So, you know when you hear about how stress is bad for you?
Do you take that seriously? Or do you kind of blow it off?
I know that I used to blow it off, saying things like, “It’s just stress.”
However, I have come to realize over the past 10 years that saying “It’s just stress” is akin to saying “It’s just a mack truck hitting you.” There is no “just” about it!
Let’s cut straight to the chase.
Chronic Stress is Bad, Bad, Bad
Short bursts of stress are relatively harmless to our health, and some stress, like exercise in moderation, is actually good for us.
Chronic stress is bad, bad, bad for us.
The stress response initiates a cascade of complex, multi-system activity in the body including shunting blood and resources away from our GI tract, immune system, and reproductive hormones, suppressing thyroid function, raising our blood pressure(1), and reducing our capacity for impulse control(2).
That might be okay if that happens for 5 minutes.
But let’s face it, most of us have chronic stress.
When this happens, guess what? Your body is in crisis mode.
Some of the results of chronic stress will be: increased fat in your midsection, reduced levels of thyroid hormones, bone loss, compromised immune function, higher blood sugar, increased risk for dementia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer(1)……need I go on?
In terms of belly fat, it is clear that chronic stress will do us in.
High levels of stress, chronic stress, and even the increased perception to stress or lack of the ability to respond normally to stress all have been shown to cause belly fat (aka visceral adiposity)(3,4,5).
So……if you want to get rid of your belly fat you have to reduce your stress, or more accurately, you have to have good stress management.
Stress management includes reducing the sources of stress in your life AND calming down the physical responses to stress in your body.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to quit your job.
But I am going to tell you that you need to take time for yourself to relax, unwind, and mentally separate from your job or commute or whatever else is causing you stress.
This means, taking time every day to do something you enjoy, taking at least 1 full day a week for doing what you enjoy, getting a full night’s sleep, and taking vacations at least twice a year.
On top of that, there is a whole world out there of dealing with self-induced stress.
You know, when you are worried about someone else’s business? Like what college your kid will get into, what others will think about you, trouble saying “no” to people, what your neighbor thinks about your yard, etc
For this, I recommend a great book called, “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie. Katie says there are 3 types of business; your business, other people’s business, and god’s business (you can replace god with any force outside of our control).
Katie says we get stressed when we are focused on any business except our own business.
There is some deep truth in those words.
I strongly urge you to read her book, it gives step-by-step instructions on how to focus on your own business and not the business that you can’t control.
I have found that focusing on being present, really here in the moment, helps tremendously to focus on just my own business.
The other thing you can do to manage stress is of course to meditate!
Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to reduce stress markers such as cortisol, inflammatory markers, blood pressure, and heart rate, and to balance immune function(6).
A heavily studied form of meditation called Kirtan Kriya, which involves chanting the same sounds over and over and touching your fingers to each other in a specific way, has been shown to reduce the risk for dementia when done for only 12 minutes a day(7).
That is just .01% of your waking hours!
What do you think? Maybe it’s worth it to spend a small percentage of your day doing something that will help prevent belly fat, metabolic syndrome, dementia, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc(7)?
Anecdotally, I’ve worked with many women that were doing everything “right” but still couldn’t lose weight. They were eating well and exercising regularly but they were not managing their stress. I have seen it over and over again.
So, PLEASE, do not ignore stress as THE potential factor that is blocking belly fat loss or weight loss!
By practicing self-care, keeping to your own business, being mindful, and meditating daily, you may actually make progress!
Stress, Endocrine Physiology and Pathophysiology . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278995/
Neurobehavioral Inhibition of Reward‐driven Feeding: Implications for Dieting and Obesity https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2008.638#b25
Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11020091
Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16353426
The role of stress and the hypothalamic ± pituitary ± adrenal axis in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome: neuro-endocrine and target tissue-related causes . https://www.nature.com/articles/0801278.pdf?origin=ppub
Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28863392
Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923750/