Cortisol 101: How Eating Keto Can Help You Manage This Hormone for Better Health

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Learn how to lower cortisol levels by eating keto!

Cortisol is a hormone released by your adrenal glands during times of stress. It’s one of your fight or flight response hormones. Typically, cortisol is released in small amounts during times of acute stress. It can also work to reduce inflammation, which is a good thing! But if a person is experiencing chronic stress, they may have unhealthy elevated cortisol levels.

Over time, if your cortisol levels are higher than normal, you may start to experience some negative health effects. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, which means that it can affect your blood sugars, metabolism, immune system, and cognition.

pharmacist holding medication to lower cortisol levels

If you’ve heard of the medication Prednisone, think of it as synthetic cortisol.

Doctors often prescribe Prednisone for its anti-inflammatory effects. But if someone is on Prednisone for a long period of time, it can lead to increased appetite, weight gain, elevated blood sugars, and even diabetes. So just imagine what happens in your body when your cortisol levels are constantly high!

woman covering face with pillow tired and stress

Besides stress, one of the main contributors to elevated cortisol is lack of sleep.

If you’re not meeting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, it’s possible that your cortisol levels are elevated. Lack of sleep puts stress on your body, which will then cause cortisol to increase and can contribute to increased hunger and food cravings.

woman in front of empty cake dish with hangry sign

Research shows that lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain.

You may have noticed that it can be more difficult to stay on track with healthy eating when you haven’t slept well. If you’re tired, your body is going to look for quick ways to get a boost of energy.

Most people crave carbs and sugar when they’re tired since the exhaustion makes it hard to have that willpower to say no to junk food. Suddenly, that donut that you usually walk past in the breakroom will be calling your name.

woman lying awake face down on bed

Over time, the combination of lack of sleep and elevated cortisol can take its toll. For a lot of people, it’s a catch-22 situation. You don’t sleep well, which leads to increased cortisol levels during the day. But then the high cortisol levels prevent you from getting adequate sleep. It’s easy to get trapped in a sleepless stress cycle.

woman holding tray of keto foods

One way to help counter the sugar cravings and weight gain from lack of sleep is the keto diet.

Many people report decreased cravings when they’re on the keto diet, and one study even found that eating keto may help to reduce binge eating and food addictions.

weight loss on keto — woman stepping out of bed onto scale

If you do find yourself gaining weight from stress, you might think about cutting back on your snacking and/or try intermittent fasting. But be careful about how you change your eating habits. One study suggests that low-calorie diets can actually increase your cortisol levels, which will completely counter your weight loss efforts.

Eating keto can help you lose those extra pounds without increasing your levels of cortisol! If you’re still struggling with chronic stress or insomnia, you might want to talk to your doctor about getting your cortisol levels checked.

woman pointing to words on T-shirt

In the meantime, find ways to lower your stress.

Try meditating, going for a walk, or developing a relaxing bedtime routine. Sometimes just taking a few deep breaths when you feel your heart racing can help calm you down. Try to think of the positives in your life and practice gratitude.

woman eating keto baked feta tomato pasta

Additionally, focus on the areas of your life that you can control, like the foods you eat.

When you’re tired and dealing with stress, that’s the time to make the extra effort to stay on track with healthy eating. A keto diet can help maintain stable blood sugars and energy levels throughout the day while combating those food cravings that occur when you’re stressed and tired.

woman walking outside wearing backpack

We’d love to hear about how you manage stress, or how you’ve already used keto to keep you on track during a stressful time. We’re here to support you on your keto journey! 🙌


Find out what a nutritionist eats on the keto diet!


Emily graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Idaho, holds 5 years of blogging experience, and has been featured in Every Day Health and Women's Health Magazine.


Join The Discussion

Comments 4

  1. bdubs

    Great article! I’ve been using guided mindfulness videos to lower stress during these covidy times. This confirms that it’s a good idea.

    I tried looking, but what is the recipe for what Lina is holding towards the end of the article? It looks delicious.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      The recipe is Keto Baked Feta Zoodles. You can find it here.

  2. Deanna

    Thank you for this info. My mom has been taking Prednisone and now is having problems with her kidneys.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re welcome!

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