I recently went to a personal trainer’s conference to learn from the industry’s best. This conference was a mixed bag of workouts, workshops and doctors presenting the latest research on everything from natural pain management, nutrition, TRX, kettlebells, fat loss, women’s health issues – you name it it was being presented.
While I enjoyed the workshops and workouts (and getting my butt kicked by the best of the best), it was the lectures that I appreciated the most.
There were a number of them that I attended on fat loss, and in every single lecture one particular form of fat and hormone was singled out – belly fat and the stress hormone cortisol.
The two are very closely linked together. Cortisol feeds the fat and the body directs it to abdomen.
A little back story on fat.
Abdomen fat, or visceral fat, is the most dangerous fat to have. This fat is deep within the body, surrounding our internal organs and it is this fat that will increase our chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, various forms of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
One of the reasons that this fat gets packed on around our internal organs is because of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands and is part of our fight-or-flight response. It mobilizes the body and gets it ready for action when danger presents itself. Then, once we have faced the danger, cortisol returns back to normal.
Do you want a side of stress with that? This is not the case for the 21st century though, it is? We are a population of heightened emotions and distressed and anxious people.
Every day we are stressing a bit more, getting upset and angry about the big things, and unfortunately the little things too, and living in this perpetual cesspool of cortisol.
If the stress never leaves us then neither does the cortisol. When this happens the brain keeps telling the ol’ adrenal glands to keep on pumping more cortisol and we keep on stressing.
This is called a “cortisol cascade” and with this constant stream of cortisol the brain has no choice but to think that the body is in trouble. So, the brain does what the brain is meant to do, protect the body. How does it protect us? By building a fortress around our most important bodily parts, our internal organs. The fortress is uses, fat.
To add insult to injury increased levels of cortisol also decrease our immune system and increases our food cravings, and not for broccoli and spinach. Cortisol loves fat and sugar and lots of it . So, now we have a stressed out person, whose adrenal glands keeps on pumping out more cortisol, so their brain adds another layer of fat around the internal organs for protection, while the stomach says had me those Doritos. The Dorito’s then add more fat onto the body, which adds more stress onto the person and then you start the loop all over again.
It’s even worse for menopausal women.
Estrogen, which women in their peri and menopausal years are producing less of, is a natural cortisol fighter. Take away estrogen and add that cortisol cascade and you have a woman in her late 40’s, early 50’s who will have absolutely no control over the fat being added to their mid-section.
How to stop the belly fat disaster.
Before you start to cry (which is what I felt like doing mid-lecture when I was learning all of this), know that there are steps to avoiding this cortisol/belly fat disaster.First and foremost, control your stress.
- Learn deep breathing techniques
- Meditate, or just find 5-10 minutes of quiet time a day
- Take restorative yoga
- Walk every day for 20-60 minutes (at a leisurely pace)
- Enjoy time with your friends and family
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Second, sleep. Sleep deprivation is a first-class ticket to increased cortisol, fatness and stress. The experts even went as far as to say that an extra hour of sleep would do people’s bodies more good then an extra hour on the treadmill.Third, exercise less intensely if you are a peri and menopausal woman who is fit, but can’t seem to shake the belly fat. Yes, you read that right. Intense forms of exercise actually increase your cortisol levels. So, if you are battling belly fat, and you peri and menopausal (sorry those women out there who are in their 20’s and 30’s and women finished menopause, as well as all men, this does not apply to you), and have been working your butt off but are seeing no changes in your belly fat composition research is pointing towards a moderate exercise intensity (60-70% of your maximum heart rate) for burning fat without grossly increasing your cortisol levels.
All the research out there is pointing towards a moderate exercise intensity (60-70% of your maximum heart rate) to burn the fat off, without grossly elevating the cortisol levels.
If this information has helped you then I recommend that you take a look at The Lean Belly Breakthrough– its a best selling guide to getting rid of belly fat and it uses many of the techniques described briefly above.