Why Stress is Making Your Belly Fat and What to Do About It

Remember when you were a kid – like around 8 years old or so – and all you could think of was how fat your belly was?

Yeah…um no. That’s not something an 8-year-old (at least in the olden days) worries about, right?

Now, fast forward from your 8-year-old self to where you are now. For me? Late 40s. Now it’s a whole different story.

It’s like, one day you wake up and you have this belly and it’s gross and it’s in the way and it makes you have to buy new clothes because your old ones don’t fit.

There a variety of reasons we gain belly fat, from changes in hormones to a drop in metabolism. But one very important contributor?

STRESS

Are you stressed out right now? Unless you’re lounging on the deck with a glass of wine, you probably are. Or maybe you’re having that wine because you’re stressed…whatever.

The point is stress affects every aspect of our bodies, especially our bellies. When you get stressed, your body releases cortisol and guess what that does? It stimulates fat storage, particularly around the belly.

Why does this happen? Because our bodies protect us in times of stress by holding onto fat. Now, that was probably helpful back in cave-man days, but now it’s just wrong.

Get Control of Your Stress

If you really want to deal with stress and, in the process, stop the constant cortisol production that’s adding to your belly fat, you have to do one very important thing:

Put Yourself First

The only way to deal with this is to give yourself the time and attention you need to start reducing stress. Practicing a few tools on a regular basis will help you ramp down the cortisol and ramp up the fat loss:

#1 STOP

If you’re stressed, you probably aren’t even aware of the thoughts going on in your head. They’re probably racing because you’re thinking of All The Things:

  1. All the things you NEED to do
  2. All the things you HAVEN’T done
  3. All the things you HAVE to do later
  4. All the things you CAN’T do because you don’t have time

These racing thoughts are not helping you actually be productive, right? And if you want to get off that treadmill (the other one will at least help you burn calories) you have to create some space for you to address it.

#2 Do a Brain Dump

I keep a list of things I can do when I’m stressed because, when I get stressed, I get anxious and when I get anxious I can’t think straight and in that kind of environment – I can’t make even the simplest decisions.

If you find yourself in spin-mode, having a list of things to do to get out of it will immediately calm you down and help you feel more in control. The first thing you need to do is:

Change Your Perspective. This might mean simply walking into another room, taking a walk outside or going for a drive. Getting out of the environment where the spinny wheels are should immediately give you at least some sense of calm.

Now, after that, make list of everything that’s going on in your head. Things you need to do, things you’re worried about…everything. No filters, no stopping and thinking, just write (I prefer writing because it brings you into your head a little more than typing, but do your thing).

Once you’re done that, all that stuff is now out of your head and on paper, where you can actually deal with it.

Look at your list…is it crazy-long? Could any human being tackle this list all at once? Nope. And you don’t have to either.

#3 Get Real

Okay, now that you know where your stress is coming from, here’s where things get down and dirty. You need to get real about what you actually need to deal with and what you can either toss or put aside for another day.

Pick the one thing you’re the most stressed about and set aside some time to face it. If you’re stressed about your finances, digging into them will give you some control and that control will help you calm down.

Once you’ve dealt with it, you won’t feel as stressed.

It’s not always easy facing what’s stressing us out and, sometimes, there’s nothing we can do about it. Sometimes it’s an external person or force that’s stressing you out and that’s when you have to dig deep to find a way to deal with it in a calm way. For example, as I’m writing this my neighbor is sawing something big and it sounds like there’s a helicopter buzzing inside my office.

That is stressing me out but I can’t go punch him in the face, can I? No, but I can put on some headphones with some relaxing spa music so that I don’t give into my violent urges.

Here are some things to try to get your stress under control:

  • Keep a stress diary. Just a piece of paper or something on your smartphone. Set an alarm to go off every hour or so and check in with yourself. If you’re stressed, create some space to actually deal with it now so you don’t fall down the stress rabbit hole.
  • Watch how you talk to yourself. I don’t know how many times I say, “oh my god I am sooo stressed!” Every time I say that, I’m creating more stress.  When you hear your thoughts going in that direction, stop, take a step back and get a little perspective. Can you start a new story about yourself? Maybe say, “Okay, I feel overwhelmed.” Own it and then you can do something about it.
  • Make a worry appointment. This sounds silly but make an actual appointment later in the day to deal with all your worries. Then, every time you get worried about something, remember…you can do that later.
  • Play the 1-, 5- and 10-year game. If you’re stressing over something, ask yourself if you’ll even give a s**t about it in 1 year. 5 years? 10 years? If not, you’re probably wasting your energy.

We can’t get rid of stress and a certain amount is a good thing. But giving yourself permission to manage it on a daily basis is what you must do if you want to feel good and get rid of that extra belly fat. Breathe. It’s all going to be ok.

Source:

Blaine B. Does Depression Cause Obesity?: A Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Studies of Depression and Weight Control. J Health Psychol. 2008;13(8):1190-1197. doi:10.1177/1359105308095977

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