. Avoid Caloric Restriction

Caloric restriction, much like over-exercising, puts increased stress on the body. 

When you are overweight or gaining weight it’s very tempting to cut your calories and exercise, but this is exactly the wrong thing to do. 

Prolonged caloric restriction, defined as more than 21 days, puts extra strain on your body, causes metabolic damage, increases cortisol (16), and causes changes to thyroid function (further reducing your metabolism). 

When treating adrenal and cortisol-related problems it’s actually very important to consume sufficient calories to provide your body with energy. 

Your goal should be to provide your body with real whole foods which provide your body with the building blocks for energy production. 

Altering your diet may also impact other fat-storing hormones such as insulin and therefore help with weight loss. 

Reducing your calories may be tempting, but fight the temptation because it will do more harm than good over the long term. 

#4. Use Adrenal Support Supplements

Adrenal supplements have the potential to dramatically improve your results if taken correctly and for a sufficient amount of time. 

I’m specifically talking about adrenal adaptogens and adrenal glandulars. 

These supplements have many studies showing that they can alter cortisol (17), but that they can also promote weight loss by increasing muscle mass and by reducing recovery time post-workout. 

When I was suffering from burnout and adrenal fatigue (from residency and medical school), I used adrenal supplements and credited much of my improvement to these herbs and botanicals.

The reason for using supplements in conjunction with other therapies is quite simple:

If you are experiencing weight gain related to your stress then you can bet you most likely have other hormone imbalances

This means that getting aggressive with treatment may be beneficial and may improve your results. 

Supplementing with high-quality adrenal supplements such as ashwagandha or Rhodiola may be the boost your body needs. 

The trick to using adrenal support is that you need to use them long enough – usually around 6 months. 

They also should be combined with other therapies. 

Don’t just take the supplements and call it a day, this will not lead to an improvement in your weight or your cortisol level. 

#5. Eat Enough Carbs

Healthy carbohydrates

The consumption of sufficient carbohydrates may be necessary for energy production in those suffering from adrenal and cortisol issues. 

The tendency of most overweight patients is to avoid carbohydrates completely. 

In reality, many patients with cortisol dysregulation actually need more carbohydrates (18) (at least initially). 

The tricky part with the consumption of carbohydrates is that the amount each person needs is highly variable. 

As a general rule:

Those people who are more active tend to require more carbohydrates than those who are not. 

This includes those people who are under a tremendous amount of stress – regardless of the cause. 

Overexercising, chronic social stress, high demand at work, etc. all increase the demand on your body and therefore may increase the demand for carbohydrates. 

It’s also true that some people simply function better with more carbohydrates than others. 

There isn’t a catch-all diet that will work for every person because each of us is quite unique. 

#6. Avoid Caffeine and Stimulants

Caffeine and other stimulants really are a double-edged sword. 

On one hand, they can provide you with immediate energy, or at least an immediate sense of perceived energy. 

On the other hand, it comes at a cost. 

Supplements that “boost” energy, including caffeine, are well known to cause this effect which leads to overuse. 

Caffeine puts increased demand on cellular function by increasing certain neurotransmitters (in addition to cortisol secretion (19)), especially norepinephrine (20).

Norepinephrine is also manipulated when using prescription stimulants such as phentermine and ADD/ADHD medications (these are commonly used as appetite suppressants and for weight loss). 

The increase of norepinephrine at the nerve synapse is felt to cause changes that result in increased focus, increased metabolism, and decreased fatigue – at least initially. 

In addition, caffeine use also has been shown to stimulate cortisol release directly. 

This may represent the increased demand put on the body (stress) or it may be an adaptive response – the studies aren’t clear. 

Doses of 300mg or more per day have been shown to at least partially attenuate the increase in cortisol which may indicate tolerance to caffeine. 

This means that larger and larger doses of caffeine may be necessary to provide the same benefit. 

What’s even more interesting is that certain people tend to be more “sensitive” to caffeine. 

These people react with an increase in blood pressure and an increase in cortisol (21) (more than other people) with consumption. 

Because caffeine (and other stimulants) tend to be associated with weight loss, it may be counter-intuitive to stop them if you are having weight gain related to excessive cortisol but it may be necessary. 

If you are suffering from weight gain related to cortisol and you find that you can’t get by without coffee, energy drinks, caffeine, etc. you may need to cut the habit to make a difference. 

