Where did this belly fat come from? I’m eating healthy food and exercising regularly. But there is definitely some extra belly fat. What’s going on?
I posed this question in a Facebook group I am part of. Its called Flipping fifty and it’s a group for connection, support and motivation with tips and science for energy and vitality in the second half of life.
Debra Atkinson answered my question here on her podcast. Here’s the link if you want to listen.
Debra Atkinson’s answer surprised me. “The best thing to do for belly fat? Reduce your stress!”
That wasn’t what I expected. How about you?
I did some additional research for us.
As we enter into peri menopause and menopause our oestrogen levels fall. Our hormone levels are disrupted. I know that’s not news to you!
What is interesting is the role one hormone, called cortisol, has on fat storage and stress regulation.
Cortisol is best known as the stress hormone. It fuels our fight or flight response during a crisis. Cortisol gets a bad rap and we only pay attention to the stress component.
But cortisol has an important role in managing regulatory systems in our bodies. The level of cortisol is higher in the morning when we get up and lower in the evening when it’s closer to bedtime.
It manages how carbohydrates, fats and proteins are used by our bodies.
It keeps inflammation at a low level.
It regulates blood pressure.
It increases our blood sugar level, which results in energy.
It impacts our sleep cycle.
It provides a boost of energy during a stressful event.
Once the stressful event is over our cortisol levels should calm down. Our heart rate and blood pressure should get back to normal. But sometimes they don’t because of stress.
Stressors can be not sleeping well, watching too much news, a fight with your husband, a sick child or caring for aging parents. During this pandemic the stress has been unreal. Stress is different for all of us. Excess cortisol is produced to handle our stress. However, during times of ongoing stress it seems like the cortisol switch stays turned on.
Here are the signs of a high cortisol level. See how many you can put check marks beside.
Cravings for junk food
Low energy levels even after a good night of sleep
Low sex drive
Insomnia – you are tired but you just can’t shut your brain off
More aches and pains
Weight gain, especially in the belly area
How many did you check off?
Did you notice that last one?
So now we know that some of that belly fat we have is likely because of high cortisol levels. I’m pretty sure that’s my reason.
But why does a high cortisol level make us gain belly fat?
“Abdominal fat has four times more cortisol receptors than any other fat cells in our bodies. Isn’t that amazing? Four times more receptors. So our belly fat is just really more susceptible for storing body fat when we’re stressed out. That fat goes right onto our bellies. You may be thinking, I must be eating too much and that is why I’m gaining weight, but maybe not. Maybe it’s due to your stress.” Lea Wetzel Certified Nutrition Specialist. You can listen to this podcast here.
Wow! The more stressed we are the more likely we are to keep that belly fat.
I’m paying attention this week to what causes me stress because I want to find ways to reduce it. I’m also adding some self-care when I am stressed. For me that’s reading for fun, walking and praying. The walking burns off my stress and the reading helps get my mind off my worries. The praying gets my focus on God and not on the problem.
Today’s little step: Become aware of your stressors. What makes your blood pressure go up? What worry keeps you awake at night? Make a list as you notice them. Then do something that helps you cope with stress.
Next week we will chat more about managing stress in healthy ways.
Peace be with you,
Resources used for this article.