Stress Belly Is Real
Here’s how to reverse the weight you’ve recently put on
We are all dealing with an unprecedented amount of stress lately, between a global pandemic, record unemployment and social unrest bubbling throughout our cities. We've been staying indoors, binging TV and ordering takeout. All perfectly normal activities, but when you couple that with a lack of sleep and an increased amount of tension snacking, the result is something that's been jokingly referred to as the “quarantine 15.”
Are there more important things to worry about than a little extra flab around your midsection? Of course. But that doesn't make it any less troubling. And at time when we're worried about so much, feeling bad about yourself because your pants aren't fitting like they used to just adds an unnecessary burden. The good news is that if you catch it early, you can reverse it somewhat easily. But you can't skimp on good habits, says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection.
Cortisol, a crucial hormone that's part of our “fight or flight” response, slows unnecessary body functions so you can focus. But once the threat passes, everything goes back to normal. Unfortunately, prolonged stress can keep our stress hormones levels elevated, along with blood pressure and blood sugars. Talbott says that all the uncertainty lately is leading to a “chronically activated stress response” in our bodies. This can lead to a breakdown of the immune system and a reduction in muscle and skin tissues, he says.
The only part of your body that doesn't retreat at this time is your waistline. “Your belly fat is the only tissue that expands in response to stress,” he says. “Plus a stress-cortisol craving is almost always for high-sugar, high-fat junk food.” In order to fight it, you've got to put a plan in place. The good news is that it's not all that difficult. Herewith, an expert-backed regimen to tighten up.
How to Lose
Stress Belly Fat
This might be the most difficult suggestion to heed, especially when the world seems so chaotic. But any nutritionalist will offer this up immediately because giving up on alcohol—even just for one month—has been linked to significant and immediate improvements in your health. For starters, you'll be downing far less empty calories. When you consume alcohol, your body stops burning fat and starts metabolizing the booze. It uses the ethanol for energy, not other sources like your current fat.
Build More Muscle
The opposite of fat is muscle, says Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D. a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. The muscles that cover your skeleton are metabolically active in ways that process and burn fat—powering your liver, and moving blood to extract glucose and reduce inflammation. Dr. Lopez-Jimenez and his colleagues have found that people with large amounts of belly fat often lack lower-body muscle mass. But they found patients notice a decrease in their love handles when they incorporate strength training.
A Harvard study found that men who did 20 minutes of daily weight training had less age-related abdominal fat than men who clocked the same amount of time doing cardio. For maximum benefits, opt for compound exercises that work your whole body such as squats, pull-ups or kettlebell swings.
Boost Your Protein
According to research published in Advances in Nutrition, protein has a “greater satiating effect” than other foods. Meaning it'll be able to fill you up and leave you more satiated for longer periods of time. Additionally, brain scans have shown that protein lowers activity in regions of the brain which stimulate food cravings. So the more protein you work into your meals, the less snacking you'll do.
Load Up on
Fruits and Vegetables
These nutrient dense foods are packed with fiber, meaning you'll get full on fewer calories. Sure, there's sugar. But crunching on an apple is a lot different from drinking a glass of apple juice. It's a good way to get something sweet without going overboard on added sugars or refined carbohydrates. Switch out starches like potatoes and pastas with colorful vegetables. Load up half of your plate with veggies or begin every meal with a salad.
Get More Sleep
Stress prompts your body to release the troublesome hormone cortisol. People who have high levels have been found to develop abdominal obesity, according to a 2018 review of studies published in Current Obesity Reports. Since you can't instantly stress less, one way to lower your cortisol levels is to log more sleep. Getting anything less than six and a half hours regularly will cause the hormone to spike—which signals to the body to store new fat cells. So aim for a full seven to eight hours a night to help your body naturally regulate cortisol.
Weight Loss Math
A pound of fat equals 3,500 calories.
Burning just 100 calories each day for 365 days is roughly 36,500 calories—equivalent to 10 pounds of pure fat lost in a year.
You could double your weight loss to 20 pounds by burning 100 calories each day and trimming an additional 100 calories from your diet.