#7. Allow Enough Time!

Treating cortisol and adrenal-related problems takes time, a lot of it. 

Most patients will need 6+ months of the treatments listed above for complete resolution. 

You should, however, notice some improvement in your symptoms almost immediately upon practicing these therapies. 

But it may take 6-12 months for you to get back to your old self. 

It’s also important that you maintain these practices once you start feeling back to normal. 

You will most likely notice that once you start feeling better you’ll start to push your body more and more and you may slip back over the “edge” and begin to experience the symptoms of burnout or adrenal fatigue. 

Prevent this from happening by continuing these therapies indefinitely. 

Final Thoughts

Cortisol is a potent stimulator of physiologic changes in your body which help your body “adapt” to stress. 

Constant stimulation of this system may lead to pathology long term which may manifest in various symptoms including weight gain. 

Fighting weight gain related to stress and cortisol release is as simple as managing your stress and practicing healthy lifestyle habits which increase your resilience to stress. 

Be prepared to use these strategies long-term for the best results!

Now I want to hear from you:

Do you think stress is contributing to your weight?

Have you checked your cortisol level? If so, how did you test for it?

Have you tried adrenal adaptogens or other botanicals to improve your stress resiliency?

Have you tried other stress reduction techniques like meditation? Why or why not?

Leave your comments or questions below!






















how stress leads to weight gain

About Dr. Westin Childs

Hey! I'm Westin Childs D.O. (former Osteopathic Physician). I don't practice medicine anymore and instead specialize in helping people like YOU who have thyroid problems, hormone imbalances, and weight loss resistance. I love to write and share what I've learned over the years. I also happen to formulate the best supplements on the market (well, at least in my opinion!) and I'm proud to say that over 70,000+ people have used them over the last 6 years. You can read more about my own personal health journey and why I am so passionate about what I do here.

P.S. Need more help? Check out my free thyroid downloads and resources.

40 thoughts on “The Stress, Cortisol and Weight Gain Connection (& How to Stop it)”

  1. Dear Dr. Childs, thank you for the perfect publication. It helps me a lot in my fight with Hashimoto, weight gain, and related adrenal issues. Respect to all your support!

  2. I am wondering what your thoughts are when supplements don’t correct cortisol levels. Do you ever use cortef? I am hypothyroid and my cortisol levels are depleted in the morning and lunch. I have been taking synthroid for about 4 months, which has helped my thyroid labs but after supplements for a year (Douglas Labs Adrenomend w/ashwaghanda), my cortisol levels didn’t change much (4.29 nmol/L morning and 4.12 nmol/L at noon…evening and night were more normal at 2.11 and 0.87), according to Labrix saliva test (4x throughout the day). My doctor then prescribed cortef (I am taking hydrocortisone) 5mg in the morning and at lunch. I go back for testing in 6 months. She is hoping it will correct my cortisol levels. Very frustrating because I was told the supplements take time, etc. but no change for me. Thanks for any thoughts.

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m not 100% against the use of cortef but I generally do recommend the use of adaptogen/glandulars first before going to cortef. It can be difficult to dose and manage and I think you want to avoid the possibility of HPA suppression at all costs.

  3. Hi Dr Childs,

    I hope you’re well. Dr, I’d like to sign up for your $97 hormone rebalanced programme as I’ve tried some of your suggestions and they’ve improved my health. Before I sign up I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions? Firstly, is your programme suitable for people who are vegetarian, those with leptin issues and UK residents who don’t have access to T3?

    Many thanks,


    • Hi Elizabeth,

      The program isn’t designed for vegetarians but it can be modified based on your needs and the access to T3 is not necessary for results (but I do discuss how to use it if it’s available).

  4. Dear Dr.Childs!Tell me please how can I get your help? I really need your advice!!I live very far and can not visit your clinic.But I need the help of a doctor like you! I’m ready to pay for your consultations. Tell me where can I write?

  5. Hello.
    My cortisol on blood test at 8:00 am is high on the range (more than 20 ) but my saliva cortisol measured at the same time is low on the range.
    What test should I trust?
    Thank you.

