Have you ever felt out of control with your weight? No matter what you eat or how much you move, the extra inches through you midsection won’t budge. While exercise, and certainly diet, play a very big role in managing weight, there is one other factor that could be impacting significantly hampering your efforts. If you’re up for making just one change, you can help burn dangerous belly fat.
A recent University of California San Francisco study (1) revealed stress levels go hand-in-hand with deep abdominal fat. Personally, I think this is a really big deal and important for anyone who often feels “stressed” to think about. The nine-week study included overweight women who participated weekly stress management and healthy eating meetings. None of them were on any sort of calorie restrictive diet, but did become more mindful of what they ate as a result of the meetings. By the end of the study, the stress management participants showed a significant reduction in deep abdominal fat – which is strongly associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Stress is odorless, colorless and has no calories – but it can pack on the pounds – fast!
There are points in all of our lives where stress is virtually unavoidable. In fact, some stress is actually ok. It’s the chronic stress that becomes habit, gets out of control and starts dictating behavior, like eating. In addition to stress’ inherent role in the production of deep belly fat, it encourages many of us to eat! When we eat, we’re less mindful of what we put into our mouths. When stress gets really high, and lasts long periods of time, people have a tendency to become more apathetic about their dietary choices. Chips, pizza, burgers and candy bars make it to your mouth long before an apple, almonds or vegetables.
Just about anything can trigger stress. Work, finances, relationships, family, diet and lack of sleep are all known culprits. The most stressful time in my life, has been shortly after having each of my three kids. I love and cherish each of them deeply, but motherhood, especially new motherhood, can take a toll. Lack of sleep, lack of activity and getting to know a new human being that you are completely and utterly responsible for create the perfect trifecta of a stress-filled life.
Whether it’s parenthood, or a different chapter in your life that has you reeling, there are a few things you can do to try to get your arms around stress – especially if it’s increasing belly fat.
1) Cut out Caffeine: While you may not notice it, your daily morning Joe shoots up your cortisol level (stress hormone) before you’ve even walked out the door. The connection between higher cortisol levels and belly fat has been well document (2).I’ve had numerous clients cut out caffeine and lose weight. If you think you can’t survive without caffeine, you can. In fact, if you’re a regular to caffeine (no matter how much), your body could very well have adapted to the caffeine kick. Slowly cutting back over the course of a week will reduce the chance of getting a caffeine headache. If you’re serious about losing belly fat, give this tip a shot of six weeks. The one caveat to this tip is green tea. Green tea contains caffeine, but very little in comparison to coffee. The health benefits too good to pass up!
2) Ease off of Sugar: I know it’s hard to cut back on cookies, candies and other great desserts over the holidays, but be conscious of what you’re putting into your mouth. Refined, sugar-laden foods are often the trigger of stress. At some point in the near future, cut out of sugary foods (including low-cal snacks, sugary cereals, desserts, etc), and start keeping a food journal* for three or four days. If you eat or drink something sugary everyday and cut it out for 36 to 48 hours, you’ll likely notice a significant change. Keep this up for a month and the weight will come off.
3) Breathing: I mentioned this above and believe taking deep breaths really works. First of all, when you take ten deep breaths, you’re (hopefully) taking two to three minutes to relax. That relaxation, or meditation, helps to reset our body’s stress cycle. As difficult as it may be to find the time, try taking ten uninterrupted deep breaths every day. Eventually, bring that up to 20 deep breaths.
Start there. After you feel that your stress levels are somewhat manageable, take a look at other areas of your life that you can simply. What can you cut out? Are you overextending yourself with commitments? More importantly, take a look at your priorities. Where are diet and exercise on the list? If they’re not within the top three, you could be feeding the fuel that makes chronic stress, well, chronic.
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1) Daubenmier, J., Kristeller, J., Hecht, F. M., Maninger, N., Kuwata, M., Jhaveri, K., . . . Epel, E. (2011). Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 1-13. doi:10.1155/2011/651936
2) Moyer, A. E., Rodin, J., Grilo, C. M., Cummings, N., Larson, L. M., & Rebuffé-Scrive, M. (1994). Stress-Induced Cortisol Response and Fat Distribution in Women. Obesity Research, 2(3), 255-262. doi:10.1002/j.1550-8528.1994.tb00055.x