I constantly see men struggling with losing belly fat. Whiles some men know exactly what is causing them to have expanded waistlines, others simply have no idea. Some go after what foods burn belly fat and what exercises burn belly fat, but knowing what causes your waistline to keep expanding despite your best efforts at exercise and controlling your diet can go a long way in helping you lose that fat. Men and women store fat differently, so how to lose belly fat in women would be slightly different from that of men (I will cover that in a different post).
It is a known fact that women carry more fat on their bodies than men. The body fat percentage of a healthy, active woman is 18-20%, whereas men carry about 10-15%. Fat is also distributed differently in men and women, women mostly tend to store their fat in their hips, buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen. Men on the other hand, are more likely store excess fat in the upper body, especially in the abdominal region, which results in the “pot belly” effect that so many men struggle with. Another thing is that, men also tend to lose fat more efficiently through diet, than exercise. In this post, I would be touching on how stress contributes to belly fat and weight gain, and what you can do solve that.
So What exactly is belly fat?
Fat accumulated in the lower body is subcutaneous, the kind that can be grasped with the hand. However there is another, called visceral fat, this is fat in the abdominal area. Visceral fat is stored around a number of important organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines; and has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Belly fat could be the result of both types of fat.
So how does stress cause belly fat?
One cause of belly fat that is not commonly mentioned is STRESS. “Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight, or even add pounds,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. Yes, stress can seriously hamper your efforts at losing belly fat. The stress could be as a result of high demand at work, problems in the home, relationship issues, sickness, trauma or injury. Whatever may be causing the stress, it is the adrenal glands that manage our response to stress. It does this by releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
The adrenaline taps the stored energy, so you can flee or fight. At the same time, cortisol is being pumped out, which tells your body to replenish the energy even though you haven’t really used much calories. This can make you hungry (very hungry), we start to crave for food, and more often than not, we don’t crave for the healthy ones (you don’t see many people reaching for fruits and veggies when they are stressed out), “Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension,” explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco. The longer we are stressed, the more cortisol is pumped into the body, and the cycle continues.
It is also very possible to lose sleep when the adrenals are overworked, the overworked adrenals can cause you to wake up in the night and fail to fall asleep again. This consequently affects the hormones that control our appetite. Ghrelin is the appetite stimulating hormone, it raises the desire for high-carb foods. Leptin is the hormone that controls appetite. Loss of sleep causes ghrelin to go up and leptin to go down, we then tend to get more tired and move slower, then gain weight.
Adrenal Imbalance can also cause the body to store more fat at the waistline. How does this happen? Okay, so this is the science behind it; when we feel hungry, our blood sugar drops, the brain then sends a message to the adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol then activates glucose, fat and amino acids to keep the body fueled until we eat. Cortisol maintains blood sugar levels and insulin helps cells absorb glucose. Remember Cortisol is also the hormone released to manage stress. When we have stress over a long period, both cortisol and insulin levels remain elevated in the blood, and the extra glucose is stored as fat ,most often in the abdomen ( this is because fat cells have special receptors for cortisol, and there are more of these receptors in our abdominal fat cells than anywhere in the body).
So What Can Be Done About This…?
So basically you have to avoid too much stress, relax and learn to have some fun. Watch out for signs of stress and try to avoid situations that normally lead to you being stressed. You should also
- Avoid or cut down caffeine; caffeine causes adrenal fatigue, this is because caffeine stimulates neuron activity in the brain, so whenever you drink a cup of coffee, neurons send messages to your pituitary gland which then alerts your adrenals to pump out adrenaline and cortisol.
- Exercise; whenever you feel stressed, just perform any physical activity; walking, flexing your hands or calves. Moving your muscles is an effective instant stress reliever. Exercising causes the blood to circulate quickly, hence the cortisol gets to kidneys faster and is flushed out.
- Have enough sleep, try and have about 8 hours of sleep so your body can rest and regulate your hormonal cycles. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours. Interestingly, research shows that, lack of sleep also raises the levels of ghrelin, remember ghrelin right, the hunger boosting hormone. In one study, appetite particularly for sweet, salty and high fat foods increased by 23% in people who lacked sleep. As if that weren’t enough, other research shows that lack of sleep also raises levels of ghrelin, a hunger-boosting hormone. In one study, appetite—particularly for sweet and salty foods—increased by 23% in people who lacked sleep. Fortunately, a few nights of solid sleep can bring all this back into balance, and getting enough regularly will help keep it there.
- If you’re a corporate person and don’t have an idea how to limit stress, check out this post ‘5 fun ways corporate workers can escape stress‘ for some fun ways to relieve stress at the workplace.
- Practice deep breaths whenever you are under stress to calm your heart rate and your entire body.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I would love to have your feedback too, let me know what you think about the post.