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Cortisol made my pants too tight OR The influence of Cortisol on waistline weight

We all know Cortisol is a stress hormone. You may have heard that prolonged stress can lead to central weight gain AKA waistline weight. What you may not have heard is how to respond to waistline weight. Even I developed waistline weight due to stress and I write about these issues.

My story: My daughter was pregnant with her second child. She planned a C-section delivery.   I was surprised when she announced she was already in labor as she collected me at LAX.  It was two days before her scheduled C-section! Instead of getting settled-in we were off the UCLA Medical Center for an assessment. The next two days were a circus of progress and setbacks. These culminated in an emergency C-section delivery.

I was with her behind the surgical drape: the anesthetist didn’t see a bag of IV fluids leaking; I did and reported. My daughter lost 2 liters of blood which required a draw to order blood. I was steadying her arm and wrist so they could take the sample. I looked at the monitor; her blood pressure was dropping FAST! The leaking bag of IV had never been replaced.   Another one was hung (#4) and the anesthesiologist went to get a 5th. Another bottle of a different compound was added to her IV. A second surgeon scrubbed-in.   I watched my daughter float in and out of consciousness. When she was conscious, she complained of pain. That required two boluses of medication delivered to the port for her epidural site. Finally, the main surgeon lowered the barrier drape so I could see her. She said they might not need the transfusion. Her brow was sweaty but relief was written in her eyes.

How long did it take you to read that paragraph? That’s how fast all these events took place!

My daughter’s post-operative course was initially very bumpy; so was the baby’s. I stayed with her in the hospital. Her stay was extended due to those complications.

The night before she was due home, I came back. What a mess! We all left in a hurry and it showed. I did four bags of laundry, changed sheets, washed long-dirty dishes and tossed rotten food as well as some general cleaning. All of these tasks must be completed by 11:30-12:00 the next morning for their homecoming!   The circus just moved home and included another ring; the 2-year old grandchild. No matter how we had tried to prepare her; the 2 year old was still leery about this baby who was not visiting, she was staying. Every night, I fell into bed about 10:30 and got up at 5:00am to do more laundry, more cleaning or more cooking prep before my first grandchild awoke. Then the circus began anew.

My revelation; One would think that all this activity might reduce my weight; not so. When I dressed to fly back, I put on the same pair of slacks I had worn on arrival: they wouldn’t close! I had to borrow a diaper-sized safety pin to hold them together. At first I puzzled about my diet. Then I realized I had succumbed to central weight gain from Cortisol.

My response; Now I knew the pathway to reducing my weight. Contrary to most weight-loss advice, running, lifting weights and other vigorous exercise does not work to reduce the Cortisol dump. Instead, one must create pathways for calming. Instead of reading on the plane, I chose a seat by the window and “studied” clouds. I reduced my caffeine intake. I took short walks, not race walks. I practiced guided imagery and deep breathing process. I also had to practice “kitchenus interruptus”.   That’s the tendency to head for food when one is really not hungry. Things are better now so I can resume my regular exercise program.

This plan does not mean one can eat cake and mediate it away. It does not mean one can only do deep breathing exercises and not get physical exercise. It illustrates methods for lowering Cortisol first to clear a path for other weight loss methods. We are not immune to stress but we need not succumb to it either. Are you finding waistline weight since caregiving?

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