Do you find yourself suffering with excess fat around the belly? Well, you’re definitely not alone. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that about 54% of Americans live with excess abdominal fat. While there are many reasons one might retain excess abdominal fat, stress is a probably factor. In fact, experts around the world are coining the term, “stress belly” to describe abdominal fat caused by stress. If you’re suffering from stress belly, read on to find out what it is and what you can do about it.
What is Stress Belly?
Actually, stress belly isn’t a medical diagnosis. Stress belly is just a term use to describe how stress and the hormones caused by stress can affect your midsection. So, while it isn’t technically a medical diagnosis, it is recognized by the medical world as a symptom of stress hormones.
To understand how stress can cause stress belly, it’s first important to understand what stress is. Stress is the body’s way of responding to any type of change that requires adjustment. When stressed, the body reacts with physical, mental and emotional responses. It’s important to remember that stress is a normal and helpful response to circumstance. However, chronic and prolonged stress is what leads to health issues.
Stress causes a hormone release as well. Specifically, the hormone cortisol is released at high levels. At normal levels, cortisol is helpful. It builds lean tissue and helps an individual respond to stressful situations. But chronic, prolonged cortisol release can cause a myriad of health problems, stress belly included.
How does stress increase belly fat?
Okay, so now you know what stress is, but how can it cause fat? Well, the most likely cause of increased abdominal fat is cortisol. As we discussed earlier, cortisol is a hormone released by the body during a stress event. Excess and prolonged stress leads to chronically high cortisol levels.
When cortisol levels are high, they cause excess fat around the organs. This fat continues to build and build until an individual obtains a “stress belly.” One study showed that the higher the cortisol levels, the more likely someone is to have abdominal fat. So, naturally, high stress equals high cortisol, which leads to abdominal fat, or “stress belly.”
Another way that stress may increase belly fat is through habits that result from high stress. Our body’s natural response to stress is to eat high fat, sugar and high carb density foods. This increase in consumption of unhealthy foods can also lead to stress belly.
Lifestyle and other behaviors can also lead to stress belly. Smoking and alcohol consumption greatly increase one’s risk of developing stress belly. Additionally, people with a sedentary lifestyle are also at an increased risk of excess abdominal fat. And with work, stress and other responsibilities, it can be difficult for many people to make time to exercise.
Lastly, age may be an additional factor in the development of stress belly. Postmenopausal women are more likely to store weight in the hips and belly. Men almost always store additional weight in the abdomen. Aging can cause a decline in mobility and lead to weight gain. All of these factors put an individual at an increased risk of excess abdominal weight.
What are the different types of belly fat?
Stress belly is not the only thing that can cause excess abdominal fat. In fact, there are five different types of bellies with five different causes. While these are common types, there are other causes of excess abdominal fat as well.
- Bloated belly. This type of belly is not caused by excess fat, but rather by excess gas and fluid. People with this type of belly often notice their belly is relatively flat at the beginning of the day, but becomes distended over time. It’s usually caused by inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy, but can have other causes as well. If you suffer with constant bloat, be sure to see your physician.
- Alcohol belly. This type of fat, caused by consistent, high consumption of alcohol, is a very firm type of fat. It’s usually stored high in the abdomen and feels rigid when palpated.
- Hormonal belly. Usually caused by hormonal imbalances, this belly fat tends to collect in the lower abdomen. Women with PCOS or insulin resistance are particularly prone to this type of belly. Another cause of this belly is a sedentary lifestyle, which also affects hormones.
- Mommy belly. During pregnancy, a woman’s belly must stretch to accommodate a fetus. After birth, fat stores and loose skin may still be present. This type of fat is generally subcutaneous and not harmful. It may also just be excess skin causing the belly. Either way, high intensity work outs, with a doctor’s supervision should help with this type of belly.
- Stress belly. The belly we’ve been discussing thus far. This belly is caused by an increase in cortisol levels, which stores visceral fat around the abdomen. Stress belly can be dangerous due to the increased stress on internal organs, and should not be taken lightly.
Belly Fat Health Risks
So, now you know the types of bellies and what causes them. What are the health risks? Unfortunately, there are a lot. Excess fat around the abdomen can cause many potentially deadly health problems. Any excess belly fat requires immediate intervention for the benefit of the individual. But what qualifies as too much abdominal fat? Generally speaking, numbers can say it all.
If you are a woman, a waist line above 35 inches puts you at risk. As a man, a waist line of above 40 inches puts you at risk. If you don’t know, simply grab a measuring tape and wrap it around your midsection. The correct placement is a couple inches above the hip bones. If you have excess fat, here are some of the associated risks.
