How To Banish Stubborn Belly Fat

Does this fat loss scenario ring a bell?

You exercise. Eat healthily. Lose weight. Plateau.

Then you ...

Exercise more. Reduce kcals more. But zilch happens.

At this point, the whole rig ma roll of calories in versus calories out simply isn’t enough huh? Once you’ve hit a plateau, losing fat becomes a game of managing hormones. Diet and exercise are important but do not underestimate the sheer freakin power of hormones. They can crush your general health and physique. So educate yourself, treat them with respect and get strategic with your gameplan.

Another little thing you might not know is certain hormones determine where you store fat. This is why problem areas exist. So in this 3 part blog series we’re covering three common problem areas and the villain hormone behind each ...

  • Belly fat – cortisol
  • Love handles – insulin
  • Lower body fat – estrogen

First up is cortisol. It’s a pretty important topic as cortisol is linked to stress. And who isn’t stressed these days? But first a little science and facts on this hormone. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’ as levels rise during times of stress whether physical, mental or emotional.

The function of cortisol is to:

  • regulate blood pressure
  • manage cardiovascular functions
  • regulate your body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
  • assist in glucose metabolism
  • trigger insulin release for blood sugar maintenance
  • help you cope with stress and trauma (often referred to as the fight or flight response)
  • increases your energy and metabolism (when cortisol levels are normal)

The general pattern for most healthy adults is when we rise first thing in the morning our cortisol levels are higher and then in the evening they are much lower. The problem arises when cortisol levels elevate and remain elevated over long periods. The hormone takes on a ‘catabolic’ effect and for those of us trying to gain muscle this is disastrous. You end up with cortisol working against testosterone which is a muscle building hormone. Catabolic means to essentially ‘break down’ and we always want to remain ‘anabolic’ which means to ‘build up'. And remember losing lean body mass slows the metabolism and leads to weight gain.

Other side effects of prolonged high levels of cortisol are:

  • suppression of thyroid function
  • cognitive impairment
  • increased blood pressure
  • decreased bone density leading eventually to osteoporosis
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • lowered immunity
  • toxicity to the brain cells
  • short-term memory loss
  • over the long term it can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • belly fat

I want to touch a bit more on point 10 above. Research has shown that chronic long-term high levels of cortisol increase people’s abdominal fat. And trust me a fat tummy is going to make you feel even more stressed. So if you are like me and are trying to build and maintain your hard earned muscle and lean physique you’ll want to know what triggers high cortisol levels such as:

  • arguments
  • too much exercise
  • illness
  • work related stress
  • being stuck in traffic
  • financial worries
  • relationship issues

Your goal is to suppress cortisol as much as possible. Managing cortisol won’t play as big a part in lean muscle gains as diet and exercise do. But it does affect your general health and is part of the bigger picture and therefore something you need to consider. So how do you manage this? I am a big advocate of self-help techniques as opposed to popping pills. Somewhere you need to factor into your day ‘cortisol reduction time’ i.e. chill out time. Easier said than done I know, but you need to make sure stress does not get the better of you. I find the following questions useful to ask myself. It helps put things in perspective. What’s the worst that can happen? Is this worth what it’s ‘costing’ me?

Try as best you can to remain calm and positive. Do what works for you whether it’s meditation, exercise, rest, chatting a problem through with a good friend and so on. Yoga is also great. A big part of yoga is using the breath and learning to breathe properly. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of breathing deeply and slowly. It works, de-stresses you and slows down your internal rhythm.

Exercise will also massively help. But not any old exercise. Let me explaineth. Remember exercise is a form of physical stress on the body. So your body will produce cortisol during exercise. Sucks I know! It especially does this during long extended cardio and lifting sessions. This is why many long distance runners look skinny fat. Their cortisol levels remain elevated. Yes, they will look skinny, but their fat levels remain elevated. So what you need are short training sessions that are intense. This will help counteract the effects of cortisol, so you maintain muscle and melt body fat.

What techniques do you use to remain centred and minimise stress? As always, I would love to hear from you. And remember, if you enjoyed this blog, please be social and share.

Love Alexandra x

P.S. Part 2 on love handles and insulin will be released soon. Stay tuned kiddo!