Are you having a hard time getting rid of fat around the midsection? Does it seem like no matter what you do, the stomach is where your body stores fat? Is there anything you can do about it?
We are all genetically predisposed to store fat in different areas of the body and most of us can be classified as one of two fruits: an apple or a pear. Apples have a tendency to store fat in the upper body, whereas pears tend to hold fat in the lower body. In addition to genetics, stress also plays a critical role in where the body stores fat.
When we are exposed to stress our body releases many stress hormones as part of the fight or flight response, which are designed to help us to respond appropriately: by fighting or fleeing. What two things do fighting and fleeing have in common? Intense physical activity. When we get intense physical activity our body burns off the stress hormones and releases what are referred to as the “bliss molecules” – endorphins – which restore balance and give us a sense of calm, decrease our sensations of pain and increase immunity. (You can read my earlier article on this topic here.)
One of the stress hormones released is cortisol, and excess amounts of it stimulate the body to deposit more fat around the midsection. Here’s how it works…
The stress hormones do an important job in the body – they’re actually part of a wonderful adaptation response that allows our bodies to respond appropriately to stress, which is to fight or flee. It’s only when we don’t “play out” the entire stress response by getting this intense physical activity that stress hormones can be detrimental.
Fighting and fleeing require a lot of energy, so the stress hormone cortisol’s first job is to “restock the shelves” so to speak by making us hungry. We need to replace the lost energy. Some of the most energy rich nutrients are sugar and fat. So guess what you crave when you’re stressed out? That’s right: Ben & Jerry’s, french fries, chocolate, chips, a #3 with cheese….
And what are the “shelves” that need restocking? The fat cells. Fat is stored energy, and way back when we had to hunt and gather food, it was great that we could store energy on the body in times of less food. The fat cells around the midsection are more sensitive to cortisol, so more energy is stored in those cells. Excess fat is also a stress on the body, creating a ‘stress feedback loop’. In addition, cortisol also lays down fat deposits in the blood vessel walls, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
So when we’re stressed, we’re hungrier, we typically eat higher fat, higher sugar foods, and tend to store more of it around the waist.
What can you do? In addition to a healthy diet, get physical activity! Exercise decreases appetite and can burn off the stress hormones (such as cortisol) and reduce body fat. I’ve designed PowerHouse Hit the Deck™ to work with the body’s stress response – short bursts of intense physical activity (just like the fight or flight response) to burn off the stress hormones and to release the bliss molecules.
Getting rid of excess cortisol reduces the chance that your body will store excessive amounts of fat around the midsection and short bursts of physical activity (also known as interval training) burn up to 36% more fat! (Journal of Applied Physiology, May 07) Not only will PowerHouse Hit the Deck™ help you burn off the stress hormones, it will also help you to reduce body fat.
To have Jenny Evans, B.S., C.P.T., C.F.T. come and speak to your group or organization on stress, productivity, performance and health, contact her here.