Is There a Connection Between the Stress Hormone Cortisol and Belly Fat?

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The Connection Between The Stress Hormone Cortisol And Belly Fat

Did you know that there’s a connection between the stress hormone, cortisol, and belly fat?

Belly fat is the fat hanging over your waistline above a pair of jeans that are too tight. It just isn’t attractive but more importantly it can shorten your lifespan, as visceral fat is the most dangerous type of fat that wraps itself around your internal organs.

Belly fat is much more of a problem than simply how you look.

Excess belly fat has been associated with stress, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. 

When you are suffering from stress, your adrenal glands release epinephrine, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which are the “fight or flight” hormones that cause your body to raise its blood pressure, increase your heart rate, increase blood glucose levels, and cause belly fat. When you are under stress, these hormones go into action.

Norepinephrine influences the body to stop making insulin so that you can have a large amount of quickly acting glucose available. Epinephrine will cause relaxation of the muscles in your intestines and stomach, and can decrease blood flow to your organs.

After the stressor has gone away, your body’s cortisol will tell the body to quit making these hormones and to go back to regularly digesting your food.

Normally, your cortisol levels go up and down during the day, but when you are stressed, the cortisol levels increase and remain there.

When your cortisol levels are elevated, the body resists losing weight. Your body believes that you are suffering from hard times and that you may starve. For this reason, your body holds onto the fat you eat or already have in your body.

Cortisol takes fat from the healthier areas of your body, such as your hips and butt, and moves it to your stomach, which has more receptors for cortisol. The cortisol acts on your body to create belly fat.

This process turns fat that was once peripheral fat and turns it into unhealthy visceral fat, which is the kind of fat that goes around your organs. It increases the insulin levels that, in turn, increase inflammation.

This belly fat then increases the cortisol level because it has a higher concentration of an enzyme that turns inactive cortisol into active cortisol. The more belly fat you have on your body, the more the active cortisol increases. This is another vicious cycle created by belly fat.

Here are some ways you can decrease belly fat:

  • Try to eat more protein. Your body spends a great deal of energy trying to digest protein. This means that if you eat snacks and meals containing protein, you give your metabolism a boost. In addition, protein is digested slowly, which helps you feel fuller for a longer period of time. You are less likely to overeat. In addition, protein is crucial for maintaining healthy muscle tissue, which is your body’s calorie and fat-burning machine. If you eat plenty of protein in your diet, your metabolism will keep going strong. Some good protein options include lentils, peas, beans, tofu, egg whites, fish, lean beef, white turkey, or white chicken.
  • Strength training. Your muscles continue to burn calories even while you are resting. The more you tone your muscles, the more calories you have to burn. For each pound of muscle you put on, you will burn at least 35-50 calories per day. If you are attempting to lose weight, you need to stay focused on your workouts, or on strengthening exercises, like using resistance bands, barbells, free weights, squats, abdominal crunches, and pushups.
  • Eat the entire day. You should never skip meals, believing that the calories you are saving will help you lose weight. The truth is that if you deprive the body of needed calories and necessary nutrients, it will conserve energy and store fat by decreasing your metabolism. This is why crash dieting that restricts your food intake doesn’t work over the long haul. Try to stick with regular mealtimes, and eat snacks and meals that combine fiber and lean protein, often found in many vegetables and fruits. Your best option is to eat a small meal every 3 hours. 
  • Reduce stress. Learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises.
  • Drink green tea. When you drink green tea, you are consuming catechins, which are substances known to increase your metabolism. In a recent research study, people who drank 2-4 cups of green tea on the days they were more active burned more calories than those who didn’t drink green tea. Research also indicates that the catechins found in green tea will help you break down fat.
  • Remain hydrated. Dehydration can result in hunger, leading you to eat more food when all you really need is to drink some water. Drinking water before meals and during meals fills your stomach and maximizes a feeling of fullness, leaving you satisfied without eating too much. Research has shown that when you drink cold water, you may increase your metabolism.

5 Daily Habits of Super Fit People

Photo credit: Kafziel [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Have you ever noticed that some people find it much easier to lead a healthy life and exercise regularly, while others can barely manage to get enough motivation to go for a run once a month. In some cases, certain people will work out every day for a couple of months, only to return to their old sedentary ways and unhealthy eating habits after a certain amount of time.

So, what’s the secret behind being able to exercise and maintain a healthy diet on a regular basis? Here are 5 daily habits of super fit people that will show you what type of mentality is needed for leading a healthy life.

