Tuesday, February 23, 2010
More Reasons to Whittle Your Middle
I think we can all agree that "muffin tops" — the fat hanging over the waist of a too tight pair of pants — and beer bellies aren't attractive. Still, when it comes to excess belly fat, the situation is more serious than how you look. Excess belly fat has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and stress.
When you have stress, your body releases certain "fight-or-flight" stress hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands: cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine. When you first get stressed, these hormones kick into gear. Norepinephrine tells your body to stop producing insulin so that you can have plenty of fast-acting blood glucose ready. Epinephrine will relax the muscles in your stomach and intestines and decrease blood flow to these organs. Once the stressor has passed, cortisol tells the body to stop producing these hormones and to go back to digesting regularly. It's normal for your cortisol levels to go up and down throughout the day, but when you are chronically stressed your cortisol level goes up — and stays there.
When your stress and cortisol levels are high, the body actually resists weight loss. Your body thinks times are hard and you might starve, so it hoards the fat you eat or have present on your body. Cortisol tends to take fat from healthier areas, like your butt and hips, and move it to your abdomen which has more cortisol receptors. Hello ab flab! In the process, it turns once–healthy peripheral fat into unhealthy visceral fat (the fat in your abdomen that surrounds your organs) that increases inflammation and insulin resistance in the body. This belly fat then leads to more cortisol because it has higher concentrations of an enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol. The more belly fat you have, the more active cortisol will be converted by these enzymes — yet another vicious cycle created by visceral fat.
So what if you have belly fat? Lose weight by following the best nutrition and lifestyle strategies that support you in times of stress, like the ones in my program. When you limit your caffeine to 200 milligrams a day, avoid simple carbs, processed foods, and refined grains, and get plenty of high-quality protein, in addition to de-stressing yourself, you'll automatically help your body keep your stress hormones, especially cortisol, lower. It's a day by day choice you'll have to make, but the results will be worth. Think how good it will be when you are as healthy on the inside as you look on the outside.