Book Review: The Cortisol Connection Diet, by Shawn Talbott, Ph.D.

by Donald Pelles, Ph.D., Certified Hypnotherapist

I heard Shawn Talbott speak on a teleseminar a couple weeks ago, about cortisol and testosterone and their role in stress, weight reduction, and health.  I was impressed – the man seemed to know what he’s talking about and everything he said resonated with things I already knew, half-knew, or suspected:

·         Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is a potent appetite signal for high-calorie, high-carb foods; it tells our fat cells, especially those in the belly region, to store as much fat as possible, while dialing down the body’s calorie burning rate and slowly shrinking muscle tissue.

·         Stress management leads to reduced cortisol, reduced fat – especially belly fat – and an increased metabolic rate, to burn more calories.

·         Testosterone goes up as cortisol goes down (yes, in women too!), and that’s a good thing.  We should aim to balance these two hormones, and that’s what exercise does for us – this is the main benefit of exercise, not burning calories per se.  Walking three times per week will do it!

·         Hydrate! – We need plenty of water to melt away fat; it’s a chemical, metabolic thing..

·         High cortisol (high stress) leads to lowered sex drive, bone loss, and suppresses your immune system.  Talbott noted how college infirmaries fill up with sick students at the end each semester, because the stress of exams and papers has reduced their immunity.

·         Eat flavinoids (bright colored fruits and vegetables) and a balance of complex carbohydrates, healthy proteins, and healthy fats to combat cortisol.

 

Talbott, trained in sports medicine, health management, exercise physiology, and nutritional biochemistry, is an associate clinical professor of nutrition at the University of Utah, a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Dietary Supplements (for health professionals) and SupplementWatch (for consumers).

 

An earlier book, The Cortisol Connection, How Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health And What You Can Do About It, is a more general treatment of stress, its effects, and how to control it.  In The Cortisol Connection Diet (2004), Talbot concentrates on diet: what to eat and how much, including recommendations for supplements (such as Green Tea Extract).  He recommends three meals and three snacks per day, and introduces The Helping Hand – your hand – a readily available physical measure for how much proteins, carbs, and fats to eat.  This is not so much a diet as it is a common-sense guide – that common-sense being informed by an understanding of the role of cortisol and other hormones in metabolism as it relates to weight and health.

Talbott also critiques popular Diets: Atkins, Ornish, Zone, Weight Watchers, Ephedra (herbal stimulant), liquid.  Here is what he says about the Atkins Diet:

 

Q: What are the side effects associated with the Atkins Diet (low carb / high protein)?

 

A: It depends on how the diet is approached.  For example, an “Atkins” meal composed of salmon and green salad has no side effects (and obviously has many health benefits) – but an “Atkins” meal composed of a bacon double cheeseburger (hold the bun) is not good for your heart or your waistline.  Eating too much protein, which can be a problem with some versions of low-carb diets, can lead to dehydration (water loss is often confused with weight / fat loss) – and dehydration can slow the metabolic rate and make weight maintenance more difficult.  Too much protein in the diet can also displace other important food sources: If you’ve filled up on meat and cheese, you may not have room left to eat your salad, so the diet may fail to provide enough of many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and may also be lacking in fiber.

 

Any diet will work, especially at first, but as you progress, many of the popular Diets become counter-productive, especially as you try to lose those last 10 or 20 pounds.  Expect Talbot’s recommendations to take you all the way, and allow you to maintain that target weight for the long term.

 

The Cortisol Connection Diet is short – 130 pages with appendices, index, sample meals and snacks, and food log forms, all in a small page format – easily read in one or two sittings.  I found it straightforward and easy to understand.

 

I have always known that stress is important in weight control; containing emotional eating is a major part of the WHY Weight Reduction Program (© by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.) that I use with my weight clients.  But in part because of Dr. Talbott, I am coming to understand that stress is central, not only to weight issues but to most of the issues we deal with in Hypnotherapy.

 

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