Make It Fun

If exercising feels like something you have to do, then don’t expect to have a lot of motivation to work out in the long run. People who are successful in maintaining a fitness routine always find a way to feel enjoyment and fun when they’re working out and fueling up with nutrient rich foods. Try different activities, such as biking, hiking or a group fitness class, until you find something that peaks your interest.

Learning to cook healthy foods and having friends over to try your meals or exercising with someone close to you is also a great idea, as it will make you look forward to leading a healthy life. Ideally, you should be constantly experimenting and trying new things to stay fit.

Set Short and Long-term Goals

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, setting goals will definitely keep you motivated and on track. However, when it comes to fitness, it’s best to have both short and long-term goals. Short-term goals will allow you to take baby steps towards attainable goals and help ward off frustration, as well as give you the extra time and energy to achieve those long-term goals, such as completing a fitness challenge or losing a significant amount of weight.

This means that you will feel good about yourself sooner, which will without a doubt help you stay motivated to reach your next goal. However, if you constantly need motivation to keep exercising and eating right, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your goals.

Keep Expectations Realistic

You’ve started working out and eating healthy, and you’ve kept up this routine for about three weeks. Great. However, you’re not really seeing any significant changes in your appearance. Well, the thing is that you aren’t really supposed to see any major differences yet, and results are also dependent on your fitness goals. Some people exercise for weight loss while others want improved endurance, energy, or to build muscle. Generally, most beginners will start to see results after the first 6 to 8 weeks of exercise.

While finding the motivation to begin your fitness journey is an essential first step, it doesn’t mean that you will instantly reap the benefits. The key is to make exercise a regular, sustainable and integral part of your life.

To stay motivated, you need to keep your expectations realistic. Don’t expect to have a perfect beach body in less than 2 months.  It might even take you 2 years or longer, but the important thing is to stay consistent and focused with your workouts and good nutrition. Permanent healthy lifestyle changes take time, so don’t expect any quick fixes.  If you put in the effort, you will see results.

Eat In Moderation

Just because you’ve started eating healthy doesn’t mean that you need to eliminate treats completely. The all or nothing approach will not last very long, so allow yourself to splurge on rich food every now and then.

Focus on eating a variety of whole foods and cut down on processed foods which offer very little nutritional value. Build your meals around vegetables, lean protein sources, and fruits.  Choose whole grains instead of processed white starch, avoid added sugars, drink plenty of water and avoid trans fats. The key is portion control and moderation. If you starve yourself or constantly deprive yourself of foods you love, no diet will ever work.

Push Yourself

Fit people don’t just hit the gym regularly; they make sure that every workout they do is better than their last. They do this because that’s the only way that they will see real results. Whenever you push yourself past your comfort zone, you will instantly get that feeling of accomplishment as soon as you’re done with the workout, which will also motivate you to continue exercising.



How to Make Fitness A Permanent Part of Your Life

Photo credit: Linda Bartlett (Photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In order for a fitness routine to become part of daily life, you have to make certain changes in the way you live, the foods you eat, and the activities you are involved in. It’s necessary for the whole family to commit themselves to living healthier and making individual fitness goals that they can both meet and exceed. The majority of people make resolutions to do this every single year, and most of them fall short of meeting this goal. If that’s you, there are a few things you can do to make this transition easier and view fitness as the new normal in your life.

Change your Schedule – make time to workout during the morning hours rather than waiting until after work. Getting in the habit of doing this may be tough at first, especially if you are used to sleeping in. You will find, however, that this routine is easier to stick to because you have no distractions to sway you from working out. Not only will your metabolism get a huge boost, but also, you will have more energy to start the workday. Take a look at your current schedule and see what can be changed. It may be as simple as going to bed a little earlier in order to get a jump-start on the day.

Plan your meals – a true fitness plan would not be complete without eliminating bad eating habits and making healthier choices for you and your family. Working out is a huge component of fitness, but eating the right foods is just as important. One without the other doesn’t work and your plan will most likely fail.

Busy families are tempted to eat out on a regular occurrence mostly because of convenience and ease. Planning your meals a week or two in advance will take away the temptation to do this and will save you some money in the long run. A meal plan should be a compilation of suggestions from the whole family. It’s important to get everyone involved and on the same page in order to ensure success.

Set Goals – Anytime you want to change your life and eliminate bad habits from your daily routine, it’s important to set goals. Have a family meeting and go over what everyone wants and needs to achieve from a new fitness plan. Create some goals that are reachable and some that truly push your limits. Write them down and refer to your goals often. Keep track of your daily activity in a journal or notebook so you are able to see how far you’ve come and how much closer you are to reaching your fitness goals.

