Most of us are generally happy with the state of our bodies, particularly when they’re hidden under clothes. Our arms aren’t bad (although maybe seeing a bit more muscle definition wouldn’t hurt) and our legs look reasonable good. The one area that somehow seems like the last to respond to all our exercising and nutrition changes is the belly. It’s usually the first place that we notice getting a little “chunkier” when we go a bit off the rails. It’s also the area that even very fit and lean people often struggle with.
Well, it’s often hormonal.
Men can suffer more with belly fat than women. Male hormones like testosterone tend to store excess fat in the stomach area while female hormones like estrogen and progesterone store excess fat in the hips and thighs. That’s not to say that men have it much harder when it comes to fat loss. Since most men have higher levels of muscle and overall body size they’re able to stay leaner with less effort. And don’t forget that testosterone is a muscle-building and fat-burning hormone.
But there’s another hormone that’s most relevant to belly fat and that’s CORTISOL.
Cortisol is commonly called the “stress hormone”, but as with most things it’s not all bad.
Like all hormones, the key element is BALANCE. If cortisol gets too low, you’ll be lethargic all the time. You want your cortisol levels to be high in the morning and when you’re exercising because it gives you energy. If cortisol is chronically high, you can end up anxious and “stressed out”. Chronically high cortisol levels will eventually lead to fatigue as they interfere with sleep and recovery.
That’s the state that many of us are in. We’re overworked, with not enough quality relaxation time where we’re just living in the moment and enjoying ourselves without being “plugged in” to our electronic devices. And these high levels of stress that your body faces keep your cortisol levels elevated, which causes your body to store more fat in the abdominal area.
“Ok great, Ivana, I’ll just give up my job to meditate in a monastery for a few months and then I’ll reduce my belly fat.”
Stress isn’t an easy problem to fix, I’ll admit.
And to be clear, belly fat doesn’t always mean that your levels of cortisol are chronically high.
You may just be eating too much (and the wrong type of food) and not exercising enough, or the right way.
But if you’re lean all over and can’t shrink that stubborn belly fat, then stress is an area to look at.
We all have some stress, but the key is finding a way to manage it.
Getting more sleep is the best place to start.
Meditating regularly (even if it’s just 10 minutes a day) can be really helpful if you give it an honest effort (a few weeks). Mostly it’s about getting the balance right in your life, between nutrition, exercise, and relaxation.
If you’re carrying a bit too much fat around your belly, there’s something in your life that needs to be addressed. So work to get yourself back on an even keel.
If you’re not motivated enough by the physical appearance benefits of having a flat stomach, consider that belly fat is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Abdominal obesity, which is a combination of subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral (around the organs) fat, can significantly increase your risk of heart disease, diabetic symptoms, and perhaps even some forms of cancer.
So get working on trimming that stomach, with the right nutrition plan, exercise program, and stress management techniques.
Because even if you don’t care about having sexy six-pack abs, I’m fairly sure you want to live a long and healthy life.