‘I was the ‘curvy’ one in high school who got boobs and a butt well before anyone else so I was teased a lot by my classmates.
‘I felt really conscious of my body, I was obsessed with getting skinny and reached for junk food to feed my emotions.
‘Then, in my twenties, I tried every detox and diet under the sun!
I literally took years to figure out a way to eat my way to a leaner body and exercise smarter, not harder.’
Now, Nik describes herself as a wellness and mindset coach, holistic nutritionist and personal trainer who helps women across the globe create lean and toned bodies they love.
And according to the expert, elevated cortisol levels – caused by stress – can be the cause of stubborn weight around your belly.
‘Studies show that weight gain, fatigue and increased belly fat are commonly linked to high cortisol levels in many individuals,’ Nik shared on her blog.
‘Visceral fat is the excess weight one carries around their midsection, particularly deep beneath the surface of the abdominal wall.
‘This type of fat is dangerous because it is stored around (and can literally suffocate) our vital organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.
‘It also plays havoc on our hormone function. Visceral fat secretes a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) which increases resistance to insulin. Carrying large amounts of visceral fat can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
‘If stubborn belly fat is something you are struggling with, it is important to find ways to manage your stress levels and therefore reduce high cortisol levels,’ she says.
So what can do you to make a difference?
According to Nik, getting your nutrition right needn’t be a headache.
‘The secret is that there is no secret,’ she says. ‘Consume a balanced diet, consisting of mostly whole foods.
‘As a rule of thumb, focus on consuming real, whole foods from plants and animals.
‘By that, I mean that you should limit processed foods filled with additives, chemicals, enhancers and preservatives.’
‘If your cortisol levels are high, it signals your brain that you are in danger and need fuel to get away from it,’ Nik explains.
‘Therefore, cortisol triggers glucose production, which is instant energy for your brain and muscles to help get you out of trouble.
‘If you are suffering from high cortisol, it is important to reduce simple and refined carbohydrates and large amounts of starchy foods.
‘These type of foods increase blood glucose (sugar) levels. As you read earlier constantly elevated blood glucose levels stimulates weight gain, visceral fat, and risk of diabetes.
‘For your carb sources, focus on consuming complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, oats, quinoa, and sweet potatoes.’
Don’t eat these
According to the expert, there are some simple foods you should avoid if you want to get leaner.
‘Trans fats are artificially processed fats, which appear as ‘hydrogenated fats’ on food labels.
‘Watch out for these, as they can increase your risk of heart diseases, as well as elevate your cortisol levels,’ she says.
Refined sugars and starchy foods
‘Cortisol stimulates gluconeogenesis (production of glucose within the body). If you are suffering from high cortisol, it is important to reduce refined carbohydrates from your diet.’ Nik explains.
According to the expert, long-term alcohol use may contribute to hormonal imbalance, inflammation, increased risk of liver disease, and more.
‘Consuming a diet rich in saturated fats can elevate cortisol levels even further,’ Nik says.
‘Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products and some plant oils. Saturated fat is found mainly in animal foods such as meat and dairy products including fatty beef, lamb, pork, chicken with skin, whole milk, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream. Instead opt for leaner cuts of meat and poultry.’
‘Studies suggest that consuming too much caffeine may cause spikes in cortisol.,’ Nik explains.
‘If you have high cortisol, limit your intake of tea and coffee to as low as you can or better yet eliminate it completely. Instead of coffee, opt for herbal teas, pure water, green juices, kombucha and home-made smoothies.’
Eat this instead
Now you know what not to eat, Nik has some top tips on what your diet should look like.
The expert says you should embrace leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, celery, cucumber, green beans and aim for at least five portions of these vegetables a day.
‘Protein is the building block for our muscles, and it is essential for healing, muscle maintenance, hormone production, detoxification and stabilising blood sugar levels,’ Nik says.
‘Consume at least 15-20g of protein per meal each day,’ she adds, explaining that 100g of chicken contains about 20g of protein.
Essential fatty acids - found in oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, and chia and flax seeds
‘These are anti-inflammatory, and can reduce the inflammatory effects of cortisol,’ Nik says.
‘It is essential to keep hydrated, to detoxify your cells . Dehydration can lead to inflammation and lack of ability to cleanse your system,’ she adds.
On top of eating right, the expert says getting the right balance of exercise is also key to getting leaner
‘While exercise is great for lowering stress levels, too much training (particularly cardio) can further increase cortisol levels,’ she says.
She advises following these guidelines for optimum results.
Limit endurance training
‘When I work with a client who has abnormal cortisol or adrenal profile, I advise them stop cardio training altogether and have them focus on resistance training or restorative forms of exercise such as yoga,’ she says.
‘Reduce the intensity of your training, get plenty of rest between sets, and consume a complete post-workout meal including complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes.’
The expert also advises that it’s important to embrace yoga and pilates.
‘These forms of exercises force you to focus on deepening your breath,’ she says.
‘They are wonderful for reducing stress and anxiety levels because they make you concentrate on practising slow deep breathing.’
Get enough sleep
According to the expert, getting enough sleep is critical for reducing stress.
‘Sleep before 10pm and get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep so that the function of the adrenal glands in reducing cortisol levels will be restored,’ Nik says.
‘If you suffer from high cortisol levels, you may experience restlessness at night, and fatigue during the day.
‘Aim to stop using any device that emits artificial blue light for at least half an hour before bedtime.
‘By reducing artificial light, reducing caffeine and practicing meditation, you can try to reset your circadian rhythm and re-balance your hormones.’
The expert added that meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing and spending time outdoors can also help reduce stress and anxiety levels.
‘There are tons of meditative methods out there, including step-by-step videos, books, and more. Utilize these resources, and practice meditation daily for at least 15-20 minutes,’ Nik says.
‘According to studies, physical settings play a large role in stress levels,’ she adds.
‘If locked up indoors, without fresh air and sunlight, it is much easier to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.
‘Aim to walk outside for at least 10-15 minutes a day in your lunch break. Whether you are strolling through a park, the bush, by the ocean, or in your backyard, being outdoors for a portion of the day has many positive effects on the body and mind.’
For more tips from Nik Toth visit the Lean Body Coach website here