What you may not realise is that chronic stress is the primary cause of belly fat gain. It works like this: Anytime you experience a threat your body releases the hormone cortisol which releases energy from your cells in the liver, fat and muscles to make sure your body has what it needs to get you through the stressful situation. In the short term this is great as if you are in danger the body goes into flight or fight mode and the fast release of energy is what will power you through. Clever!
Unfortunately long term stress and high levels of cortisol released into the body lead to a series of changes in the body that make you gain belly fat. Belly fat acts as an endocrine organ (a tissue that secrets hormones that regulate growth and repair) which release inflammatory compounds that do damage to cells raising your risk of heart disease, diabetes and other such illnesses.
Here is a formula for you: (Fat + Sugar/Starch) X Stress = fat belly
I hear you ask, what can I do about it? If you do find yourself constantly stressed and just can’t shift that belly fat no matter how hard you work in the studio then maybe it’s time to try a slightly different approach.
Follow a 3:2:1 exercise program to keep from over stressing through exercise. 3 R & R workouts per week (these lower cortisol and will help re-balance your hormone levels). 2 Semi-Private workouts per week (these help regulate hormones and use testosterone for muscle building not belly fat storing). 1 hour of leisure walking (not power walking) on the other spare days. Leisure walking is the best exercise for those with stubborn belly fat.
What are R&R workouts? They last preferably an hour and include a massage, spa time, sauna therapy, hot baths, sex/physical affection, time with pets, leisure walking (not power walking), restorative yoga (not power yoga), tai chi, naps, meditation, etc.
What is leisure walking? A slow walk – 3.0 or less on a treadmill. It should feel relaxing and give you time to take in the scenery which lowers cortisol further.
Don’t go too low calorie, too low carb, or too low fat. Any type of short, extreme, or continuous chronic dieting is a stress. Don’t do it. Find balance in your nutrition. Here is one useful thing to study: The Carbohydrate Tipping Point.
You may want to avoid other more “stressful” approaches to body change. Many do well on things like very low carb, intermittent fasting, or other approaches.
Prioritize sleep. You will have to make a choice whether your late night TV habit is more important than a flat tummy because sleep deprivation is a huge issue for belly fat. If you can’t sleep then nap. If you can’t nap then meditate. If you can’t do any of that, then simplify your life so you can. Stress management has to be made a priority.
Don’t eat less and exercise more. A better approach is to either eat less and exercise less, OR eat more and exercise more (both can also create the environment for fat loss: a caloric deficit and hormonal balance). You will likely find the best results with an eat less, exercise less approach. That means the 3:2:1 workout schedule described above.
I hesitate to give a nutrition plan to follow because you will likely follow it to a T and forget that it is not about following a diet, it is about creating the diet perfect for you. But I will do it anyway.
Start with a 3:2:1 diet approach to go along with your 3:2:1 workout approach. 3 meals per day. 2 protein shakes and 1 cheat meal a week. This is a super simple formula to follow. This will assure a low calorie diet, with plenty of protein and a balanced hormonal state.
Just make sure the meals have high protein & fibre above all else (they keep you full and keep you from losing muscle). Of course, real food is ALWAYS preferred over protein shakes, but high stressed individuals need to prioritize simplicity and convenience at all times. Hydration is also a huge part, the body will not burn fat without it as fat is water soluble. You should drink 0.033 of a litre of water per day for every kilogram of bodyweight. If you weigh 65kg, that is 65 * 0.033 = 2.145 litres of water. For every glass of coffee or tea you consume, you need to have an extra glass of water, as caffeine will dehydrate you.
One final trick. Stress is a very tricky thing and can be wreaking havoc on your metabolism without you knowing it. There are a few supplements that have been shown to help the hypothalamus/pituitary control centre resist stress. These include curcumin which acts as an anti-inflammatory to relive joint pain and stiffness which is a symptom of high cortisol levels, krill oil (as it contains phospholipids this acts as a protection for your cells to keep them in homeostasis), and rhodiola which helps to reduce fatigue and regulate energy levels.