You may have heard before that excess belly fat is directly related to increased cortisol levels. This is true and it’s arguably one of the deadliest combinations for the human body because of the connection to increased visceral fat (the fat that surrounds your organs) and high levels of inflammation. If you have a significant amount of belly fat your chances for developing insulin resistance and type II diabetes nearly doubles!
What you may not be aware of is the reason behind the connection of belly fat and cortisol. The objective of this post is to explain the details behind the connection and provide you with action steps to reverse it.
For starters let’s look at how cortisol levels get increased in the first place. While cortisol gets a bad rap it serves a beneficial role in the human body. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands in times of stress. The stress may be psychological or physiological. A little bit of stress like produced during high intensity, short-duration burst training exercise is a good thing. The adrenals also secrete adrenaline and nor-adrenaline which are powerful fat burning catalysts. The problem occurs when stress levels remain elevated for prolonged periods of time. This is referred to as “chronic stress.”
You need to really get your head around the fact that chronic stress is often the result of physiological stress even more so than psychological stress. Sure excessive worrying, problems at work, and emotional unrest are forms of obvious mental stress but these things only add to the physiological stress that happens in your body.
Chronic stress is directly related to the following:
Why you store more fat around your belly with high cortisol levels…
This is the area most people don’t fully understand. When cortisol levels remain elevated for long periods of time it signals a transfer of fat to the abdominal region. Why? Because the abdominal region has more cortisol receptors in the fat cells located there.
This becomes a double edged sword as the more belly fat you store the more cortisol levels increase. Belly fat leads to even more cortisol production because it has higher concentrations of an enzyme (11-Beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase) that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol.
How to reduce belly fat and cortisol at the same time…
Contrary to what you’d be led to believe from some supplement manufacturers there is no viable “cortisol blocker” in the form of a pill that will reduce cortisol levels and melt away belly fat. The manufacturers of these products don’t expect you to fully understand the enzyme pathways and conversion process of cortisone to cortisol. Bottom line is these products don’t work.
The only way to reduce belly fat and elevated cortisol levels is to simultaneously work on restoring balance in your body. Yes, this means you’ll have to clean up your diet, start exercising regularly, improve your sleep patterns, and work on reducing mental and emotional stress.
Specifically you’ll want to target digestive system imbalances first. Remove all processed and refined foods along with simple sugars. I’d recommend doing a cleanse of some sort, like the Advocare Herbal Cleanse (one of my favorites) to help with restoring digestive system balance. Transition to a diet during the cleanse that is mostly lean proteins, greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
While you can incorporate back in a moderate amount of whole grains, legumes, etc (based on individual tolerances) in your diet after the cleanse, I’d leave them out for a while. You’ll want to remove starches that candida and other yeasts may feed on in your digestive tract. Remember the objective is to squash inflammation in your body and the single most prevalent area is in the gastrointestinal tract.
The point is pills won’t work and neither will crash dieting or excessive cardiovascular exercise. Following a severe caloric restrictive diet or doing lots of cardio will only be viewed as stress by your body resulting in increased cortisol production.
There is no quick and easy approach to reducing belly fat and cortisol levels. It’s going to require lifestyle changes and a commitment to restoring balance in your body. Eat a clean diet of mostly whole, natural foods, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, and take action steps on reducing mental stress with relaxation techniques.
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, motivational speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He has over 20 years experience with fitness coaching and consulting and specializes in training programs for middle age and mature adults. If you live in the Charleston, SC area you can meet with Shane for a no-obligations consultation.