Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but prolonged stress can cause a number of physical and mental health problems.

It can also lead to unwanted weight gain, especially around the middle. Research has shown that stress can cause excess belly f*t in otherwise slim women.

Also known as a stress belly, which describes how stress and stress hormones affect the abdomen, belly f*t has been linked to serious health problems, including a greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and breathing problems.

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to get rid of that stress belly or boost your weight loss.

What exactly is a stress belly?

Basically, stress belly is not a medical diagnosis, it’s a way of describing how stress and stress hormones can affect your weight, especially your belly.

For instance, higher levels of cortisol – the primary stress hormone – have been associated with abdominal obesity.

This crucial hormone produced in the adrenal gland also helps with blood sugar control, metabolism and many other functions in the body.

Cortisol, along with other hormones like adrenaline, is a part of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response that occurs when faced with a crisis.

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During a stressful event, cortisol levels rise to give you a surge of energy to help you deal with the event. And once the stress is addressed, everything returns to normal.

Raised cortisol levels linked to weight gain and abdominal obesity

However, prolonged and constant feeling of stress can affect your health in many ways, including raised blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and elevated stress cortisol levels.

Raised cortisol levels triggered by chronic stress have been associated with weight gain and abdominal obesity.

For instance, a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine reported that individuals with higher levels of cortisol in their bodies tended to have larger waist measurements and a higher body mass index (BMI) compared to those with lower levels.

Similarly, a 2018 review study found that higher long-term cortisol levels are strongly linked to having abdominal obesity.

However, it may be noted that not all people with obesity have high cortisol levels, since genetics may play a role in glucocorticoid sensitivity.

What you can do to treat or lose stress belly

Various factors, including age and genetics, influence where your body stores f*t. But there are many things you can do to lose belly f*t and maintain weight loss. Here are a few tips that you can follow:

  1. Eat a balanced diet: Adopt a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A healthy diet can help you reach or maintain weight. Research suggests that eating foods high in B vitamins can help relieve stress. So, consider adding a lot of dark, green, leafy vegetables, bananas, etc, to your diet.
  2. Reduce total calories: Limit foods that are high in calories with little to no nutrition. Avoid added fructose and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Also, avoid or drink alcohol in moderation (if you do drink) – this is important because alcoholic beverages are high in calories.
  3. Get more active: A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of many serious health problems, including weight gain. Daily exercise can help you reduce belly f*t, boost your mood among several other benefits. It is suggested that one should aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days and strength training on other days. You should include a good amount of exercise in your daily routine to lose weight.
  4. Quit smoking: Studies have shown that smoking cigarettes is a risk factor for abdominal obesity as well as several other health concerns. So, if you do smoke, kicking the b**t can significantly reduce belly f*t while also improving overall health.
  5. Manage stress: As mentioned above, stress can make you pile on the pounds, especially around the belly. So, look for ways that can help you relax and stay calm. There are many tactics that can help relieve stress – yoga, mindfulness and meditation, etc.
  6. Get enough sleep: It is pertinent to note that getting quality sleep is essential if you’re trying to shed pounds. Research has shown that adults who sleep less than six hours or more than 9 hours tend to have more visceral f*t. It is recommended that most adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
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The bottom line is, whether or not you have a stress belly, a sensible lifestyle will help prevent disease and promote a healthier, fitter life.