Stress belly

Are you tired of the extra fat around the abdomen caused by prolonged stress?  Having a stress belly can be frustrating, especially when you are within normal weight!  So, let’s understand why this happens, how perimenopausal and menopausal women are more susceptible, and how to get rid of that annoying belly fat. 

How Prolonged Stress Causes Stress Belly?

During long periods of stress, your body responds by releasing cortisol, your main stress hormone (1). While cortisol is necessary to respond to a stressful situation, having too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can cause belly fat by increasing insulin resistance and slowing down metabolism – making you more at risk of weight gain.

High cortisol levels can also prompt the body to store more fat and use muscle for energy. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you will burn over time, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

Worst for your waistline: there is a connection between cortisol and cravings for high-calorie foods. Furthermore, high levels of cortisol can indirectly influence appetite. Stress eating is real! (2).

But that is not all. Abdominal fat can increase cortisol levels leading to a vicious cycle. This is especially true in women.

Why Are Perimenopausal and Menopausal Women More Susceptible to Having a Stress Belly?

Before perimenopause, progesterone helps to control the levels of cortisol. As your progesterone levels go down during this period in your life, there is more cortisol to overwhelm your body.

Also, middle-aged women have several stressors in their life. For example, they often care for their own children while also caring for aging parents and managing their professional careers. Furthermore chronic stress becomes normal and women accept stress as part of life.

Frankly, it is quite a lot. So, give yourself a break! Honestly a better life starts by being gentle with yourself and asking more from others.

How to Get Rid of Stress Belly

While there is no magic pill, there are many things you can do to help. Moreover, these lifestyle changes will also improve your overall health.

Make Sleep a Priority!

Woman waking up well rested

Lack of sleep often contributes to higher cortisol levels, which can contribute to poor sleep.

To add to the problem, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can increase food cravings, especially cravings of fatty foods and high sugar goodies.This is probably due to a combination of high cortisol levels and high insulin levels (4). 

Sleep is also involved in the regulation of the hunger and appetite hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Lack of sleep is believed to increase the hunger hormone ghrelin and reduce leptin, the hormone responsible for making you feel full (5). Therefore, it is not surprising that higher levels of cortisol result in excess weight.

The sleep foundation recommends the following lifestyle changes for sleep:

  • Maintain a regular bed and wake up time schedule
  • Budget time to sleep
  • Create a regular, relaxing nighttime routine
  • Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool 
  • Use your bedroom only for relaxation and sex
  • Foster healthy pro-sleep habits throughout the day
  • Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups in the morning
  • Limit alcoholic drinks
  • Eat a well-balanced diet

Another interesting idea is to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat sleep disorders. CBT can help you establish a healthy sleep/wake cycle.

A good night’s sleep might be the key to a healthy and happy life.

Keep Calm and De-stress ! 

Woman writing in gratitude journal

Change Your Mindset

Life will always throw challenges to us. However, the way you perceive and respond to stressful situations will make a difference in your stress levels.

Accept life as it is, be grateful for what you have, and enjoy every day.

There are many tools to help you change your perception of life. A few suggestions include writing a gratitude journal, daily positive affirmations, and therapy. Start by making one change a week and soon will see the difference.

Meditation

Meditation has been shown to lower stress. There are different types of meditation that you can do. While meditating, you can try essential oils in your hands or inside an infuser. Smelling them heightens the spiritual experience. 

Try deep breathing techniques. 

Regular practice of deep breathing may have notable effects on your sense of relaxation. For example, a wise board-certified doctor practicing functional medicine told me that the best medicine is to take 2 deep breaths when you feel stress.

Find time for yourself

Take some time for yourself and do that thing that makes your soul full and happy.

For example, go for a walk, a run, do arts and crafts, or simply enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet place but please make sure to leave all electronic distractions behind. It does not have to be a long time, even taking 10-15 minutes for yourself can be very beneficial for your mental health.

Aditonally, spending some time outside, preferably in the morning, as natural light may help improve your mood.

Move More and Get Rid of Your Stress Belly

Workout equipment to get rid of stress belly

Any form of exercise decreases stress, therefore potentially reducing stress belly fat. In addition, physical activity pumps up your endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters that your brain produces. 

Moreover, including exercise as part of your daily routine, can improve your insulin sensitivity which plays a role in weight loss and can help you reduce excess belly fat.

Regular exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can improve your mood and self-confidence. It also helps you relax by lowering levels of anxiety and mild depression (6). 

Having a consistent workout routine with an average intensity level can ease your stress levels and, very importantly, help you get rid of your stressed-out belly.

Healthy Eating

Stress relief does not only come from sleeping better, a change in attitude, or exercising more. A poor diet can contribute to constant stress and excess abdominal fat.

While there are many approaches to healthy eating, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats (such as olive oil), and lean proteins is essential to reduce a stress belly.

In addition, sugary foods and caffeine can negatively affect the way you respond to a stressful event therefore contributing to the unwelcomed fat around the abdominal area.

More important, there is no way around healthy eating to avoid excess fat. Regular intake of excess calories will cause weight gain, including accumulation of belly fat.

Conclusion

A stress belly can be very frustrating. The good news is that following the lifestyle changes suggested in this blog will help you get rid of that stressed-out belly and let you live a better life. 

Take one day at a time, step by step, set up goals, and get them done. Your mental and physical health is your number one priority. If you get rid of your stress, the stress belly will go too!

“Get Rid of Your Stress Belly” was written by Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND, in collaboration with Registered Dietitians Seha Altinalan and Patricia Echeverria.

4 thoughts on “Get Rid of Your Stress Belly”

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