Have you found yourself struggling to lose fat, particularly in your belly? You’ve probably looked at ways to target this stubborn fat. But something you might have not considered that could be contributing to it is stress. Stress is often overlooked when it comes to losing weight, but it can be a huge factor in how much fat your body stores, especially abdominal fat. In this post, I want to talk about ways to help you get rid of stress belly, and lead a healthier lifestyle in the process.
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Table of Contents
- 1. Understanding Stress Belly
- 2. Finding Your Stress Triggers
- 3. Lifestyle Changes for Stress Reduction
- 4. Nutrition Strategies
- 5. Can You Get Rid Of Stress Belly With Exercise?
- 6. Building Healthy Habits
- Get Rid of Stress Belly: Summary
1. Understanding Stress Belly
Stress belly is the excess fat carried around your middle that is a result of chronic stress. It is a build up of visceral fat which wraps around internal organs and can lead to a number of health problems. Unlike subcutaneous fat which is found just under the skin and is essential to protect the bones, muscles, and organs.
The body’s response to stress is a flight or fight response left over from times when we had more physical threats, like predators. The body evolved to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in response to threats. One of the effects of these hormones being released was to ensure the availability of immediate energy for the muscles to respond to the danger. The body would achieve this by promoting the storage of energy in the form of fat.
But these days, our problems come more from mental stressors and so stress belly is usually linked to things like work pressure, relationship problems, or money worries. But, your body’s response to stress has stayed the same. The release of stress hormones (cortisol especially), still prompts the storage of energy in the form of fat. And with chronic stress, this can really build up over time.
2. Finding Your Stress Triggers
It’s not always easy to figure out what is causing stress, especially when that stress has become chronic and is now a part of your life. But there are some ways to help identify potential triggers:
- Keep a Stress Journal: A daily log to record your experiences, emotions, and reactions. Keeping track of daily stressors will help you to identify patterns over time. In the journal, make a note of the circumstances surrounding times of high stress and any physical or emotional changes you notice. This can be recorded in any plain notebook, but if you want more of a prompted journal, try one like this to help guide you.
- Recognise Your Physical and Emotional Reactions: Pay close attention to both physical and emotional cues associated with stress. These cues are different for everyone but include muscle tension, headaches, changes in appetite, irritability, anxiety, or feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Reflect on Daily Routines: Reflect on daily routines, habits, and lifestyle choices. Ask yourself: Are there consistent stressors related to work, family, or personal relationships? How am I sleeping? What is my diet like right now? Exercise habits? Identify the stressors in different areas of your life that may need adjustments to reduce overall stress levels.
- Get Another Opinion: You may not notice when you’re stressed, but others might. Speak to friends, family, or even colleagues to find out if they have noticed times you are stressed when you may not have noticed yourself.
3. Lifestyle Changes for Stress Reduction
To help get rid of stress belly, small mindfulness practices can have positive effects on cortisol levels. Taking a few moments each day to take yourself away from potential stressors is a small habit that will have a big impact on stress reduction.
- Mindful Breathing: Take a few minutes each day to focus on your breath. It’s a simple habit that brings your attention to the present moment, soothing your nervous system and reducing stress. A popular method is the 4-7-8 Method. Inhale quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. This pattern encourages a deep, slow breath cycle, promoting relaxation.
- Body Scan Meditation: This is a meditation practice where you bring attention to different parts of your body to help ground you. There are plenty of apps or free videos on YouTube – I like quick ones like this one.
- Get Outside: A change of environment from indoor spaces provides a mental break. And connecting with nature promotes tranquillity and reduces stress and anxiety. Physical activity in fresh air releases neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, known for enhancing your mood.
Sleep is a big factor in managing stress and cortisol levels. Cortisol follows a natural twenty-four-hour cycle with higher levels in the morning to help wake you up and lower levels in the evening to help you sleep. Not getting enough sleep or a bad nights sleep can disrupt the cycle leading to higher cortisol levels throughout the day. Chronic stress can disrupt sleep patterns, and can make falling asleep or staying asleep even harder. This can lead to a vicious cycle.
As well as heightened cortisol levels, sleep affects other hormones, like ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin promotes hunger, while leptin signals satiety. Sleep deprivation can lead to an imbalance in both these hormones, which can increase your appetite and make you more likely to eat more calorie-dense foods. This can lead to general weight gain and more of an accumulation of belly fat.
