How Stress Might Be Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals (+ 5 Ways to Tackle It)

Sooooooo you’re telling me you’re stressed out, anxious, and you’re having little tummy trouble? Stress, anxiety, and belly fat.. what do they have in common?

(I am referring to the extra belly fat you can’t seem to get rid of.)

How Stress Might Be Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals (Plus 5 Ways to Tackle It)

“Hey Nathalia, I have been dieting and consistently following different programs for many years now but can’t seem to get rid of the extra fluff around my stomach. Help!” 

-Taylor, 31 & mom of two

My inbox is flooded with countless messages from women just like Taylor. You’re dieting, you’re exercising, but you still can’t seem to lose that belly! It’s time I address some of my most asked questions.

Let’s jump right to it…

The short answer is a funny little hormone called cortisol. Funny little hormone?!?

Yep, this hormone is released anytime our bodies encounter stress. The amount released is subject to the individual and can only be measured with a blood, urine, or saliva test.

I know what you’re thinking… WTF!!! 

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is one of our body’s steroid hormones and is made within the adrenal glands, often referred to as the “stress hormone” because of its direct response to stress. Most cells within the body have cortisol receptors and secrete cortisol (YIKES!). The hormone is controlled primarily by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. 

What are some side effects of high cortisol?

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Disruption
  • Feeling dissatisfied or overwhelmed
  • Visceral Fat (belly fat)*
  • Emotional eating

*Visceral Fat is known as the “active fat” and is stored in the abdominal cavity. This type of fat influences how our hormones function and surround some of our most vital organs such as the pancreas, liver, and intestines. Excess visceral fat can be detrimental to our health and pose many life-threatening risks, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, raised blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. It is important to keep a trim waistline and active lifestyle to decrease your risk for future health issues.

I recommend a balanced diet of healthy fats, carbs, and an adequate amount of protein along with a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per day. 

Many times the weight gain that comes along with elevated cortisol levels will lead to emotional eating habits, which then becomes a cycle of emotional eating -> weight gain -> emotional eating.

 Emotional eating habits are different depending on the person but in most cases, it’s simply eating out of comfort and in a caloric surplus. Eating prompts the brain to release “feel good” hormones, known as endorphins which cause many of us to use food as an escape from stress. In addition to this, people under a great amount of stress often struggle to prioritize their time for exercise and to monitor their nutrition making weight loss a difficult feat. 

Does cortisol have any other function other than promoting belly fat and negative side effects?!?

Yes, yes it does! Cortisol plays many other important roles in the body such as controlling blood sugar levels, regulating the metabolism, reducing inflammation, and assisting with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance in the body and helps control blood pressure too. In addition to this, cortisol also helps support the developing fetus during pregnancy. All of these functions make cortisol a vital and essential function of the human body!

Don’t curse it too much! We need cortisol, just not in excess!

5 tips to lower cortisol levels AKA tips to reduce stress, anxiety, & belly fat in your life:

  1. Exercise
    1. Head to the gym for a workout
    2. Attend your favorite workout class
    3. Grab some bands and a medicine ball to create a home workout – Try this FREE high-intensity workout I have put together for you- HERE
    4. Take the dogs for a run 
    5. Take the kids to the park and utilize the different heights of the play areas for step-ups, incline push-ups, tricep dips, Bulgarian split lunges and take a jog around the park in between each set 
  2. Yoga
    1. Attend your favorite class or studio
    2. Roll out a mat and create a home yoga session 
  3. Meditation
    1. Close your eyes and ease your mind 
    2. Forget about everything for a few minutes and let your breath and heart rate slow 

  4. Utilize your senses
    1. Chew a piece of sugar-free gum
    2. Light a candle
    3. Step outside into the fresh air 
    4. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
    5. Hold or pet an animal 
    6. Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate 
    7. Have a cup of lemon or fruit tea/drink something refreshing
    8. Squeeze a stress ball
    9. Stretch or roll your head in circles
  5. Music
    1. Create different playlists for different moods (i.e. workout, meditation, yoga, upbeat, etc)
    2. Play music and dance around in your living room/kitchen

There you have it! My top 5 tips to control your stress and belly fat.

I’ve got a free plan that shares even more ways you can banish unwanted belly fat. It’s a special guide, designed with YOU in mind. This guide is my exact workout and meal plan that helped me get a flatter tummy after having two babies. It’s called, ‘How I got 6 Pack Abs after 2 C-Sections’ and you can download your free copy here.

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