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How stress affect weight gain around the middle!

By Gemma | February 17, 2020 | Fitness

When trying to lose weight there are many factors that we need to take into consideration. Firstly we have to look at eating a clean diet, which is discussed in my blog post, it’s about eating clean. Secondly you need to train smart which is discussed in my train smarter not harder blog. Finally you need to address your stress levels.

I have worked with many clients who have addressed their diet and training and still find it hard to shift fat from their middle. When I ask them about their lifestyle it soon becomes apparent that they are under a tremendous amount of stress and I am about to tell you how this can affect your levels of fat.

Let’s firstly look at the stress hormone cortisol. Hormones are our bodies’ chemical messengers and cortisol’s role is to help with glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance and immune and inflammatory response.  Alongside this cortisol further plays a role in our stress response system. When we experience a stressful situation, cortisol is released to pull stored sugar into the blood stream so we can respond to whatever threat we are experiencing.  Back in the day when we were hunter-gatherers this usually meant running from a predator of some sort. Now stress usually relates to work demands, a traffic jam, a long commute or home demands etc. Whilst our brain knows that we are not running away from a potential threat, our bodies mechanism have a stress program to follow so no matter what the stress is, it will always respond in the same manner with cortisol. What makes it more interesting as well is the fact that usually stressors can last weeks/months so our bodies do not necessarily have a chance to return back to a normal state. This puts huge pressure on our adrenal glands.

Many studies have investigated the link between an increase in cortisol levels and stored fat around the middle (1,2). It has become apparent there are strong links and this is why.  Fat around our middle has a good supple of blood and therefore can receive 4 times more sensitive to cortisol than fat in the peripheral areas of our body (3). This means that fat cells can increase in size by accepting extra circulating sugars that have been released through a stress response.

What does this mean for us? The sugar that cortisol brings into our blood is usually not burned off as most of us tend to live sedentary lifestyles. So the easiest place for cortisol to place this extra sugar is into our fat cells around our middle as they are extra sensitive due to extra blood flow mentioned before.  This will keep happening if our stress levels continue and it turns into a vicious cycle!

But this should not feel like doom and gloom, as there are things you can do to release your stress levels. See my blog post how to reduce stress.

  1. Stewart P, Boulton A, Kumar S, Calrk P, Shackelton C. Cortisol metabolism in human obesity: Impaired cortisone to cortisol conversion in subjects with central adiposity. J Clin Endocrinology & Metab. 1999;84:1022-1027.
  2. Steptoe A, Kunz-Ebrecht SR, Brydon L, Wardle J. Central adiposity and cortisol to waking in middle-aged men and women. IJO. 2004;28:1168-1173.
  3. Epel et al.,. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater in women with central fat. Psychosomatic medicine. 2000; 62:623-632.