We all know that stress is bad for us – it can cause short-term and long-term health problems, and being stressed can also lead to other problems, such as anxiety disorders. But did you know that being stressed could actually derail your weight loss and healthy eating plan?
Being stressed could also cause you to gain stomach fat. Here’s how.
If you often find yourself digging into a tub of ice cream at the end of the day, or absent mindedly munching on a bag of crisps watching television, or finishing off the children’s leftovers – it could be because you are stressed.
Many of us reach for these types of foods when we are feeling stressed, as a way to feel happier and more in control. But the reason that we choose these types of fatty, calorific foods is because of something called cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It’s released when we are stressed to reduce our stress levels and in small quantities, it can be very good for us. However, if we get stressed numerous times throughout the day, or if we have to regularly confront very stressful situations, it could lead to a build-up of cortisol, as it is released every time we experience stress.
Too much cortisol can cause a number of problems, including weight gain, fat around the stomach and cravings for fatty, calorific foods. If you are too stressed, you have too much cortisol. And too much cortisol increases cravings of fatty foods.
Cortisol causes cravings due to a few neurotransmitters that block signals within the brain, causing continuous cravings of fatty, calorific foods. These neurotransmitters also interfere with where you store fat and they can actually direct fat stores to your stomach, causing you to gain stomach fat. They can also increase the amount of energy stored as fat, so you could be eating the same quantity of food and exercising the same amount, but you could still gain weight, as more of your energy is being converted into fat.
When slim people have a “tyre” around their tummy, it could simply be because they are stressed.
There are many things that can be done to reduce stress levels, but the first step is to recognise when stress is becoming a problem.
This will vary from person to person, but all of us can benefit from taking time out to do some stress-busting in a healthy way. Although people often say drinking alcohol, smoking or overeating is the way to deal with stress, there are many better methods.
- Exercise. There is a link between physical activity and a reduction in stress. The type of exercise is unimportant, as long as it involves exertion. Swimming, walking and running are all great forms of exercise for people who are stressed.
- Reading. Taking time out from the daily grind to relax with a novel has been shown to reduce stress levels by two thirds. Try to choose a time to read where you are unlikely to be interrupted.
- Bath. Although not to everyone’s taste, a long soak in the bathtub with some pampering products can help the brain switch off and relax completely. The key to a successful bath is ensuring uninterrupted use of the bathroom.
- Deep breathing. A quick-fix stress busting technique which can be done at the office desk is to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out, focusing only on the breathing. This technique is used to treat anxiety and can help calm you instantly.
- Laughter. Watching a comedy movie or a DVD featuring your favourite comedian which makes you laugh is one of the best ways to reduce stress levels. Laughter is truly the best medicine and the ideal way to unwind with friends.
- Massage. Treating yourself to a massage using aromatherapy oils will give time to relax as well as to switch off totally from the pressures of everyday life. Oils such as lavender have been proven to relax someone who is stressed, and other good oils to use include cedarwood, lemongrass and sandalwood.
Luckily, with reduced stress levels, you can easily reduce your levels of cortisol – and therefore you can inhibit those pesky neurotransmitters within the brain, preventing cravings of fatty foods. Less stress = less cortisol = less chance of developing stomach fat.
It’s easier to reduce your stress levels than you might think, too – meditation and deep breathing techniques have been proven to help with stress levels. Alternatively, therapy and counselling and in severe cases, medication can reduce stress levels. If you are stressed but don’t seem to be able to reduce your stress alone, speak to your doctor.
To see all you need to know about how to beat stomach fat click here.