Stress is your enemy in the fight against fat

Muffin top, wine wagon, middle aged spread! Are you battling an ever expanding waistline? Do you exercise regularly, eat fairly healthy but still can’t shift that tummy fat?

If you’re battling with your belly the reason may be down to a high level of stress hormones. Cortisol is our main stress hormone and it encourages fat storage particularly around your midriff.

Danger! Danger!

Your body is designed to release cortisol when you go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and return to a normal state when the danger has passed. Ten thousand years ago that threat was most likely a dangerous animal or a neighbouring tribe. Modern day stresses are far more complex and can be caused by work, certain foods, pollutants, lack of sleep and even the way in which you exercise. Stress can be unrelenting in this day and age and you may well be operating in a constant state of high alert.

The release of cortisol is a signal to your body to start off a number of processes. One of those is to break down your muscle fibres for use as energy instead of your fat stores. Your muscles themselves need energy to function – the more muscle fibres you have the more energy (calories) you burn, even when you’re at rest. If cortisol is breaking down your muscle fibres you will be burning less energy and burning less fat.

So whilst our fight and flight response is excellent for helping us survive the proverbial sabre tooth tiger, it’s less than useful when it comes to tackling the old muffin top!

What can you do about it?

Here are six simple strategies for managing your lifestyle, your stress levels and your belly fat:

  • Avoid all ‘white’ starchy carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and white pasta. Avoid potatoes too – celeriac mash is a tasty alternative topping for shepherds pie.
  • Stay away from sweets, processed foods and fizzy drinks. Even the diet fizzy drinks will disrupt your hormones and encourage fat storage.
  • Limit stimulants! Caffeine will raise your cortisol levels so if you enjoy a warm drink stick to herbal infusions after 2pm. I love a peppermint tea and it’s excellent for taking the edge of those mid afternoon sugary cravings.
  • Mix it up! Too much cardio exercise is known to increase cortisol levels. I run long a couple of times a week but it’s the high intensity circuits I do inbetween times that burn belly fat fast.
  • Calm down! Try to give yourself 5 – 10 minutes each day to totally relax and let your mind go blank. Even better indulge in a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate. The magnesium content has a calming effect.
  • Turn it off! Try not to use your phone, tablet or computer for approx an hour before bedtime. Those devices all emit a signal which tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime and will disrupt your sleep hormones.

So if you’re struggling to shift those extra inches from your waistline my advice is recognize the links wtih your lifestyle and adopt some new behaviours. Not only will you feel more in control, but you’ll also have the pleasure of watching your midriff melt away.

About the author

Julie Dennis is a weight loss specialist for women over 40 and through menopause. She is WATC's new fitness and health blogger. Follow Julie’s blog or visit:

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