- Increased risk of coronary heart disease. One study of overweight nurses showed a significant increase in risk of heart disease. In fact, ever additional two inches on the waist showed an increase of 10% likelihood of heart disease.
- Type 2 diabetes. Excess abdominal fat leads to insulin resistance and eventual type 2 diabetes. Diabetes comes with it’s own health risks, like kidney disease and neuropothy.
- Dementia. Studies have found links between abdominal fat and dementia.
- Cancers. Excess abdominal fat is now known to increase risk of colorectal, breast and other cancers.
- Death. Having a large waist can almost double a person’s chances of dying prematurely.
These are just a few things that can happen de to excess abdominal fat. Other symptoms include depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. To understand the full scope of problems with abdominal fat, reach out to your primary care physician. Talking to your doctor can help you understand the cause of your belly fat, and what you can do to start making changes.
What foods cause belly fat?
Whether you are suffering form stress belly or other forms of belly fat, food is probably contributing. This will obviously not be a complete list of all the foods that cause belly fat. These are some common contributors of belly fat:
- Soda and other sugary drinks. Never drink your calories. Soda, juices and sports drinks are chock full of sugar and calories. They are easy to consume in large amounts and are a huge risk factor for developing excess abdominal fat.
- Fast food and fried foods. Everyone loves fried foods, but unfortunately, they aren’t good for you. These foods are typically high in sodium and trans fats, which rests in your abdominal area.
- Whole milk, 2% milk and cheese. Let me just reiterate, never drink your calories. While it’s true that whole milk and 2% milk are full of nutrients, they are also full of calories. Try to choose skim, almond or other non-dairy milks to decrease your caloric intake. Cheese is also easy to over use. Use minimal amounts or none at all.
- Chips. Most chips contain massive amounts of trans fat, which can lead to obesity. Additionally, chips are easy to eat mindlessly, leading to overindulgence.
- White carbs. Flour, rice and pastas can be easy avenues for simple carbohydrates. Simply switching to whole grain versions of these foods can decrease your waist line.
- Alcohol. One more time. Don’t drink your calories. Alcohol is full of sugar and calories. High consumption is a massive factor in excess abdominal fat.
- Salty foods. While salt on its own doesn’t add belly fat, it does cause water retention. This water retention can make you feel bloated and swollen. Avoiding foods with large amounts of salt will go a long way towards your weight loss goals.
What foods decrease belly fat?
Well, there’s lots of things that cause belly fat, so what about things that make it go away? The good news is, there’s lots of foods that can help you on your weight loss journey.
- Protein. One of the best things you can do to aid your stress belly loss, or any belly loss, is increase protein. Protein reduces cravings and helps build lean muscles. Eggs, legumes and meats are good sources of protein.
High fiber foods. Fiber helps you feel full longer and increases your metabolism. Eating foods that are high in fiber will increase your health and decrease your weight. The best foods to get fiber from vegetables and fruits. Other good sources of fiber are legumes and some forms of oats.
Water. Drinking water is like a shower for your body. It can help improve your metabolism and also helps you feel full. Staying hydrated will benefits your exercise routine as well. Hydration helps you work harder and longer during workouts.
Other Ways to Treat Stress Belly?
Sometimes it’s just too difficult to treat stress belly on your own. You may need a little guidance. There are a couple of options out there to help you change your habits and crush your goals. Never feel discouraged from seeking help through a third party. Most people are unable to figure out all the things they need to know about weight loss by themselves.
One thing you can do, is get help from online books and personal trainers. If you don’t want to go to the gym, but still want that level of professionalism. online books from personal trainers are a great option. Often times they can give you information that you didn’t know before. Some have hacks that can help you lose weight more easily. Either way, this is a great option for that additional push of help.
If you are trying your best, but keep failing over and over, you may need help from a mental health professional as well. Sometimes the root of weight gain problems are psychological, and not physical. When this is the case, getting down to the cause can literally change your life.
A good place to start to evaluate yourself is with online therapy. Online therapy for stress help can decrease your stress levels and help you understand the reasons behind your weight gain. Give it a try, and see if it helps. You can do it without leaving the comfort of your own home.
Whether it’s stress belly, alcohol belly or any other type of belly, it can be detrimental to your health. Excess abdominal weight can lead to many health problems, so it must be addressed immediately. A good place to start is with diet and exercise, but this is understandably difficult for many people.
>>If you continue to struggle to lose weight, consider talking to your doctor, a therapist, or a personal trainer. It is absolutely vital that abdominal fat be addressed. Take control of your health today, and revel in the person you can become.<<