Stress & Cortisol Can Lead to Belly Fat & Weight Gain

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Stressed out? Struggling with excess weight?

belly fatIf you’rve been stressed out and you’ve gained weight, you want to learn about cortisol, which is caused by stress and its role in both weight gain and infuriating belly fat.

Here are some answers to questions you may have about the stress-cortisol-weight gain connection.

How does too much cortisol make you gain weight?

We normally think of cortisol as being released from our adrenal glands in “fight-or-flight” situations when we don’t have control of a situation or it’s threatened.

It raises our heart beat and gives us a burst of energy. Yet, there is a second even result relating to cortisol, which is related to the ‘defeat’ response, which occurs when stress is prolonged.

“Although the stress pathways work together,” wrote a team of exercise science professors at the University of New Mexico, “they each can uniquely affect the function of bodily processes.

“The ‘defeat’ response {when stress is prolonged} can lead to enhanced lipogenesis (fat creation), visceral obesity (deep abdominal obesity), breakdown of tissues, and suppression of the immune system.”

In short, stress and your elevated levels of cortisol can make you fat.

More specifically, cortisol is a steroid hormone, which has the ability to move fat in your body from storage deposits directly into the fat cells located in your abdomen.

Plus, the more cortisol you secrete over extended periods of time, the more you engorge fat cells in your abdomen to create belly fat.

Not only that, but cortisol “also indirectly influences appetite by regulating other chemicals that are released during stress such as cortiocotrophin releasing hormone, leptin, and neuropeptide Y,” the New Mexico research team noted.

Does abdominal fat attract more abdominal fat due to stress reactions?

The short answer is yes! Another study, this one from a team of health psychologists at the University of California, San Francisco, researched 59 premenopausal women, about half of whom had a high waist-to-hip ratio (abdominal fat) and half, who had a low ratio.

Over four days, all the women were exposed to stressful test situations and had their cortisol secretions measured. Women with a high abdominal fat reported more chronic stress and “secreted significantly more cortisol” than women with lower abdominal fat.

The study authors concluded that “stress-induced cortisol secretion” contributes to central body fat and this fat distribution, in turn, “relates to greater psychological vulnerability to stress and cortisol reactivity.”

Physicians at the MedicineNet website label this cortisol-induced abdominal fat “toxic fat” because its buildup in this part of your body “is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.”

What are proven methods to control cortisol and reduce belly fat?

It’s a one-two punch in the gut, so to speak. You need to manage your stress so cortisol doesn’t continues to inflate your abdominal fat cells, and you need to adopt a dedicated exercise program that not only burns calories, but also helps to manage stress levels.

“Many types of aerobic and anaerobic exercise have been shown to be effective interventions in reducing or managing stress,” observed Len Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise science expert at the University of New Mexico.

“Some of the popular ‘mindful’ exercise programs such as yoga and Tai Chi are also recommended for stress management. medditation, progressive relaxation, deep breathing, and visualization are methods that can be effective in decreasing stress-induced symptoms. Also, eating right and getting enough rest should be incorporated in a stress management plan for life.”

Join the Conversation: What’s your favorite way to relieve stress? Share your thoughts now.