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Can Stress Cause Belly Fat?

belly fatAre you constantly under pressure at work? Struggling with personal problems and daily stress? Then it’s time to take control over your life! Prolonged stress affects your health on every level, causing weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer. Its side effects shouldn’t be overlooked. A growing body of research indicates that stress leads to belly fat, which in turn increases your risk of chronic diseases. 2894

How Cortisol, Stress, and Abdominal Fat Are Related

Anxiety and stress are often the culprit behind weight gain. Even if you eat clean and exercise, stress can make you fat and sick. This factor affects your health in more than one way. When you’re stressed out, your body releases cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones influence your metabolism as well as your appetite and your ability to lose weight. 2895

Cortisol regulates your energy balance by selecting the type of fuel (carbs, protein, or fat) that is needed by your body to handle stress. Under certain circumstances, it aids adipocytes to grow up into mature fat cells and causes the body to store fat in the abdomen. Cortisol also triggers inflammation and suppresses your immune system. At the same time, your insulin levels increase and your blood sugar drops. These factors combined lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. 2896

High cortisol levels are also associated with sugar cravings and hunger. When you’re under stress, you’re more likely to reach for a cookie or chocolate to calm down. That’s why they are called “comfort foods.” Basically, your body craves foods that might have a calming effect. 2897

The stress hormone directly impacts fat storage and appetite. Compared to subcutaneous fat, visceral fat has four times more cortisol receptors. This explains why you accumulate fat around the waist during stressful times. Cortisol also influences the main appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin, leptin, neuropeptide Y, and CRH. High levels of neuropeptide Y and CRH and decreased leptin levels have been shown to increase hunger and sugar cravings. 2898

How to Manage Your Stress Levels

Keeping stress under control is a big part of losing belly fat. Simple lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep and practicing yoga or meditation, can help you slim down and ward off diseases. Certain foods can make it easier to fight stress and reduce its impact. For instance, cabbage, cauliflower, oats, nuts, and leafy green vegetables help restore hormonal balance and prevent blood sugar spikes. Refined sugar, alcohol, white flour, gluten, and trans fats can mess up your hormones and affect your body’s ability to fight stress. 2899

Chronic stress is associated with abdominal obesity and insulin resistance. It also accelerates biological aging and causes systemic inflammation. Although you can’t avoid stress completely, there are ways to control it. Listening to music, reading, and spending time outdoors are some of the best ways to fight stress. 2900

Regular exercise increases the releases of feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine and endorphins. These compounds lift your mood and help reduce the damaging effects of stress. However, you must be careful not to overdo it. If you over-train you will cause your body to store rather than release fat.  Start out easy and try doing two to three 10-minute exercise sessions per day missing up cardio and with weight bearing exercise. You can alternate walking in place with exercises like push-ups, crunches and planks. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent places to start and you can easily find work-outs on Youtube. 2901

Other alternative stress relief techniques include deep breathing, massage and prioritizing sleep. You will find that once your cortisol levels return to normal, you’ll lose stubborn fat and have more energy. 2902