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Stress Belly: How Does Stress Cause Belly Fat?

stress belly can cause excess belly fat to accumulate

Stress Belly: How Does Stress Cause Belly Fat?

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Have you recently gained weight around your belly and it’s really hard to lose? Stress and fat stored around the belly can often be a cycle of weight gain, inflammation and difficulty losing weight that is more complex than you might realise.  Stress belly is a term that describes the extra abdominal fat that accumulates as the result of chronic or prolonged stress.

By Nyanda Dennison, Clinical Nutritionist and Nutrition Coach

What is Stress Belly?

While it’s not a medical term, stress belly is commonly used to describe the phenomenon of gaining or holding excess abdominal fat due to chronic stress. The link between stress and belly fat is complex and can be influenced by various factors.

Cortisol is often villainised due to its role in our response to stress but it is also vital to our daily function. Unfortunately, many of us spend too much of our lives in a stressed state, sometimes not even realising it.

This means cortisol is too high for too long which can lead to accumulation of fat around your belly.

Cortisol Belly: How Stress Causes Belly Fat

  • Our body responds to stress as a threat to our survival (whether real or perceived). When your life is in danger your body wants to protect what is most important – your internal organs, in your abdomen. A layer of fat around your belly is actually your body’s way of protecting you. It doesn’t know the stress you are feeling is because of your job, partner, kids or health, it thinks there is a threat to your survival.
  • When your body is in a stress response, it is not focused on digestion. Anything you eat during this time is not absorbed, metabolised or excreted properly, which means you aren’t getting important nutrients or getting rid of harmful waste products.
  • Stress causes us to reach for high calorie foods – for comfort and higher energy requirements or because of unconscious overeating and a lowered ability to choose more nutritious foods.
  • Stress causes us to want to rest more and move less and can reduce the number of calories we use each day.
  • Cortisol plays a part in blood glucose management, which if out of balance, can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.

The Challenges Of Overcoming Stress Belly

Once you have accumulated belly fat it becomes very hard to lose.

  • Most people try undereating and over exercising to lose belly fat – both of which can increase your cortisol levels and work against your goal.
  • Belly fat begins to release molecules (fatty acids and cytokines) that can lead to more accumulation of belly fat and inflammation in other areas of the body.
  • Insulin resistance can make losing weight more difficult, as your body doesn’t realise your blood glucose management is out of balance and thinks fat storage is the right thing to do to keep you safe.

Identifying the causes of stress, stress management, building healthier eating habits and engaging in slower movement activities are all useful to help move belly fat and each person will need a different approach.

Book in with our Clinical Nutritionist and healthy habit coach – Nyanda Dennison – to work on a personalised approach and support program for you.

We offer Naturopathy and Nutritional Medicine consultations

at 2 convenient locations, Brisbane CBD and Graceville