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How chronic stress causes belly fat and what to do about it

How chronic stress causes belly fat and what to do about it
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Wake up. Night to short. Should have stopped watching one episode of "modern family" earlier last night. Okay can´t change it, let me check my phone. Oh no, two emails from my boss, I have more work to do. Anyways, let me check Blick.ch, Corona numbers are through the roof. Oh sh**, I am already to late for my train!

Is this your morning? Then this article is for you! Apart from the fact, that this stressful start into your day is devastating to your mental health, it´s unlikely that the stress induces cortisol spike coming with it is the only one you will experience throughout the day. Win the morning, win the day! But that is a topic for another week. Let us evaluate why a day starting and continuing like this will make you fat if it happens five days a week.

How hormones & inflammation can make you lean or fat

The main reason are hormones that the body releases in stressful situations. Intended as a protective mechanism, the stress hormone cortisol endangers your waist line - especially if it is released chronically. Among other things, it influences our cravings for snacks in form of carbohydrates and sugar, inhibits the metabolism and stimulates the body not to burn the energy it has absorbed, but to store it in its fat deposits – preferentially in the lower belly region. - how mean. The inner belly fat grows unnoticed until there is a typical “stressstomach”. This can also affect very slim and health-conscious people and is one of the most stubborn and dangerous problem areas. The lower belly fat, also known as visceral fat, promotes diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack through high systemic inflammation. For more on inflammation check out this webinar video with Dr. Torsten Albers. Those who lack rest due to stress, worries, psychical tension or wrong timing also produce the hormone leptin, which affects the metabolism negatively and stimulates the appetite for unhealthy snacks. This explains why chronically stressed people often have problems with stubborn love handles. For a flat belly, not only exercise and nutrition are important, but also a healthy, natural cortisol level. Why do you think mindfulness has become so big in the last years! People don´t want to be the next buddha, they want to feel good and look sexy in speedos. Period.

How well you deal with stress is also genetically determined (e.g. through the genes COMT, DTNBP1, BDNF). If you have a genetic predisposition that makes you vulnerable to stress caused by psychological pressure, poor sleep, caffeine, etc., your epigenetic factors such as mindset, diet and lifestyle are particularly important in order to positively influence gene expression.

What is cortisol and how does it effect the body:

Cortisol is a degrading (catabolic) hormone and is synthesized in the adrenal cortex. The body forms it when it senses stress or when blood sugar threatens to drop to dangerously low levels. It is intended to provide energy for the body in a vital situation (fight-or-flight) (regardless from which tissue or storage, if necessary even from muscles - ever wondered why marathoners are so lean?) and is therefore essential. Too much stress in your life carries the risk of constantly high cortisol levels. Read Egle's blog on strategies for stress management for more.

 

What not to do, if you want to avoid chronically high cortisol levels:

  • Too little or bad sleep and / or too late to bed
  • Far too much sport
  • Too few carbohydrates with a lot of exercise
  • Too much coffee / caffeine (caffeine sensitivity is individual and genetically different)
  • Too much stress at work
  • Too little “time out” / quiet hours to relax
  • Perfectionism, 80/20 makes you happy, believe us

The negative effects of chronically high cortisol levels on the body:

  • Releases fat. If the fat doesn’t get burned (because there is no fight-or-flight situation), it is temporarily stored in the liver and in the abdominal area --> Fatty liver disease and unnatural fat distribution in the body (belly fat)
  • Breaks down muscles --> muscle weakness, muscle tremors
  • Breaks down bones (which also consist of protein) --> osteoporosis
  • Leads to premature aging --> wrinkles appear, brain cells die earlier
  • Increases blood sugar and leads to insulin resistance in the long term--> diabetes
  • Suppresses good mood -> curmudgeon
  • Causes cravings --> since it is a long-term stress signal, the body wants to provision for bad times
  • Decreases the testosterone level --> reduction of libido (Babe I have migraines)
  • Suppresses the immune system and promotes inflammation --> the susceptibility to infection increases
  • Increases blood sugar and blood fats, plus disrupts the mineral balance --> blood pressure rises

 

How to lower cortisol levels and stress

In everyday life there are many ways to naturally lower your cortisol levels. Read the tips in the article from Egle which is mentioned above, if you want to know more about it.

1) Mindset to lower cortisol levels

Especially the right mindset and your inner attitude towards life is a game changer when dealing with stressful situations and people. Because stress cannot be avoided these days. This is where stress resistance, so-called resilience, comes into play, which can be trained and build up.

What does resilience mean and why do we need it?

