Do you have a stress belly? Why your wellbeing might be affecting your weight

Carla Challis # Lifestyles

Stressing about stressing? You’re not alone.

And as if you didn’t have enough to worry about, apparently stress can affect yet another part of your life – your weight.

Along with everything from your sleep to libido, stress is one of the biggest health complaints of the population and can contribute to a host of other concerns.

But how does stress affect your weight?

Callum Melly, personal trainer and Founder of BodyIn8, explains: “Stress is a natural defence mechanism that encourages an influx of adrenaline boosting hormones to help us fight or flee, you see that is what our brain thinks is happening when we undergo chronic high stress, that we are in a life or death situation and need a rapid surge of energy to survive.

“The body then also releases cortisol that tells your body to replenish that energy that you often haven't even used.

“Cortisol is a catabolic hormone meaning it will promote lean muscle tissue breakdown so it can be used as energy, as a result our natural testosterone levels will decrease, over time we become subject to this catabolic effect and muscle breakdown which reduces the natural rate at which we burn calories.

“Cortisol also promotes fat storage, especially visceral fat which can be extremely detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

“Visceral fat is internal and surrounds our vital organs, it releases fatty acids into your blood system and can raise cholesterol & insulin levels and can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

“Furthermore, our bodies’ natural reaction to combat stress after an increase in cortisol is to eat high fat, sweet and salty foods as they stimulate the brain to release comforting pleasure chemicals that can help to reduce tension.”

And that stress-induced food binge you’ve probably devoured more times than you’d like to admit? Blame your brain.

“Naturally your brain associates a fatty food induced soothing effect with stress relief so it can become extremely addictive for anyone undergoing regular chronic stress.

4 ways to stop stressing – and lose weight

Get active

Not just because you’ll be healthier, but as Callum explains: “Your body will naturally assume your fleeing a stressful situation if you get your blood pumping.

“This will increase circulation and encourage the transportation of cortisol to your kidneys which will flush the cortisol out of your system.”

Cut out caffeine

“If you’re feeling stressed, kick the caffeine,”
he says.
“When you combine stress with caffeine, it can raise cortisol levels more than stress alone and increases the time in which cortisol is active in the body by up to 30%.”

Sleep like a baby

“Sleep is vital for reducing cortisol levels and combatting stress.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of deep sleep a night, but if you’re getting even as little as 6 1/2 hours sleep, it can increase cortisol levels, appetite and weight gain.

“So sleep more, eat less & feel better too,”
Callum adds.

Increase certain vitamins

“A solid multivitamin or breakfast rich in Vitamin B, C, D, calcium and magnesium can reduce cortisol levels and food cravings. “Foods that are rich in these vitamins are also usually high in essential macronutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrates which will promote a lean and healthy body when eaten as part of a balanced diet.”

Callum’s idea of a vitamin boosting breakfast? “A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and either a bowl of oats with blueberries, strawberries, low fat Greek yogurt and 100% natural peanut butter or two large soft boiled eggs, on wholegrain toast and a side of low-fat Greek yoghurt & berries.”