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How Stress Is Causing Belly Fat - And What You Can Do About It!

Many women struggle with belly fat, even when they are not considered overweight. One thing that is often overlooked when trying to get rid of belly fat is the contribution of stress.

stress cortisol and belly fat


Health risks of belly fat

Even women who are not overweight suffer from health risks of excess belly fat. Excess belly fat means that fat is concentrated around internal organs. This visceral fat secretes hormones and is linked to several diseases.



visceral belly fat

The way I look at this visceral fat is like a life-jacket - and in a real sense, that is what the body is trying to do which is to protect you. It might not seem like it because this visceral fat causes so many health problems, but in the simplest way, your body is under constant stress and the only way it knows how to protect you from what it considers real danger, is to put a layer of fat around your most important organs.

This is also why belly fat is so difficult to lose. Your body cannot lose the weight until it feels safe - and that is why stress reduction is of the utmost importance.


(And if I can put in a little aside in here, that's why I'm so passionate about holistic weight loss. My methods aren't just about losing inches and pounds, it's about getting your body right: soul, mind, AND body! If we aren't working together, then I encourage you to book a free life-changing call HERE!)


Excess belly fat increases the risk of developing heart disease, colorectal and breast cancer, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. Excess belly fat can also contribute to inflammation which usually leads to several health problems.


Visceral vs subcutaneous fat

You have two types of fat in your body - visceral and subcutaneous. Visceral fat as I mentioned before is found between your internal organs and in the abdominal region.


Subcutaneous fat is the fat layer below the skin and is relatively harmless. Visceral fat acts like an endocrine organ producing hormones that are linked to several diseases. And unfortunately, stress plays a HUGE role in your body storing visceral fat.


Cortisol

Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone because it is one of the hormones that are part of the fight or flight response.


Here is how the fight or flight response works:

When your body is under acute stress, your brain signals your adrenal glands to produce epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Both these hormones help to put your body in a state where it is better able to deal with stress.


  • Epinephrine increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure.

  • Cortisol increases blood sugar, increases the use of glucose by the brain, and suppresses the digestive, reproductive, and growth systems of the body.


Once the stress has passed systems return to normal.


The problem is that often your body’s stress response is in overdrive and is continually activated. This means your body is often under the effects of cortisol and never has the chance to recover and come back into a balanced state where weight release can take place.


Cortisol’s primary function is to increase blood sugar levels at times of stress. The brain is telling the body that it's going to need extra energy - in short, it's a protective measure. In the past, when humans were running from lions or tigers, this made a lot of sense. But in today's world, we're often continually running from our own self-imposed stress. When excess blood sugar is being continually dumped into our systems, this leads to higher levels of insulin or insulin resistance, which causes your body to store fat around your belly.


Menopause

As hormones shift during menopause women are more likely to develop excess belly fat. Unfortunately, symptoms of menopause like anxiety can trigger the release of cortisol and increased blood sugar leading to more belly fat.


Following are some of the suggestions coming up that can help you to deal with this.


Stress eating

Stress can cause an increase in belly fat even without weight gain, but stress can also lead to stress eating which contributes to weight gain throughout the body. And because of that stress, the excess fat often ends up on the belly first.



Eat the right foods for stress

Several foods can actually increase your stress hormones. Foods that you should avoid to keep your body's stress reaction under control are:

  • Sugar - Eating sugar will increase your blood sugar, usually quickly, then lead to a crash. Cortisol levels increase to compensate for the drop in blood sugar.

  • Processed carbohydrates - processed carbohydrates have a similar effect to sugar in the diet.

  • Alcohol - Many people turn to alcohol when they feel stressed. But alcohol may actually have the opposite effect. Alcohol seems to increase cortisol levels. Many people who use fitness trackers with stress monitors see an increase in their body’s indication of stress. Alcohol also disrupts sleep patterns which can also contribute to higher cortisol levels.

  • Excess caffeine - Too much caffeine can stimulate your body's natural stress response.

Nutrients to include in your diet are

  • Magnesium - magnesium acts as a relaxer for your nervous system so it helps to lower stress.

  • Probiotics - poor gut health is linked to stress. Consuming probiotics may help to maintain a balance of healthy gut bacteria.

  • Vitamin D - Vitamin D has been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

Add exercise to your routine

Exercise helps to reduce stress, so adding exercise to your routine can help with reducing belly fat caused by stress. But exercises like sit-ups are not likely to help very much. Look at stress-reducing activities like walking or yoga.


Practice stress reduction techniques

If you are being affected by too much stress, then you might want to consider one or more of these techniques:


  • meditation

  • reading a book

  • going for a walk outside

  • journalling




Get enough sleep

Getting enough restful sleep when you are suffering from stress can be difficult, but the lack of sleep can end up contributing to stress, and to weight gain. You can add some of the stress reduction techniques to your bedtime routine to help get better sleep.


Activate a game-changing hormone!

I have another article that I wrote about adiponectin - and I call this a game-changing hormone that when activated can really fire up your belly fat loss. You can learn more about this super-hormone and how to activate it by clicking here!


Summary

If you have excess belly fat, especially if you are not otherwise overweight, stress is likely a factor. If you’d like help seeing what changes you can make book a free nutrition assessment. Sometimes, the answer to feeling a whole lot better is simpler than you think!


References:

news.yale.edu/2000/09/22/study-stress-may-cause-excess-abdominal-fat-otherwise-slender-women

healthline.com/health/stressed-out-belly

stress.org/stress-cortisol-and-abdominal-fat

nytimes.com/2018/06/11/well/live/belly-fat-health-visceral-fat-waist-cancer.html#:~:text=Among other medical problems linked,of 88,000 California teachers found.

healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2017/10/cortisol.php#:~:text=Cortisol is best known for,threat or leave it behind.

mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037