  6. Hi there, I was wondering if I could book a phone appt with you. I live in Australia and am looking for a really good dr to work with finding my best treatment.
    I’ve just had blood tests that show I’m insulin resistant, I have high triglycerides, low good cholesterol, hypothyroidism and although they didn’t check cortisol levels in my most recent blood test, it’s been high on all my previous ones. I struggle to lose weight, especially around my belly, I’m constantly tired, but struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, I struggle to get up and then get a second wind and can’t sleep when I go to bed at 9. I run my own company and am constantly stressed, but my capacity to deal with the stress is reducing lately. I feel burnt out and fragile which is not normal for me. I just need someone now to tell me exactly what to do.
    Can I see you via Skype and pay for a normal consultation? I’m a little bit desperate. I don’t want to waste time seeing the wrong drs.

  7. I am 33 years old. I took natural progesterone on my skin due to advice after I found out I had a fibroid on my uterus. I ended up gaining 15 lbs and finally stopped taking it. After reading this article I can see that I probably have adrenal fatigue and high cortisol. I am active. I powerlift 3 days a week. I kickboxing only 2. And I am steadily gaining about a pound every few days. I eat very healthy. I don’t try to count calories, but it’s tempting to since I can’t seem to keep weight off. I have tried to convince my doctor that the weight gain isn’t diet. She tested my thyroid and said it was normal. Are there any ways to test from home to find out if there are imbalances. Or a specific type of doctor I need to see? I’m very frustrated.

  8. Hi Dr. Childs! As always your posts are incredible! I have a question. How do you recommend people “prioritize” supplements? Due to either budget constraints or in my case, I simply can’t make myself take 10 pills or supplements a day. How do you decide which supplements are most important? In my case, I’m always fighting insulin resistance/leptin resistance as well as some PCOS/hypothryoid.

    • Hi Brynn,

      Great to hear from you!

      In terms of using supplements I tend to believe (and practice) that you should use no more than 5 (maximum) at any given time. I generally use supplements to address the main issue based on symptom severity and on the goals of the patient. So if weight loss was your goal then your focus would be on insulin/leptin resistance and you would push PCOS to the background for a few months. At the end of the day it really depends on the person, but I’ve had success with this approach.

  9. Hello Dr. Childs!

    I’ve recently discovered about this controversial thing called Adrenal Fatigue, and saw that I match the symptoms somewhat. I see you’re active in the comments section so I’ll try to post my cortisol levels from SALIVA test, maybe you could comment whether they are below the norm?

    Time of day – cortisol ng/ml.

    09.30 – 2.83
    14.00 – 1.88
    17.00 – <0.49
    23.00 – <0.49

    (apparently they don't even test lower than 0.49 since both results show the same)

    What do you think?

    • Hi Lauris,

      I’m generally not a fan of salivary testing as I think there are more accurate ways to test for cortisol levels in the body. But I do advocate for “adrenal” treatment if you are experiencing the symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue simply because they are low risk and largely helpful in the majority of people.

  10. Hello Dr. Childs,
    I am taking the T3 conversion Booster you sell. Which Adendral support supplement can I take with it? I have low T3 and My T4 is right at the high cut off. I am trying to do this before I add T3 to my Synthroid. I am 55 overweight. No diet works. I have Hashimoto’s. I am on 125 mcg of Synthroid. Going to try these supplements first for a few months. If the scale doesn’t move I will take the T3. My doctor wants me to stay at the 125 mcg but he said we could try the alternative 110 mcg and add 5mcg of Cytomel.

  11. I believe there is a misconception that cortisol causes weight gain without also taking into consideration the effect adrenaline has on the body during stressful events. I went through a divorce a few years ago that hit me pretty hard mentally. My appetite dropped to a bare minimum, and I would wake up a few times every night because my heart was racing 300 mph. One month later, I had lost close to 40 Lbs (at least 90% fat) without having done any exercise whatsoever (some of my friends have had the pretty much the same experience through their divorces).

    Now, according to several articles regarding the topic, my cortisol levels should have gone through the roof during that period due to the intense stress I was experiencing, basically preventing me from losing any weight whatsoever. So what was really going on here? I have a hunch that my adrenaline was probably at such elevated levels that it canceled out the negative effects of cortisol! Adrenaline does two things; it burns fat faster than cardio and it reduces appetite.

    Here is another clue; take for instance base jumpers and para-shooters. What do they have in common? Most of them are addicted, not to narcotics, but to the adrenaline rush. 99% of them are also very skinny…

    I for one, would like to see more comprehensive research regarding these hormones, and how they interact with one another?

