No matter how well you eat or how hard you train, you just can’t shift that stubborn belly fat. Sound familiar? Would you be surprised to learn that this could have little to do with your diet or exercise regime? Instead, this is likely an indication that you are stressed!
That’s right, stubborn belly fat is often a sign that your cortisol levels are too high. Cortisol is the hormone in your body that is produced in response to stress levels. More stress, more cortisol.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands which sit just above each kidney. The outside of each gland produces cortisol and the inside produces adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone). Adrenal glands protect you against stressful situation but they only have an on switch. This means you must manage your stress levels to manage how much cortisol they are producing.
You want to bring your stress to a level that allows you to maximise your training efforts and reduce your stubborn belly fat.
There are many symptoms to look out for if you’re wondering about your stress levels including an elevated heart rate, anxiety, irritability, quick temper and lack of sleep. Stress can be caused by a whole host of things and it will be different person to person.
Maybe you're under a lot of pressure at work or at home or perhaps you've suffered a breakup or a bereavement. All stress is accumulative so you might even still be stressed after losing a loved one five years ago!
Unless you’ve properly dealt with past situations and carefully managed your stress, the cortisol may still be elevated and causing you to store and hold on to belly fat.
Your body is an incredibly clever and intuitive machine. It may not feel like it in today’s world but, I want you to cast your imagination back some 2.5 million years to the time of cavemen and women when it was not uncommon to come across wild animals such as bears and lions during day-to-day life.
When faced with a bear in the wild, our adrenal glands would produce cortisol as a response to the stress we are feeling in that situation. This increased cortisol would store belly fat as it protected our vital organs – clever huh?!
Processes that your body deemed unnecessary at times of stress such as reproduction and digestion would slow down whilst heart rate, breathing and blood pressure went up – this is your body’s way of protecting you and this is why it is imperative that we learn how to manage stress levels because our bodies still work to protect us the same way they did when we were fighting for survival in the wilderness every day.
Healthy sleep habits are crucial when it comes to managing your stress. Without appropriate rest and recovery chances are, you will struggle to get rid of that stubborn belly fat even if you’re training 7 days a week (which I don’t advise).
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to take time out of your day (even 30 minutes) to focus on managing your stress. One of my favourite methods for stress management (other than healthy sleep habits) is meditation.
Meditation has countless benefits. Consistent practice will not only help you manage your stress levels but it will help you increase your creativity, reduce negative emotions, increase self-awareness, help you gain a new perspective, helps manage anxiety, improves memory, and the list goes on.
To get started, sit in a darkened room and focus your thoughts on your breathing. Big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Check in with every part of your body from the toes up. Let any thoughts that bring you stress pass you by as you fall deeper into a state of being.
If you are new to meditation, start off with 5 minutes at a time. It might take a while of consistent practice before you feel the benefits, like most things, practice makes perfect.
I know it sounds counterintuitive that instead of diet and exercise, I’m asking you to combat your stubborn belly fat with healthy sleep habits and daily meditation practice but, if you can master your stress levels, you’re well on your way to mastering your stubborn belly fat.
To conclude, so many of us are led to believe that diet and exercise is all you need to get your body looking and feeling the way we want but when it comes to combatting that stubborn belly fat, you need to understand more fully how your body works.
Hundreds of women every single month are becoming empowered in their health with the education I deliver as part of my online women’s wellbeing programme Feel Look Be. Find out more here.