By Denis Faye

A few years ago, a wave of supplements hit the market vilifying the stress hormone cortisol, claiming that it caused an accumulation of excess fat. While this "fact" helped companies like CortiSlim® sell plenty "cortisol blockers," there was a tiny problem. It's complete hogwash. So let's set the record straight, shall we?

As it turns out, the marketers failed to mention that this fat accumulation only happens if you suffer from a medical condition called Cushing's syndrome, against which the vitamins and herbs in these blockers are no match.

In 1997, the Federal Trade Commission nailed these companies for false advertising. They had to pay millions to consumers, which is a happy ending of sorts, except no one remembers this part. They just remember Anna Nicole Smith telling us that cortisol—which is actually vital to human survival—will make you fat.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that secretes into the bloodstream from the adrenal glands, primarily in times of stress. It also spikes in the morning, possibly to get you moving, and drops in the evening. New research comes out daily showing health issues that seem tied to a lack of morning cortisol, including chronic fatigue syndrome and Asperger's syndrome.

Cortisol has various tasks. It's instrumental in controlling blood pressure, and it also supplies emergency energy to the body. It does this by decreasing insulin sensitivity and stimulating something called gluconeogenesis, the creation of new glucose from amino acids. Unfortunately, these amino acids come from the breakdown of body proteins through a process known as catabolism. In other words, during times of stress, cortisol aids in breaking down muscle mass for use as energy.

Yeah, I know. Now you hate cortisol, but before you try to chop out your adrenal glands with a butter knife, remember that if you didn't have cortisol, your tweaked blood pressure would induce hypotention and you'd die. Furthermore, there are numerous ways around catabolism.
  1. Limit workout times. Cortisol kicks in after about 45 minutes of hard exercise, so limit the length of your workouts. Many Beachbody workouts, including some P90X® workouts, go longer, but when you consider the warm-ups, cooldowns, and breakdowns, the hard bits are well below that number.
  2. Keep Pushing Play. Eventually, your body will adapt to the fitness regimen of your choice. When your body adapts, your stress level drops and your results skyrocket. So once you start, you want to hang in long enough to get through the adaptive process.
  3. Dip it. Especially for kids, a little fun time needs to accompany mealtime. But don't fool yourself into thinking that those apple-and-caramel dipper packages are healthy snacks. I guess they're better than pure caramel, but they're still pretty much two steps back nutritionally from just eating healthy fruit. Instead, why not mix up some nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt with a little cinnamon? You'll get the health benefits of yogurt. And cinnamon has also been shown to have additional health benefits, like helping stabilize blood sugar. Dunking your fruit in a little unsweetened peanut butter makes for another great taste combo—the peanut butter gives the fruit some protein, and the fruit gives the peanut butter sweetness.
  4. Carb up. Catabolism increases when you don't have enough blood sugar to do the job, so keep your levels up. One trick is to fill your water bottle with P90X Results and Recovery Formula and sip it throughout your workout. Also, given that cortisol is most prevalent in the morning and after a workout, that's also when it's vital to get some carbs in your system.
  5. Rest up. Lack of sleep and general fatigue have been shown to dial up cortisol levels—make sure to get the rest you need. Furthermore, cortisol levels are at their lowest during the deepest stages of sleep. Take advantage of that by getting your full 8 hours of sleep. If you can't sleep for a full night, an afternoon nap will greatly help recovery.
  6. De-stress. It is, after all, a "stress hormone." Chill out! What's the rush, anyway? If you exercise more and eat healthily, your body will fall in line and get thinner, stronger, and healthier. Worrying about it isn't going to help, and now you know it's going to hurt. Relax, enjoy your day, and trust that your workout program, whether it's ChaLEAN Extreme®, Slim in 6®, or any other workout program you choose, will do you right in the end.