  12. I’m male, 67 years old, discontinued benzo use after fifteen years about a year and 1/2 ago. Since then, my abdomen got bigger and bigger to the point of being almost scary, but not from my modest diet. Then began four months of diarrhea. Naturally, I was tested for every obvious thing, all came back negative, including Cologuard. My home life is indescribably stressful due to circumstances beyond my control. I inadvertently ran across your webpage and suddenly a light!?! Could my symptoms be associated with Cortisol imbalance?

  13. I continue to gain weight at a steady pace and it’s just killing me. I keep trying all the suggestions, but to no avail. I feel hopeless and alone. I need help desperately and don’t know where to turn. Please help

  14. Hi Dr Childs,

    I just found your blog and this article. My wife and I both suffered weight gain while still working and we both have big bellies. She takes thyroid medicine and both of us have high blood pressure. I was wondering if cortisol supplements that bodybuilders take would help and maybe supplemental iodine? I do suffer from anxiety attacks and have been reading about CBD oil. Do you think that might help?

    • Hi Robert,

      Yes, it certainly won’t hurt to try those supplements, but you’ll also want to take a look at your diet as well. If you are already eating healthy then the weight may primarily be related to your hormones, but it will be difficult to lose weight if you don’t address your diet.

  15. I have fibromyalgia and put on lots of weight at the start (8 years now. I managed to loose all of this but over the last year it has been nearly impossible to lose weight. I have put on over 2 stone and a stone of that was over 4 months. My Dr did say my Cortisol levels were very low and gave an injection to check this but it was ok again. I eat well, am always sore, get fatigue at intervals and hard sleep. Any suggestions.

  16. Hello, here is my story. In 2012, I was 56 years old, 5’4 and weighed in at 201 pounds. I changed my lifestyle, eating habits and starting running and working out and in 2014 at 58, I had lost 65 pounds and down to 138. I maintained this weight for the most part varying 5-7 pounds but pretty much staying between 142 and 145 until 2016. I turned 60 and then everything I had done in the past quit working. I gained 10 pounds in 2016 and could not get it off. Gained another 5 pounds in 2017 and then another 10 in 2018. I am now 62 will be 63 in a few months and weigh between 165-170 and cannot lose the weight. I exercise twice a day 5 days a week with a long run on the weekends. I am a half-marathon runner. I run 4-5 days a week for an average of 20-25 miles per week. I also do HIIT workouts twice a week and strength training 3-4 days a week. I do take one rest day from no running or exercise. I watch what I eat and last year starting counting my macros, increasing my carbs and proteins. I lost 13 pounds within a few months and then it all came back on and counting macros is now not working either. I am really not stressed at work and love my job. The challenge I would say is I have a 1:45 drive to work one way each day. I work out early because we have a fitness center at work. Usually 4 out of 5 days early morning workouts. I will do a run at lunch 3-4 days during the week and do a long run on Saturdays with a rest day on Sundays. I get between 6-7 hours of sleep per night. It’s either get sleep and no workout or workout and less sleep. Can’t change that. All of my weight gain has been in the middle and mainly on my belly and hips. I have also gained 2 sizes so it’s not all muscle. My arms and legs I have not gained inches. Only chest, waist and hips and stomach. I vary my exercise routines so I don’t do the same thing all of the time. I have been reading up on the cortisol and wonder if this is my issue. I recently had blood workup done and everything was normal, including thyroid except, of course, my BMI. I am at a total loss as to what to do. The extra 25-30 pounds impact my running and has slowed me down considerably.

  17. I just recently came across your website and I have been reading like crazy, so much of what you are saying totally relates to me. I have ordered all the supplements for adrenal fatigue, thyroid reset, and weightloss and also I ordered your weightloss download package. I am on day 3. For a little history: I did two rounds of the hcg diet in 2010. I was only looking to lose 15 pounds. Sparing the details I did it twice over a years time and from that point on I have had weight issues. In 2010, I needed to lose 15 pounds and as of today I have gained 45 additional pounds since I did my first ever diet which happened to be hcg diet. Anyway, I struggle with energy so bad. I am so tired all the time. My friend who is a therapist says it’s “seasonal depression”. I can see where he is coming from, but I truly am so exhausted all the time. After doing intermittent fasting FAITHFULLY for 3 months doing 20/4. I never cheated and for 3 months ate only in a 4 hour window everyday. I didn’t lose a single pound and finally gave in and went to a doctor to get labs done and have my thyroid tested. I explained my symptoms which were failed diets, weight gain, hairloss, and extreme fatigue. They called me back to tell me that I was perfectly healthy and that I needed to try the Paleo diet and eat less and exercise more. My cortisol on my labs was fasting at 8am was 9.7mcg/dl. I know that is barely below the norm of 10, but I also have low blood pressure. I have always had low blood pressure like 90/60 is normal for me. So from what I’m reading I’m guessing there is a possibility that I have cortisol dysfunction? You mentioned low cortisol in the article, but I’m not sure what to read into low cortisol. Is there more that I can read about being on the low cortisol end? I am trying to gather as much information as I can because I am planning a trip to go see a doctor and I want to be as prepared as I can be. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Vicki,

