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Bemovelive.com Blog features the latest fitness and clean eating advice from John Holley, MS, CSCS. Blogs focus on exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress reduction and getting the most out of your workouts.

STRESS AND BELLY FAT

John Holley

You know what stress can do to your health. Stress raises your blood pressure, lowers your immunity and decreases your performance in every day tasks. Over time, chronic stress makes everything less enjoyable. Now don’t get stressed out, but stress can also make you fat.

When you are under stress, your body produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline “burns” quick and works with the sugar in your blood so you can fight or flee. Cortisol fuels the fire longer and tells your body to pump more sugar into your blood, so you have the energy needed to pull the deer back to camp or run away from the mountain lion. (Remember, our bodies are the same as they were thousands of years ago, when we did hunt and run to survive.) In contemporary terms, cortisol helps you click and drag the sales report before you run out of the office to take the kids to soccer practice. Of course, without the burst of physical activity, you don’t use the extra blood sugar. Guess what happens next.

A recent Yale University study found the more stress study participants experienced, the higher the levels of cortisol were in their body. Higher levels of cortisol correlated with higher body fat levels. To make matters worse, the fat was primarily stored in their bellies.

So, you’re stressed about work, you are playing chauffer to the kids, trying to find quality time with your spouse, and on top of that is your belly fat! Then you turn to rocky road or cheese fries to try to feel better. This is the natural response, according to a University of California, San Francisco study, which found a connection in rats between stress levels and pleasure seeking. In other words, you don’t want to feel bad, so you hit the drive thru.

Not so fast…Before you say, “supersize me,” in an attempt to temper the day’s angst, consider what happens when you gulp down another meal in a box. Fast food (really, restaurant food in general) increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes and heart disease and the list goes on…This is because these foods are loaded with fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates and mysterious additives you can’t pronounce with a doctorate in chemistry. Also, even a “normal” portion in a restaurant meal will be several servings, most of which goes straight to your belly.

In short, you’re exchanging short-term pleasure for long-term weight gain and the stress remains. The only real answer is to reduce the stress in your life. I’m not saying you need to quit your job, join an ashram and chant all day, but here are a few ideas you may incorporate in your life to improve your sense of peace and well-being:

1.     A good night’s sleep will not only change your outlook, but will give you the energy to face your challenges in a positive manner. As it pertains to fat loss, hormones released during deep sleep keep your metabolism higher.

2.     Deep breathing as part of a meditation or, maybe, during exercise provides your body with oxygen for your cells and has a calming effect. Simply sitting still for five minutes and focusing on your breath does the trick.

3.     Daily exercise provides a variety of benefits. You lower your levels of cortisol, you burn fat and breaking a sweat is a great stress reducer.

4.     A spiritual practice of your choosing has been shown to significantly lower stress levels. The simple understanding there is something greater than yourself gives perspective to your challenges.

5.     Talking to a friend, counselor or advisor gives you the chance to see things from another perspective. Even if they do not say a word, sharing your burden with another can lighten your load. Maybe you can return the favor sometime.

In the end, your response to any situation is a choice. You can choose to engage in old ways of being, but that is what brought you to this point, isn’t it? Why not try something different this time and reduce the stress in your life.