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Cortisol Belly: The Connection Between Stress And Weight Gain

Posted by Kelsey Juntwait on

Stress is an inevitable part of our daily lives, and let's be honest, it can be a real pain in the gut — literally! We've all experienced that bloated, uncomfortable feeling that seems to come out of nowhere and sticks around for way too long. But did you know that stress can actually cause your body to store fat around your midsection? That's right, your cortisol levels (a hormone released during stress) can wreak havoc on your waistline, and can lead to the development of a “cortisol belly.”

Understanding Cortisol Levels and Weight Gain

While cortisol can be helpful in small doses, cortisol can also become a real pain in the "cortisol belly", causing weight gain and other health issues when levels are elevated due to stress. So, while we may feel like we're being productive by staying up all night to finish a project or cramming for a work presentation or even just to get our household chores done, our bodies may be telling us otherwise.

Here’s the science behind it:

When cortisol levels are high, our bodies are signaled that either a threat is near or we're in a stressful situation. So high cortisol levels, especially over a long period of time, forces our body to switch into "survival mode" — so it can prepare our physical body and emotional wellbeing for a survival situation.

Because of this, we're more likely to have an increase in appetite, making us eat more. And we also have the heightened ability to retain fat, especially in our midsection.

In the short term, these effects can help us to cope with stressful situations. But in the long term, they can lead to health issues like unwanted weight gain and the inability to lose weight, as well as the increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

So while cortisol can make people gain weight quite easily, cortisol can also make it difficult to lose weight as well.

Similar to how energy in the form of visceral fat is constantly being stored in the abdomen for your body to live in “survival mode” (making you gain more weight when stressed…), that stored energy in the form of visceral fat also becomes incredibly hard to get rid of (because you’re body is still preparing to live in “survival mode.”)

So essentially, initial high cortisol levels create the cortisol belly, but long-term high cortisol levels maintain that cortisol belly.

Hence why it’s so important to learn how to de-stress your day-to-day life.

For those specifically looking to shed their infamous "cortisol belly," implementing stress-reducing techniques into their weight loss journey is a crucial — yet often overseen — step.

Identifying Signs of Stress

Since weight loss and stress are two things that often go hand-in-hand, identifying where your stress is coming from in your life is important to taking charge of your weight loss journey.

Of course, weight loss isn't the only symptom of stress — there are plenty of others, like headaches, insomnia, and even skin problems. But for some reason, we tend to focus on our weight more than anything else. So being able to recognize other symptoms of stress becomes critical too.

Here are some other signs of long-term stress and increased cortisol levels:

  1. Acne
  2. Skin that easily brusies
  3. Flushed face
  4. Weak muscles
  5. Headaches
  6. Digestive issues

Strategies for Lowering Cortisol Levels

Of course, ridding your daily life of chronic stress is the most ideal way to lower your cortisol levels. A few tips to achieve this are:

Weight loss and stress are two topics that often go hand-in-hand. When we're stressed, we tend to turn to comfort foods and neglect exercise, leading to weight gain. But there's also one strategy that can help jumpstart the re-balancing of your hormonal levels (and the decrease of cortisol in your blood) — exercise. And not just any kind of exercise (although any and all exercises have a variety of benefits), but somatic exercise to be specific.

Somatic exercise is a form of movement that emphasizes body awareness and sensory experience, helping to moderate the body's response to stressors. Engaging in this kind of activity can help to reduce physical tension, increase relaxation, and lower cortisol levels. Somatic movement practices can be especially useful for individuals who struggle with chronic stress, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders. By incorporating somatic exercise into one's wellness routine, it is possible to improve overall health and well-being while managing cortisol levels.

All in all, if you're looking to shed that cortisol belly and lead a healthier life, managing your stress levels is of utmost importance. And the best way to do that is by taking care of your mind while also moving your body in a healing way with doing somatic exercises.

Reaping the Benefits of a Stress-Free Life After Starting A Somatic Exercise Program

Not only does lowering your stress (and cortisol levels) help with your weight loss journey, it also introduces you to an entirely new way of living.

Here are the benefits you’ll see in just a few short weeks after starting a somatic exercise program:

  • Heal your chronic inflammation 
  • Balance your hormones
  • Relieve your sciatica 
  • Get rid of chronic back pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, and neck pain
  • Stop you from clenching your jaw at night
  • Allow your hips to stop popping all day long
  • Get you into a normal sleeping routine
  • Curing your gut and digestive issues
  • Treat your daily headaches
  • Clear your brain fog
  • & so much more...

Simply put, somatic exercises are gentle movements that connect your physical body to your emotional body. These movements can be done by anyone and can also be done anywhere. With no equipment necessary and no limitations to how much exertion you can handle, somatic exercises are the answer to so many problems

Starting a daily practice of somatic exercises will treat the root cause of your problems and ailments by treating the area of your body where your trauma is being stored.