Stress, Cortisol, and Chocolate Tart

Some people claim that during times of stress they lose weight. “The weight falls off”, they say. But for the most of the population this is simply not the case. Many more claim that long-term stress leads to weight gain. Stress and anxiety can and will affect your weight, and the kilos (pounds) can and will add up. There are many theories as to why this is. However, studies now reveal that the main cause of weight gain during times of stress is strongly linked to elevated cortisol levels.

Stress, Cortisol and Weight Gain

When we are subject to stress over long periods of time the adrenal gland’s function suffers. Next the thyroid overcompensates by producing more hormones. The thyroid gland then wears out, eventually leading to hypothyroidism, a slow metabolic rate and weight gain. Stress is one of the major causes of weight loss sabotage. Stress can hide itself in many forms. This could be obvious stresses related to work or study. Or, caused from stress to the body due to overtraining seen in many a ‘gym-junky’.

Stress triggers the “fight or flight” mode. This provides instant energy from hormones so that adrenaline kicks in and the survival instinct takes over. Cortisol, one of the associated stress hormones, stays in your system the longest, and is responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels. This hormone triggers the bodies need to replenish (with food) after the danger has subsided. This can also make you crave certain foods for instant energy, such as sugar-loaded carbohydrates which lead to abdominal fat storage (often associated with high cortisol levels) and diabetes.

Higher than normal levels of cortisol can also affect your sleep, waking you around 3am and keeping you awake for the rest of the night. If you are sleeping less than 7 hours a night the body releases yet again more cortisol. See the spiral effect? Then, what do you do the next day to pick yourself up when you’re tired? Do you reach for caffeine and sugar? These 2 no-nos (caffeine and sugar) are hugely responsible for adrenal fatigue because they again exhaust the adrenal glands through high peaks of energy followed by

spiralling lows. So, what are we to do to put a stop to this pattern?

Try following the advice below.

Support the adrenal glands with herbs

Take a daily dose of herbs to calm the nervous system and support your general wellbeing. You can take these in liquid form (available from naturopaths and herbalists) and teas made from loose herbs.

Liquorish: Balances hormone levels and supports the adrenals.

Peppermint: Provides antioxidants and is disease preventative, a digestive aid, and is known to aid Irritable Bowl Syndrome.

Lemongrass: Flushes toxins from the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and digestive tract, and uric acid from the bladder.

Ginger: For general wellbeing, anti-inflammatory, warming on the system, and aids the symptoms of detox (from eliminating sugar or caffeine) – including headaches.

Calm your nervous system


Lie on your back, close your eyes and focus on the breath. Each time you notice that your thoughts wander to something else, calmly return to observing your breath. You get better at this with practice.


Sunshine boosts serotonin levels in the body. This makes us feel happier, more joyful and therefore a lot calmer, thereby reducing stress in the body and lowering cortisol levels.

Swim in the ocean

Swimming in the ocean water creates a feeling of wellbeing. The cool temperature of the water, and minerals from the salt absorbed through the skin relaxes tense muscles and provide us with a sense of calm.


Include healthy fats

Consuming enough healthy fats everyday assists brain function and prevents depression. Studies reveal that a diet low in oils leads to anxiety and moodiness. Eat plenty of avocado, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, eggs, salmon, and sardines, and take a daily dose of flaxseed oil or fish oil.

Eat Low GI foods

Eat a diet of Low GI foods and avoid starchy and white food sources. High GI foods cause peaks and drops in blood sugar levels, and again this wears out the adrenal system. Avoid white bread, white pasta, white rice, and eliminate refined sugar. Opt for spelt and rye breads and eat whole-grains such as brown rice, oats, and pseudo grains such as quinoa, kamut or millet.

Below is the perfect treat recipe – guaranteed to leave your feeling calm and happy.

Raw Chocolate Tart

This recipe has been adapted from a recipe from the River Cottage website.

It is rich in brain-balancing and mood-boosting healthy fats, and is free from gluten and refined sugar. The perfect pick me up.


300g almonds

250 g dates

Water added


5 avocados

150 g coconut oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

200 g raw cacao or cocoa

100 ml pure maple syrup

½ punnet of fresh blueberries

2 handfuls of shredded coconut


In a food processor blend the almonds. Add the dates and a splash of water to make a dough like consistency. To make the tart crust spread out the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of a 30 cm pie dish. Cover closely with glad wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Blend all filling ingredients and add a dash of water to the mix if necessary to achieve a mousse like consistency. Fill the tart crust with the mousse. Decorate with fresh blueberries and shredded coconut.

You can eat this straight away, or leave it in the fridge to firm up a little. It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Enjoy a slice and reap the benefits.

“Keep calm and carry on” 🙂

Courtenay Perks has a genuine passion for whole-food cooking, holistic nutrition, fitness, and healthy living. A mother of 3, qualified chef and vegetarian; her approach is clean foods for the whole family, which aid the body to function efficiently to help it stay naturally lithe and fit.

Instagram: @clementineandcoconutpantry