BY: Lively Staff

May 26, 2017

Belly Fat: Is Stress To Blame?

The body reacts to stress in a number of ways, and could increase belly fat

 

We’ve all felt that pulled-in-every-direction feeling where you feel like the weight of the world sits upon your shoulders.  Experiencing this stressed-out feeling affects not only the mind, but the body as well, and can actually manifest in the form of belly fat.  

Torie Borelli, founder of The Vida Well, said, “Stress causes our bodies to hold onto extra weight, mostly around our midsection. Our bodies were made to “run from the tiger” or the term is also called “ fight or flight,”  and when we are stressed, our bodies use these hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands called cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.” 

Why does stress increase belly fat?

Belly fat, otherwise known as visceral fat, can hinder overall health and wellbeing (1).  This is in part due to the fact that cortisol levels are increased when the body feels stressed, and ultimately throws blood sugar levels out of whack (2).

“The stress hormone called norepinephrine tells your body to stop producing insulin so that you can have plenty of fast-acting blood glucose ready to run,” said Borelli.  “Epinephrine will relax the muscles in your stomach and intestines and decrease blood flow to these organs.

“Once the stressor has passed, cortisol tells the body to stop producing these hormones and to go back to digesting regularly. It’s normal for your cortisol levels to go up and down throughout the day, but when you are chronically stressed your cortisol level goes up — and stays there.”

How can we reduce stress–and NOT build belly fat?

Taking steps to reduce stress doesn’t have to be difficult.  Exercise, along with a better, more wholesome diet can greatly contribute to reducing stress without packing on the pounds.  

Exercise

This might seem like an obvious remedy for banishing belly fat, but exercise has a plethora of benefits for combatting stress as well.  A quick sweat session can put you on the path to losing unwanted belly fat, as it helps to bring cortisol levels back to a normal state (2).  Studies have shown that aerobic exercise has the ability to aid in relaxation of the mind and body, can help you sleep better, and help to maintain metabolism.

Research has also shown that the music one listens to while exercising can have a direct impact on muscle recovery, brain health, and helps the overall stress system (5).  Borelli suggests HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) exercise training at least 2-3 times a week.  “The basic principle of HIIT is to train in alternating intervals of high and low exercise intensities,” said Borelli.

Creating an uplifting playlist with feel-good, motivating songs is a great start to beating stress through exercise.

Eat Whole Foods

Borelli suggests eating more healthy fats and vegetables, and cutting out processed, sugar-laden foods.  Studies have shown that a diet rich in fiber, lean protein, and other nutrients, while minimizing the amount of artificial sweeteners and high-fat foods, can have a direct, positive impact on stress (3).  A diet that promotes a healthy inflammatory response is essential for boosting energy, improving sleep function, and maintaining weight (4).

Start working a few of the following foods into your diet to help alleviate stress and ultimately banish belly fat:

  • Berries
  • Green tea
  • Oatmeal
  • Kiwi
  • Eggs

Try our Cocoa Berry Smoothie for a fresh boost of nutrients.

 

Sources:

(1) Bergman, R. N., Kim, S. P., Catalano, K. J., Hsu, I. R., Chiu, J. D., Kabir, M., Hucking, K. and Ader, M. (2006), Why Visceral Fat is Bad: Mechanisms of the Metabolic Syndrome. Obesity, 14: 16S–19S. doi:10.1038/oby.2006.277

(2) Publications, H. H. (n.d.). Exercising to relax. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

(3) (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2011/impact.aspx

(4) 13 Foods That Fight Stress. (2015, December 17). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/13-healthy-foods-that-reduce-stress-and-depression

(5) Tsatsoulis, A., and S. Fountoulakis. “The Protective Role of Exercise on Stress System Dysregulation and Comorbidities.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1083.1 (2006): 196-213. Web.

 

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