Stress and Belly Fat: Is There a Connection?

Stress and Belly Fat: Is There a Connection?

We live in a world that demonizes any kind of fat gain. In recent years, we’ve gradually begun to learn more about ourselves and our bodies. We’re starting to understand that not all fat is necessarily bad. For example, women tend to have fat reserves on their hips, thighs, and bottom. This is fine and perfectly normal. 

One of the most dreaded types of fat gain is belly fat, leading to generations of men and women who suck in their tummy to try and hide their excess fat. But belly fat can indicate that something could be wrong with your body. More worryingly, it can hint at visceral fat. Visceral fat gathers around the internal organs, causing health problems.

So, how can you get to the root cause of belly fat? Could a stressful life cause you to gain weight around your belly? Let’s find out. 

Fat Storage: What Does It Mean?

The way fat is stored around our body can be determined by any variety of factors. Genetics, lifestyle, and diet can all have an impact on which parts of our bodies gain fat first, or even how much fat we carry. 

Fat that gathers around the chest and abdomen (and therefore around vital organs) shows that you could be at risk for certain health problems. This includes the dreaded belly fat. Persons suffering from obesity will notice an increase in belly fat, as well as fat on other parts of the body. 

It’s important to know the difference between a harmless layer of fat and a substantial gain in belly fat. Bloating can also make your belly protrude but can be caused by simple digestion issues, gas, or other issues. 

A quick way to test whether your belly is bloating or gathering fat is to see if you can pinch at least an inch of fat. If you can’t, it’s likely bloating. 

The Slippery Slope of Stress

Stress is actually connected to gaining weight. To understand how stress could influence weight gain, we need to understand how stress affects the body.

Stress is our body’s flight or fight response. In response to perceived danger, our bodies release the stress hormone, cortisol. This is all part of a natural reaction to possible danger. 

Our fight or flight response can cause problems. Unfortunately, most of us know what it feels like to be stressed. Anxiety disorders, a fast-paced lifestyle, and a demanding job can all combine with daily responsibilities to leave us feeling very stressed. 

That high level of stress leads to our bodies being flooded with cortisol. You may notice a suppressed appetite - for a while. When you get home, to a “safe place”, the stress might lift. You’ll find yourself ravenously hungry, having had your appetite suppressed for most of the day. 

As you can imagine, this leads to binge eating and sugar cravings. This means that stress is directly causing you to overeat and binge on junk food, instead of eating good food during the day. 

How can you tell whether you’re overstressed? Here are a few signs that you could be suffering from high cortisol levels:

  • Weight gain 
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sugar cravings

If your cortisol levels are high for an extended period of time, you might notice the opposite problem - cravings. This is because an overdose of cortisol can lead to you feeling more hungry than before, and may even stop your feeling full as quickly as before.

Once your body kicks into panic mode, your metabolism automatically shifts. Your body thinks you’re in danger, so it starts trying to save all the fat it can. This can ruin your weight-loss progress and even set you back a few steps. 

Simply put, stress can get you into unhealthy lifestyle habits. It can prompt you towards overeating and eating the wrong things. Weight gain in itself can make you feel more stressed, especially if you’ve chosen to lose weight due to your health. 

Stress-based weight gain can lead to the dreaded belly fat. Some people are left feeling miserable and unsatisfied by their appearance because of this. In turn, this prompts you to feel more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle and one that can be difficult to break. 

Is Stress Behind Your Belly Fat Gain?

If a person doesn’t understand why they’re gaining belly fat, they might try to implement a stricter diet, exercise more, or resort to fad diets and eating plans. 

While eating a healthy diet and exercising is always good for you, it’s important to address the root cause of weight gain. The cause may well be stress. 

Improving your lifestyle and losing excess weight is always a noble, healthy goal. Before you start improving your body, however, you need to improve yourself. 

Weight loss shouldn’t be an ordeal. True, it isn’t easy, but trying to lose weight from a place of misery and self-loathing is no good for anyone. Weight loss requires determination, planning, and perseverance. You need to truly believe you are worth it. You need to understand more about yourself and your body. We’re all different, and understanding how our individuality affects weight loss is a key part of healthy weight loss. 

Believing in yourself is a wonderful start, but more is needed. As mentioned earlier, strict diets won’t help if stress is causing you to gain belly fat. 

So, take some time to identify the root causes of your stress. Can you do something about it? Could you delegate tasks, or enlist more help from coworkers or family? Can you implement coping mechanisms, such as meditation, yoga, or going for a calming walk? 

Your circumstances are individual. Only you can decide what can help you ease your stress. It may take a little trial and error to find out what works. That’s fine - be patient with yourself, just as you would with a loved family member or friend. Reducing stress is a vital step in the process of becoming a happier, healthier you. 

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