The important thing to making fitness a normal part of your life is that you have a plan. You can’t just hope to live healthier and expect it to happen. You must take control of the situation and take small daily steps in the right direction. Refer often to the goals you hope to achieve as a family and be consistent with your actions. Pretty soon a fitness routine and healthier way of life will be second nature.

Having a family, a career, and a hectic schedule leaves little time for a fitness routine. However, the benefits to being physically fit are numerous and should be a priority in any family. Choosing to make fitness a permanent part of your life takes a good amount of willpower, determination, and hard work from everyone. There are many ways you can incorporate fitness to fit your busy schedule. It may take some planning and you might have to be creative at times, just remember to stay active. Making small, positive changes to your daily routine can help rid your family of bad habits and have you on your way to a physically fit life.


Why Can’t I Lose Weight? The Truth About Weight Loss & Exercise


You’ve been exercising regularly but the weight just doesn’t seem to be dropping like you expected. The truth is exercise alone won’t help you lose weight. Exercise is critical to being healthy, but if you want to lose weight  you have to change the way you eat and watch what you eat. Exercise is only part of the equation. You have to create a calorie deficit and exercise to lose weight. Eat fewer calories and exercise more to burn more calories than you eat. Don’t sacrifice nutrition in your quest to lose weight. Cut out the empty calories, such as candy, cookies, chips and soda. Replace those snacks with healthy, low-calorie alternatives including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and whole grains. Trade ice cream for fruit sorbet and drink flavored water instead of soda. Small changes in your diet can make a world of difference in your caloric intake.

You can lose weight by dieting alone, but you may regain the weight unless you exercise. Exercise combined with dietary changes can not only help you lose weight, it also helps you maintain your weight loss. Many times people lose weight only to regain it later. Stay active, exercise regularly and continue to eat a low-fat, reduced calorie diet to keep the weight off. Binge eating can undo weeks of diet and exercise. Exercising a couple of extra minutes won’t burn the calories from 2 donuts or a greasy cheeseburger and fries. People often underestimate the number of calories they consume and overestimate the amount of exercise they get. Keep a food and exercise journal to more accurately measure how much you get of both food and exercise. You might be surprised to learn that you are eating a lot more than you thought and exercising a lot less than you estimated.

Don’t rely on the calorie counter on your treadmill or exercise bike. Calorie counters are fairly accurate, but they can vary from person to person. Exercise machine calorie counters don’t take into account the calories you would burn just by breathing and other bodily functions. So you actually burn fewer additional calories than the display estimates. You need to be physically active as much as possible during the day in addition to regular workouts. To lose weight and to maintain your weight loss, you need to change your lifestyle from sedentary to active in addition to changing your diet. If you need help getting on track and staying on your weight loss plan, a personal trainer may be able to help you.

Sports Drinks or Plain Water?

Photo Credit: saw2th CC-BY-SA-2.0 2007

Is it better to drink plain water or a sports drink when exercising? Water is essential for life. It is critical that you remain hydrated before, during and after exercise.  Minerals, such as potassium, are lost during exercise. Plain water does not contain all the nutrients you use up when exercising, but it is absorbed more rapidly than other drinks. Some sports drinks can provide lost nutrients and electrolytes if you engage in strenuous exercise lasting more than 60 to 90 minutes. A good rule is to drink water or a sports drink before, during and after exercising. Drink about 8 ounces of water or a sports drink every 20 minutes during exercise. 
Plain water is the best way to stay hydrated, because it is absorbed faster than sports drinks. Unlike water, many sports drinks provide carbohydrates for energy and replenish minerals to restore your electrolyte balance. When you sweat, your body loses sodium, potassium and magnesium. Water can re-hydrate your body but not replenish lost minerals. The carbohydrates in some sports drinks can also help to replenish your blood glucose levels for extra energy when you need it. Read the label when choosing a sports drink. Ideally, the carbohydrates in a sports drink should be fructose, sucrose or glucose based. Check the calories in the drink as well. Most sports drinks contain few calories, but if you are counting calories avoid drinks with high-calories.

You can make your own sports drink at home. Mix 1/2 plain water with 1/2 fruit juice for medium intensity exercise. Add 1/3 water to 2/3 fruit juice for more strenuous exercise to replace more lost minerals and for extra glucose for energy. You can mix your favorite juice with water. Natural grape juice, apple juice and orange juice all contain the minerals, vitamins and sugars needed to replenish your lost energy and electrolytes. Avoid using carbonated water and steer clear of juice “drinks.” Most juice drinks contain a small amount of natural juice and are high in sugar and calories. 
For more information about exercise and hydration, see:

WebMD, What To Drink When You Exercise, by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, 2007