If you’ve been working out regularly and watching what you eat, but you STILL can’t seem to get rid of that stubborn belly fat, there may be a “hidden” cause—and it has nothing to do with diet OR exercise.
So, today I want to talk about why it’s so hard for you to get rid of belly fat, explain what could be the hidden cause (most people never consider this), and give you simple and effective ways you combat your stubborn “ab flab”
Alright, let’s dive right in…
The reason stomach fat is so difficult to get rid of is because it’s heavily influenced by your hormones. Don’t get me wrong…your stomach fat isn’t the only area that’s controlled by your hormones, but it happens to be the most sensitive.
So what does this mean?
It means that exercising and eating right may not be enough to get rid of your stubborn belly fat.
And here’s one hormone in particular, that most people don’t even consider…which could be causing you to retain belly fat.
Your cortisol hormone.
Cortisol is your stress hormone. It’s an important hormone that’s essential for human survival. Whenever your body experiences any type of stress (whether it be mental or physical) your body secretes cortisol, which then initiates a cascade of other physiological responses necessary for your body to keep functioning.
You can look at it like an emergency generator. If the main source of electricity goes out in your area from some unforeseen incident, the emergency generator kicks in to give you power until the main source is fixed. But the emergency generator isn’t meant to provide power for the long term. And that’s a lot like your cortisol. Cortisol turns “off” many of the normal physiological mechanisms and turns “on” many temporary physiological mechanisms (the operative word being “temporary”).
In a normal situation, cortisol production only lasts for a short period of time and afterwards, all metabolic functions go back to normal. But this is where things can go wrong, because in many cases these stresses that cause your body to secrete cortisol occur way too often and stay “on” for way too long.
When you’re body experiences constant stress, it continuously secretes cortisol and that’s when cortisol becomes counterproductive to your body. And depending on how long and how much cortisol you have circulating in your body, it can seriously compromise your health and alter your metabolic process causing you to gain stubborn unrelenting belly fat! Researchers at Yale University found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat.
So, if you tend to gain belly fat easily and have a difficult time getting rid of it, there’s a strong likelihood that you’re producing too much cortisol.
Here are 3 questions I want you to ask yourself to see if there’s something other than diet and exercise that may be hindering your progress:
- Are you sleeping enough? (7-9 hours per night) Getting enough quality sleep is the most important thing you can do to minimize stress, optimize your health and help your body to burn more fat! During your sleep, your body utilizes fat as it’s primary source of fuel. So getting enough sleep is key to making sure that your body burns off more fat! If you have a hard time sleeping, try reading a book (non-fiction or self improvement type of books tend to work best). Sleeping in complete darkness also helps you sleep more soundly. Get rid of electrical equipment like phones, computers, TV’s, and radios in your bedroom (or at least switch them off when you go to sleep). Studies have found that the less electrical magnetic field you’re exposed to, the better your mind and body rests.
- Do you feel tired all of the time? If you’re constantly feeling tired, it means you’re not recovering enough. Inadequate recovery means that your body still has cortisol coursing through your body. In situations like this, it’s best to give yourself a break and and let your body rest. Your only going to do your body more disservice by pushing through the fatigue. In fact, you’ll only be increasing your cortisol production and making your belly fat even more difficult to burn off.
- Do you need caffeine in the morning to get going? Caffeine is a stimulant and it actually enhances your cortisol production! Drinking a cup-a-joe is fine if you’re not suffering from chronic fatigue. If you need a stimulant to wake up, you’re definitely not getting enough sleep and/or rest. If you’re getting enough sleep but still have a hard time getting going in the morning without caffeine, try switching to green tea. It has about 1/4 the amount of caffeine than your regular cup of coffee and it also catachins—natural stimulants that helps boost your energy levels and fight fatigue.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, cortisol may be to blame. And if so, the solution is pretty easy…sleep, rest and recover! Improving these three seemingly unrelated (but very important!) factors can help reduce your cortisol, so you can finally start burning fat off your stomach.
And if you feel like you’re already getting enough sleep & rest, here are some simple but effective dietary tips that you can include to further help you reduce cortisol levels in your body:
- Get more spinach in your diet. Spinach has magnesium which help balance your body’s production of cortisol.
- Eat more citrus fruits. Research has shown that citrus fruits like oranges and kiwis have high content of vitamin C, which help slow the production of cortisol.
- Make sure you’re getting enough healthy omega-3 oils in your diet. These healthy fats not only inhibit inflammation, but also help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
- Get some Holy Basil in your diet! This tasty herb is an adaptogen herb, which is a unique class of healing plants that help reduce the production of stress related hormones.
- Research has shown that zinc help inhibit the production of cortisol. Foods high in zinc are seafood (like oysters) and beef. If you don’t eat meat, you can also get zinc from cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.
- If you’re a fan of dark chocolate, you’re in luck! Dark chocolate has high levels of anti-oxidants that help decrease inflammation and slow the secretion of cortisol. One study found that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate per day lowered cortisol levels. Just make sure that it’s at least 70% dark chocolate.
It’s important to keep in mind that your body can’t tell the difference between emotional and physical stress… which is why even exercise is seen as stress. Although exercise is an effective component of weight loss, if you’re doing the wrong kind of exercise, it can actually increase your chronic cortisol levels and cause you to retain stubborn belly fat. Countless studies have concluded that the most effective way to exercise so you can burn fat and get lean WITHOUT increasing your cortisol is short intense workouts. When it comes to boosting your metabolism to increase calorie burn intensity is the KEY… not duration. Keep it short and sweet but always give it your best effort.