O.K. I don’t believe there’s anyone out there that is particularly fond of belly fat or as it is often referred to -- the “muffin top.” In the past, I’ve discussed that the excess around the girth starts producing its own hormones including estrogen. In that article, I shared how this abdominal fat is a primary predictor of not only cardiovascular disease, but also of diabetes and cancer. These are 3 of the 4 top killers in our society. So obviously eliminating the belly fat is a big deal, but for anyone who has tried, it can be a challenge. One of the reasons losing belly fat is so difficult is that it’s not there only as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. Chronic stress will also contribute to the spare tire.
When you have any perceived stress, your body releases certain "fight-flight" hormones including cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine. This is a normal healthy response to any threat or perceived stress. Typically, these hormones will go up and down throughout the day with stress. The problem is that when you are chronically stressed your cortisol levels goes up and stay up. These elevated cortisol levels cause the body to resist weight loss because your body thinks times are hard and you might starve. So it hoards the fat you eat and takes fat from healthier areas and moves it to your abdomen causing increased inflammation and insulin resistance in the body. This belly fat then leads to more cortisol because it has higher concentrations of an enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol. This increased cortisol retains more abdominal fat and the cycle continues.
So what can be done? To lose the weight in this area you must reverse the cortisol and fight-flight reaction. Fortunately, as long as you can find a form of exercise that you don’t resent and get more stressed over; all exercises will at least temporarily inhibit the stress and cortisol response. Secondly, stress is most often a perception – we are not truly in a life-threatening situation. Thus, you need to practice shifting your mind and your thoughts from what is wrong in life (stress) to what is right (gratitude). Meditation to quiet your mind is also critical. This change in the brain will change the hormones released. Finally, your fuel sources need to be appropriate. Caffeine, nicotine, sugar, flour and processed grains all act as stimulants that stimulate stress. Lean protein, healthy fats (omega 3’s) and the minerals found in raw fruits and vegetables help to shut off the stress response. In essence, if you eat, think, and exercise appropriately, you can reverse this deadly epidemic to our health and society.