Belly fat is an unwanted attribute. It not only gives you a poor self-image, but it is a symptom of an unhealthy body. It is your body’s way of letting you know that your cortisol levels are out of balance.
The number one cause of unwanted belly fat is chronic stress. Stress is something that your body needs, however in unfiltered amounts it can cause a lot of damage.
Think of it this way – Your adrenal glands kick into action to produce cortisol anytime you are put in a threatening situation. The release of cortisol is needed to trigger the cells in your liver, fat, and muscle tissues to release the energy your body needs to get through the threatening situation.
This release of cortisol is known as fight or flight mode. Your body will naturally reduce your appetite and shut down other processes such as reproduction and tissue repair – which are not 100% necessary for survival – so that it can focus solely on safety.
This response was great when we were running away from predators, or charging after our food. Over the centuries, society has developed in such a way that this response is not needed in such drastic measures.
Yet, it remains a natural part of our life. When stress levels remain high enough to continue producing cortisol for long periods of time, unhealthy and dangerous changes will begin to occur within your body.
The belly fat created begins to act as an endocrine organ – sending hormones directly into the circulatory system. These hormones increase inflammatory compounds within your body damaging cells, compromising your health, increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many other diseases.
You can control unwanted belly fat. By joining Elevation Fitness, and we are a little biased but we think it’s the best Fitness Centre on the Gold Coast, we are committed to helping you take control. Before you begin, it is important that you understand the top 5 ways stress causes belly fat and how to control them.
- Uncontrollable Eating
One of the biggest side effects of stress is consuming more food. It’s proven every time you come home from an exhausting day at work and are consumed with the urge to eat.
That urge to eat is being caused by an excess of cortisol.
If you have a low stress day your cortisol levels have a regular ebb and flow. In the morning cortisol levels are higher to get you out of bed, once you eat breakfast the level of cortisol is cut in half. Throughout the rest of your day, your body’s cortisol levels will decrease with a few peaks around lunch and dinner time. By eating regular, healthy meals throughout the day, the cortisol levels will be low enough to allow you to sleep.
When you live a high-stress life, things change. When you are in a constant state of stress, those cortisol levels are not able to reduce themselves, thus leading to the urge to eat.
On top of that, stress can reduce your brain’s ability to control your hunger. Therefore, you may find yourself consuming large amounts of food without noticing it. Essentially, you are binge eating on a subconscious level. The excess calories from all that food do not have anywhere to go so they get stored in the abdominal area.
How to take control: The best thing you can do to prevent overeating is to eat regularly planned meals. Aim to eat every two to four hours to keep your cortisol levels from spiking due to no food intake. Your meals need to include a balance of high-quality proteins fish, eggs, lean beef, and chicken), vegetables, and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, olive oil, and seeds) to control your blood sugar levels while keeping your appetite in check.
- Unable to Make Rational Food Choices
The part of your brain that helps you focus on your goals is reduced, while the cravings for pleasurable foods increases when your cortisol levels are high. Eating high-quality proteins and vegetables may be your intention, but instead you will reach for the baked goods or highly processed foods to quell those cravings when you are stressed.
Your body knows that the high-carb foods will help reduce cortisol levels by releasing insulin. Those high-carb foods break down quickly into blood sugars which release the insulin. The insulin then begins to counteract the cortisol, causing your stress to be reduced. Essentially, the craving of carbohydrates is your body’s natural protection against high cortisol levels.
When you are highly stressed, you give in to your cravings more often than you should. This results in large amounts of insulin being released. When excess insulin and cortisol are released together, they create lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which is a fat storing enzyme. The more of this enzyme you have, the more belly fat is stored.
Those extreme levels of cortisol also cause damage to cells, lowering their insulin sensitivity. When your body begins to resist insulin, leptin, and ghrelin (the hunger hormones) become unbalanced – your brain is no longer to accurately perceive when you are full and you are no longer able to control the amount of food you eat.
How to take control: You can take control of your cravings. Instead of waiting until you are “starving” to eat, eat before you reach that point. This involves planning. You need to know what you are going to eat and when you are going to eat it. You may even want to prepare your snacks in advance so they are easier to grab that the junk food.
There are studies going on every day researching this phenomenon. Preparing and planning has proven to help reduce belly fat build up.
- Chronic Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
One of the more dangerous side effects of belly fat is chronic inflammation. It is complicated to understand and difficult to detect. You do not always outwardly see the results of chronic inflammation because it occurs inside your body. This makes it a dangerous complication of belly fat.
Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is a fatty acid released from fat cells when cortisol and insulin levels are high. VLDL is stored as fat in the abdominal area, but on its way, there it damages other tissue within your body as it travels.
While the VLDL is traveling through your body causing damage, your belly fat is metabolically active and releasing adipokines. These adipokines are also causing damage by disturbing your body’s stress system. They also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke because of the negative impact they have on your vascular system and blood pressure.
The combination of these two compounds working in your body sends a message to your brain that it needs to release even more cortisol. Unless you take back control, the cycle of more cortisol, increased insulin resistance, and the buildup of more belly fat will continue.
How to take control: There are two ways you can regain your control – through your diet and creating stress management habits.
Control your diet – There are many super foods which contain antioxidants. Your body needs antioxidants to reduce inflammation. Foods such as coffee, green tea, dark chocolate, avocados, berries, a variety of colored vegetables, leafy greens, fish, and legumes all help fight belly fat. Nutritionists at Elevation Fitness Burleigh Heads gym can help you create a meal plan that fits your lifestyle so be sure to ask at the front desk.
Create Stress Management Habits – You want to keep your hypothalamus from releasing more cortisol. Habits such as deep breathing, meditation, and exercising all help lower stress levels.
- Disrupted Sleep and Insomnia
Another vicious cycle you tend to enter when you are stressed is that of the inability to sleep. You find yourself having disruptive sleep patterns because you are stressed. At the same time, you are becoming more stressed about the fact that you can’t sleep.
Cortisol levels play a huge role in your ability to sleep. They should spike in the morning to wake you up and create the hunger for breakfast. However, they should taper off throughout the day allowing your body to release melatonin (the sleep hormone) so that you can get a good night’s rest.
If you are not able to get to sleep, your body cannot release growth hormone which helps you enter a deep state of sleep. Due to the lack of sleep, your body loses insulin sensitivity and its glucose tolerance drops the next day.
The lack of sleep leads to uncontrolled eating the inability to make rational food choices, as discussed in number 1 and 2. Studies have shown that you can increase your food intake by 300 calories the day after a night of disrupted sleep. That’s not bad if it happens once, but over the course of a week or month it adds up.
How to take control: The best way to get back the control is to get your cortisol levels balanced again. You can do that by creating daily habits that improve your sleep:
- Set up your bedroom for sleep – hang dark curtains, unplug electronics, and cover up any the emit light.
- Turn off electronics approximately 1 hour before bed. Read instead. This will tell your brain to start producing melatonin.
- Turn off settings on electronics that disrupt your sleep – i.e. notifications and ringers.
- Reduce your caffeine intake and stimulant use throughout the day.
You can also take melatonin supplements to aid in resetting your body’s natural sleep rhythm. Improving your sleep will help you control your belly fat.
- Laziness and Lowered Metabolic Rate
Many hormonal changes occur when you are stressed – lowered energy expenditure due to reduced metabolic rate and being less physically active are a few of the side effects. You exercise less and become more sedentary when you are stressed.
Testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones are all affected by high cortisol levels. These hormones also alter your metabolic rate, creating a decrease in the amount of calories your body can burn daily.
Belly fat is different from subcutaneous fat – the fat right below the skin – in that it is much easier to lose. You can easily regain control of belly fat because of the catecholamine adrenaline hormones.
High-intensity activities and interval training, such as sprints are extremely effective when it comes to reducing your belly fat. This is because they increase the levels of the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine, allowing the fatty acids to be used as energy and increasing your metabolism so that it burns more calories for a prolonged period.
How to take control: Scheduling regular workouts will help you control your stress. 45-60-minute workouts are best, followed by adequate recovery time.
Including strength training will improve your body’s ability to maintain lean muscle mass. Adding in cardio, such as a brisk walk will help lower your cortisol levels and control your stress.
Once you have your stress under control, you can add interval training and sprints two or three times a week to reduce your belly fat. Create a great exercise routine at the best gym on the Gold Coast 🙂 ‘Elevation Fitness Burleigh Heads’ and be sure to take advantage of the Altitude rooms and gain from the after burn affect you get from working out from inside.
Along with planned workouts, it is important that you maintain an active lifestyle. You do not want to sit for long periods of time without getting up and moving. You can easily give your metabolism a boost by standing up every hour to stretch and move your body. You can also add a 10 minute walk each day to increase your daily activity level.
You know we are here to help so be sure to contact us at the front desk during Staffed Hours and here’s to living longer on the beautiful Gold Coast and better health.