      It does sound like you probably have some issues with cortisol, but as it relates to your weight and inability to lose weight, that problem is probably more related to your metabolism than your cortisol.

  18. Thank you for your article, it explains things well. I know I have high cortisol, high ACTH. A homeopath put me on a cortisol manager and GABA, which have helped tremendously but if I go off them, the cortisol spikes again. Not sure how to fix that. I believe I had Cushing’s syndrome after a heavy dose of Cipro and Avelox antibiotics and some of those symptoms, including purple stretch marks, have since gone away. I’d noticed a few years ago the full moon wasn’t round anymore, which I later learned could indicate a pit tumor. My question is if some of the Cushing symptoms go away, why not the rest? I can’t lose weight for anything, am fighting fatigue and a seemingly permanent cortisol problem. I had a thyroidectomy about 8 years ago based on an endos recommendation, which hasn’t solved anything. I found a non-endo thyroid doc that prescribes NDT and T3, which is probably the only reason I’m upright and coherent half the time. I’m leery of pursuing a Cushing’s dx or cortisol/ACTH solution bc that involves an endo and they all seem little nuts when it comes to thyroid, so I don’t want them anywhere near my thyroid management. Is there a way to regain my health and energy with an endo? If there’s a pit tumor causing this havoc, is surgery the only solution?
    Thank you for any insight.

  19. I was recently diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome (they ruled out disease with bloodwork and urine analysis). My doctor believes my contraceptive was the culprit and it knocked my system out of whack after I had my last child. I read above that you recommend cutting back on caffeine and stimulants. But, my doctor is putting me on phentermine to try to reset my system. Is this a common course of action? Will it make things worse??

    • Hi Wendy,

      Phentermine is a stimulant so if you are trying to avoid caffeine and other stimulants then it wouldn’t be a good idea to use phentermine.

  20. This article really spoke to me. I was constantly putting so much stress on my body for years. I over exercised, taught fitness classes to make sure I wouldn’t miss a workout. I would also workout before I taught. I had toxic, abusive relationships that caused so much hurt, I was a work-a-holic balancing 3-4 jobs a day. I felt so tired all the time but never thought to stop. A pregnancy tipped my adrenals over the edge. I had a miscarriage, but was not sad (I know this is horrible) because I was so extremely tired. After this, I kept putting in weight, about 15 pounds every 6-8 months. I worked out harder, but gained more! Found out I had Hashimotos so I figured I just needed to treat my thyroid. Got a full thyroid panel, learned to read my labs, worked with a naturopath who prescribed t3, gain MORE weight. I went from 190 to 240 despite all my efforts. Luckily, I know someone who does functional medicine who agreed to help me. I did a Gi-map, that turned out pretty good, I was told to remove gluten and take a probiotic as good bacteria was low. Other than that, no bacteria infections, parasites, sibo, candida, etc. I also did a urine hormone analysis which showed low cortisol all day, 0 dhea, 0 testosterone, progesterone was tanked and estrogen was low due to taking dim (thought my weight gain was from ED) I was recommended to sleep 10 hours, take zinc and bio identical progesterone. My thyroid levels were very low and was told they are okay, but a naturopath recommended thyroid hormone, but I had stopped all these as I was gaining more weight and didn’t understand the cortisol connection. I figured I had enough thyroid hormone to maintain my stressful life. Do you recommend the thyroid hormone (Erfa Thyroid) while adrenals are tanked?

    • Hi Ana,

      I usually do recommend treating with thyroid hormone while simultaneously treating adrenal function. In my experience, that seems to work best.


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