Both my FREE eBook ‘Nutrition For Weight Loss’, and my Complete Weight Loss Guide cover Leptin and Ghrelin in more detail.
4. Nutrition Strategies
A Balanced Diet Can Help Get Rid Of Stress Belly
The nutrients found in different foods can impact your body’s ability to manage stress and maintain cortisol levels. Here are just a few ways diet affects cortisol levels:
- Vitamins: Certain vitamins and minerals, like B vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium, help contribute to the proper functioning of your nervous system and body’s stress response.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Having a balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats helps regulate blood sugar levels. Fluctuations in blood sugar can trigger stress responses, leading to the release of cortisol. By maintaining stable blood sugar levels through balanced nutrition, you can avoid cortisol spikes and crashes, promoting a more stable mood and energy levels.
- Include More Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates also contribute to more stable blood sugar levels. Unlike with simple carbs, complex carbs take longer to break down during digestion. This slower breakdown means more stable blood sugar levels.
- Water: Dehydration can stimulate the release of cortisol, so could lead to higher stress levels. So make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day to avoid being dehydrated.
5. Can You Get Rid Of Stress Belly With Exercise?
When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which are like natural mood lifters. Endorphins help reduce feelings of stress and make you feel good. Exercise also helps your body to control cortisol. When you exercise, your body releases just the right amount of cortisol to deal with the “stress” of the workout. It’s like you’re giving your stress system a direct workout, so it becomes more efficient at handling other everyday stress.
Find an exercise you enjoy doing to further reduce stress levels. If you spend all day dreading a workout, that’s not going to help you! The goal is not to add more stress by forcing yourself into an exercise you don’t enjoy. Instead, think of it as a way to have fun, clear your mind, and give your body the movement it needs.
When you find an activity you love, whether it’s dancing, hiking, or playing a sport, the enjoyment itself triggers the release of even more endorphins. It’s like a double boost for your mood. Making exercise enjoyable helps create a positive association with physical activity. This will make it easier to stick to an exercise routine, turning it into a habit that contributes to long-term stress management.
Can Exercise Spot Reduce Fat?
Steer clear of exercises promising to spot reduce fat. These exercises claim to target specific areas, like the belly or thighs. While you can reduce the build up of belly fat caused by stress, there’s no exercise that will specifically target belly fat. Focus on overall fitness, include a good mix of cardio exercise, strength training, and flexibility, to achieve a balanced and healthy body.
6. Building Healthy Habits
It’s important to incorporate new habits like exercise and sleep routines gradually to avoid overwhelm. Building long-term habits requires consistency, commitment, and a strategic approach. Here are some tips to incorporate new habits into your lifestyle.
- Start Small: Start with easy manageable habits that you can easily fit into your daily routine.
- Set Clear Goals: Clearly define your goals. Whether it’s exercising three times a week, eating more protein, or dedicating time for mindfulness. Have specific and measurable goals provides clarity and motivation (See my post on setting SMART goals!)
- Use Routines: Linking your new behaviour to an established habit helps anchor it in your daily life. This is also known as habit stacking and is something I learned from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
- Be Consistent: Repetition helps solidify habits and makes them feel more natural over time.
- Focus on One Habit at a Time: Concentrate on building one habit at a time. Once that habit becomes more automatic, you can gradually introduce others.
- Be Patient: Habits take time to develop. It’s important to understand that results may not be immediate.
- Reward Yourself: Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Treat yourself when you reach milestones to reinforce the positive behaviour and create a positive association with your habits.
- Be Flexible: Be flexible in adapting your habits to changing situations. A rigid approach can make it harder to sustain habits in the long term.
Get Rid of Stress Belly: Summary
Understanding stress and incorporating mindful habits to reduce it will be hugely beneficial to your health. Not only to get rid of stress belly, but to start having a more mindful lifestyle. Which will benefit you in many other ways.
Start small, set clear goals, and incorporate these tips into your daily routine. Remember, consistency is key. Celebrate your achievements along the way and stay flexible in adapting to changing situations. Take the first small step towards a healthier you!
What methods have you tried to reduce stress? Leave a comment below!