Resilience means inner resistance, which enables us to accept challenges, to find new solutions under stress and to grow, to cope with crises and emerge stronger from them. Resilience is a tower of strength and is urgently needed in both private and professional life. For example, in dealing with difficult people, relationship problems, family problems, double burdens, when we must cope with drastic events such as illness, death and other serious losses.

Resilient people accept the fact, that things don’t always happen like they want them to. They focus on the positive and try to discover new opportunities. Every day we can choose the attitude with which we start into the day. Example: someone annoys me, insults me. Either I let myself be hurt emotionally or I choose not to let it hurt me (which then releases much less stress hormones).

The following mental attitudes have helped me a lot to look at everyday life more calmly. I'm less angry, more balanced and have improved my mental strength.

  • Don't worry, live! Don't get angry about little things, look at everyday problems from a bird's eye view. Brooding is usually unrealistic and does not help.
  • Learn to relax.
  • Practice seeing difficult relationships and people as a learning task and an opportunity to grow with them. I often take the other person's perspective.
  • Instead of “Yes, BUT…” it is better to use “Yes, AND…”. The word BUT is a communication barrier.
  • Become a “nonetheless”-person. “Nonetheless”-people get up again despite the crisis and stress, carry on and master the crisis with increased self-confidence and maturity.
  • There is no growth in the comfort zone. Try to get out of your comfort zone as often as possible to grow, gain confidence and increase your resilience.
  • Don't ask people about their success factors, but rather what mistakes they have learned from.
  • Responsibility: Make yourself aware that YOU decide how you react to something. What actually happened? Facts without interpretation.
  • Awareness (e.g. morning and / or evening routine): Practice gratitude and self-reflection: What am I grateful for? What was positive today? What can I improve?

In order to become more relaxed in everyday life, proper nutrition and exercise are also important.

 

2) Diet to lower cortisol levels

Eat food that lowers cortisol and stress or brings the hormonal spectrum back into line:

  • Avoid inflammation-promoting foods (see webinar by Dr. Torsten Albers)
  • Eat all different naturally occurring colors
  • Prefer organic products, eat nutrient dense foods
  • Avoid sugary snacks in between
  • Eat regularly
  • If you do excessive exercises, eat more carbohydrates
  • Eat something before exercising - if necessary
  • Coffee / caffeine only in moderation (max. 2-3 cups per day; depends on your individual caffeine tolerance)
  • Drink a glass of water with salt and lemon juice on an empty stomach (it activates the adrenal cortex in the morning and ensures normal cortisol levels)

 

Vitamins, minerals and supplements:

  • Take magnesium, bis-glycinate has a relaxing effect
  • Vitamin B (e.g. in liver)
  • Vitamin C (in the form of fruits and vegetables)
  • Take adaptogens such as Ashwagandha and Rhodiola Rosea
  • L-theanine
  • Magnolol
  • Glycyrrhizin (licorice root)
  • Quercetin (e.g. in onions and apples)
  • PMFs (Polymethoxylated Flavones - Superflavonoids); i.a. in oranges

3) Lifestyle and training to lower cortisol levels

  • Reduce stress at work and in everyday life -> divide time better, accept less work or work more effectively, plan short breaks
  • Get enough sleep and optimize it, you can learn how in the video of our sleep webinar here.
  • Remove electronic devices from the bedroom
  • Less (excessive) exercise
  • No cardio!
  • high intensity strength training, short and crisp
  • Plan quiet and pleasant hours, such as walks in the woods (Shinrin Yoku)
  • Meditation - meditation also increases the anti-aging activity of telomerase, creates new brain cells and increases alpha waves in the brain (for deep sleep). Try out apps like Headspace or 7Mind. Already 5 minutes are a good start!
  • Yoga and / or reflexive muscle relaxation (see also YouTube videos e.g. from Happy and Fit Yoga)
  • Use devices such as HeartMath and practice coherence
  • Before sleeping, don’t use electrical screens for at least 2 hours. And if so, then with blocked blue light, for example with blue blocker glasses (e.g.from InnovativeEyewear), blue light filters such as f.lux or the night mode function on your computer
  • Make music

 

The longer you practice resilience and consider some of the other factors, the faster you will go through everyday life more relaxed and with lower cortisol levels. If you want to dive deep into the topic of stress and why it´s so important to experience high quality stressors followed by a lot of high quality relaxation in regular intervals throughout your life, these resources are for you:  1) This blogpost series by Julian and Philipp 2) This AURUM webinar on the Stress/Response relationship

So maybe you think you are doing everything right and still can´t lose belly fat. You are obsessing over everything you do. Maybe, just maybe, you should relax and treat yourself for a moment, just to see a counterintuitive breakthrough for your bikini figure efforts.

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