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Some people who experience a lot of pressure in their daily lives may accumulate excess belly fat as a result. Is there any way to banish a “stress belly?” Here’s some information on how fat can accumulate in your mid section, as well as some healthy tips on how you might be able to prevent it.

What, Exactly, Is A “Stress Belly”?

Everybody experiences stress – and the effects of stress – in their own way. For some of us, this may include weight gain or difficulty losing weight.

Men and women over the age of 40 tend to deal with excess belly fat due to stress more than younger people. One possible reason is that the hormones that help keep fat from accumulating tend to decrease as the years go by.1

Now, that doesn’t mean younger people are immune from developing fat potentially caused by stress.2

What Might Cause A “Stress Belly”?

stress belly | Unify HealthMany people turn to junk food in hopes that it will make them feel better or reduce their stress levels. And while sweet treats and salty snacks may give some of us a sense of satisfaction – it’s temporary at best. In fact, sugar and junk food can actually contribute to stress making our stress levels even worse. In addition, it can also cause us to experience serious health issues and unwanted weight gain.

But the biggest culprit when it comes to excess belly fat is thought to be a hormone known as cortisol. Produced by the adrenal glands located in the kidneys, cortisol is the trigger for the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. This slows the body’s metabolism, putting it “on hold.”3

While you need cortisol to deal with stress, too much of it can cause issues. High cortisol levels might increase the amount of visceral fat, the type of fat that surrounds your organs, in your body. According to one study, women with stress belly may have exaggerated responses to cortisol.4

Signs You May Be At Risk For Developing Stress Belly Fat (And Other Serious Health Issues)

If you have to deal with stress on a regular basis, whether it’s from work, your home life, school, or a combination of all of these, then you might be at a higher risk for developing a stress belly. Here are a few signs that could be the case.

  • stressed woman | Unify HealthYou feel overwhelmed – When stressors become too much to handle, you might experience a surge of adrenaline due to anxiety. For some people, that leads to eating unhealthy foods in order to calm down.
  • You have junk food cravings – If you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips, cookies, or other so-called “comfort foods,” you’re not alone. It’s a common issue. In fact, cortisol production can sometimes lead to cravings for sugar and fat.
  • You’re not sleeping enough – If you can’t sleep because you’re stressed, that can affect the way the chemicals that control your appetite – leptin and ghrelin – work. That, in turn, might increase the chances that you’ll overeat and gain weight as a result.5

How To Help Prevent (Or Get Rid Of) Stress Belly For Good

Thankfully, there are some ways you may be able to prevent or get rid of stress belly fat and keep it off. It will take commitment on your part, but you can do it. Here are just a few suggestions.

  • Get more exercise – Whether it’s strength training to build muscles, aerobic exercise to burn calories, or just taking a run or a brisk walk around the neighborhood, moving your body can really help you prevent or burn off that stress belly. Exercise will not only help you lose weight, it may also help you manage stress more effectively.6 Next time you have a craving for junk food, take a quick walk around the neighborhood. You’ll likely find that your cravings have disappeared by the time you make it back home.
  • healthy lifestyle | Unify HealthWatch your drinks – Sugary drinks may taste delicious, but they are surely adding to your caloric intake, and more importantly, damaging your health. Alcoholic drinks are also packed with calories and can actually increase your stress levels. Instead, reach for a glass of water or sparkling water. Or if you need something sweet, try adding a healthy sugar alternative such as stevia or monk fruit to a glass of unsweetened ice tea.7
  • Eat for your health – Are you eating to live or living to eat? Make sure that the food you eat is good food that loves you back. Getting your body the nutrients it needs can help you live a long happy life and potentially reduce your stress levels. Spinach and other green, leafy vegetables contain polyphenols, carotenoids, and other compounds that may help lower stress. Fish and blueberries are good sources of omega-3s, substances that support a healthy brain.8
  • Identify what makes you stressed – which, for some people, can be complicated. Are you always busy? Do you simply accept excessive stress as a part of your everyday life? If you can honestly say that you play a role in maintaining your stress levels, that will be a huge step toward gaining control.
  • Spend quality time with family and friends – You’ll feel a lot better if you do, even if they can’t fix whatever is stressing you out.9

By taking these steps, you may be able to beat stress belly and get a handle on your stress levels in general. Still, at the end of the day, sometimes stress can become unbearable and can be too much to handle on our own.

If this is the case, make sure you seek the advice of a professional. There is never shame in getting the help you need. Additionally, talk to your health care provider about a diet that is right for you. Seeking this type of professional help can do wonders for your health and your waistline.

Learn More:
What Are Adaptogens And Can They Help With Stress?
Exercise And Restorative Yoga For Stress Management
De-Stress And Relax Your Mind: How To De-Stress After Work

1 https://www.stress.org/stress-cortisol-and-abdominal-fat
2 https://www.stress.org/stress-cortisol-and-abdominal-fat
3 https://www.orlandohealth.com/content-hub/how-too-much-stress-can-cause-weight-gain-and-what-to-do-about-it
4 https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2000/09000/Stress_and_Body_Shape__Stress_Induced_Cortisol.5.aspx
5 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201308/why-we-gain-weight-when-we-re-stressed-and-how-not
6 https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st
7 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000889.htm
8 https://www.abbott.com/corpnewsroom/nutrition-health-and-wellness/healthy-diet-can-reduce-stress.html
9 https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm