Need to know how to get rid of stress belly fat? Here you’ll discover what actually causes a stressed-out belly and what really works for getting rid of it. Most people wrongly assume that just losing more weight will lose their stress belly fat, but it doesn’t work like this.
A stress belly is the build-up of fat around your midsection caused by excess stress. Elevated stress causes cortisol levels to rise signaling for your body to store excess belly fat.
Stress can cause belly fat by wreaking havoc on your body and fat-burning metabolism. So much so that it can make it nearly impossible to lose your stomach fat.
It’s no secret getting rid of stubborn belly fat can be one of the most troublesome spots on the body. And one of the major reasons for this is stress.
If you’re worried and self-conscious that your belly fat is caused by chronic stress, then this is for you. Weight gain from prolonged stress can be difficult to lose if you don’t relieve the stress that’s causing it.
A potbelly from stress can be frustratingly hard to lose. But once you can correct your out-of-whack hormones and stress levels, you can start getting the results you want.
What Causes Stress Belly?
Many people with stress belly fat might not have even had stomach fat before. Even thinner women can get belly fat caused by stress. One study found otherwise thinner women can still have a pot belly due to high-stress levels.1
This makes it confusing trying to figure out how to get rid of the stress belly. You’d think that more weight loss would be the solution, but it rarely is.
Even though stress plays a major role in the buildup of stubborn belly fat, that doesn’t mean it’s everything. Your diet and exercise (or lack thereof) also significantly impact the visceral fat size in your midsection.
Genetics is also a factor and can predetermine where your body stores excess body fat. For example, those with apple-shaped body genetics tend to have fat distribution to their midsection region, which is also worse for their health.2
As you age, your muscle mass decreases, causing your body fat to increase.3 Having a higher body fat will cause you to quickly store excess fat in places your genetics predisposed to.4 Since many people tend to have weight gain as they age this will also contribute to increases in abdominal fat.5
What a Stress Belly Looks Like
A stressed belly can look different from other types of belly fat, such as a hormonal or menopausal belly. The stomach shape of a stress belly usually contains more upper abdominal fat with some loose hanging fatty skin on the lower part.
But with that said, your stress also can have a hidden role in the build-up of stomach fat. Constant prolonged stress releases the fight-or-flight response hormone called cortisol.6 Cortisol is a well-known stress hormone that your body releases when you feel threatened.7
With this cortisol pumping through your body, you’ll be better adapted to escape an emergency or fight off a threat. Now it’s fine if cortisol is going through your body once in a while, but when it’s constant, it becomes a problem. Cortisol can signal your body to start storing fat in your abdominal area even if you’re skinny.8
Quite a few studies find that chronically stressed-out people have higher amounts of visceral stomach fat.9,10 Those with the highest amount of cortisol in their body have the most stomach fat.
Cushing’s Syndrome affects 3 million people every year. This is a disorder where your body makes too much cortisol over long periods.11 People with Cushing’s Syndrome tend to gain weight around their midsection.12 But once this cortisol was removed, their stomach fat went down.13
Another problem that arises from having stomach fat is it causes an increase in cortisol.14 Having visceral fat creates an unhealthy cycle of constant cortisol that particularly affects women.
Before and After Stress Belly
The good news is you can reduce belly fat caused by prolonged stress and excess cortisol levels. But to do so, you’ll have to relieve stress and eat a balanced diet.
Just because you get rid of stress if your life doesn’t guarantee you’ll lose the abdominal fat. If you’re eating too much, eating bad foods, and not exercising, then all the stress relief in the world isn’t going to get results.
Lowering your cortisol levels will be key to transforming your stress belly. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that you’ll need to get under control. Then just make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, and the visceral fat in your stomach will go away.
When you start reducing stress hormones, you’ll see your belly fat lower within a week. Depending on your level of abdominal fat it could take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months before you get all the results you’re looking for.
How to Lose Your Stress Belly
It’s a bad thing to have chronically elevated cortisol. Even professional athletes and fitness models can develop a stress belly if they always have elevated cortisol.
Those who suffer from anxiety and depression generally have higher amounts of cortisol.15 If you suffer from either of these mental health disorders, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.
But you can use some proven strategies to lower stress, anxiety, and depression. Eating healthier foods plays a big role in the health of your brain.16
Constantly eating bad foods wreaks havoc on your mental biochemistry, promoting anxiety and depression.17 Cut out junk like processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined carbs, excess alcohol, and bad vegetable oils.
Working out and exercising have repeatedly been proven to improve mood.18 Exercise and other physical activity done daily is a smart way to lower your stress, anxiety, and depression.
It might be better to avoid intense exercise since it can temporarily boost cortisol. 19 Also, be sure you’re not overtraining, as this can lead to more cortisol in your body.20
Having excess cortisol in your body can promote belly bloating too.21 This water weight will make your stress belly appear bigger than it is.
And it can hide the results you’re getting, leading to frustration from lack of progress. Those who drastically cut their calories and restrict eating also tend to have higher cortisol.22
I know it’s easier said than done but staying away from stressful situations is key. It’s not always practical, but it can go a long way to lowering your stress and stubborn stomach fat.
What to Eat for Stress Belly
You can eat healthy foods if you’re trying to get rid of a stress belly. Weight gain comes from eating too many calories and foods containing sugar, refined carbs, and seed oils.
Extreme calorie restriction can cause your body to become more stressed. When you restrict your calories too much, it’ll increase cortisol levels.23 Since your goal is to reduce cortisol, you shouldn’t restrict calories too much.
For women, 1200-1500 calories per day is an average ballpark number for weight loss. And for men, 1600-1800 is an average amount for weight loss. Of course, your numbers will probably have to be adjusted to meet your personal requirements.
Eat more protein to improve your body composition and lose abdominal fat. A high-protein diet can make you feel fuller for longer. It can also boost your metabolism and help burn more calories due to its thermic effect.24
Consuming more healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil is part of a balanced diet. Most of us were taught to avoid all fats, but healthy fats are good for you. Just be careful not to eat too much since fats are higher in calories. But be sure to stay away from seed oils.
Most suffering from chronic stress and excess belly fat also have increased blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance makes it even more likely your body develops excess abdominal fat.
Cutting out sugars and refined carbohydrates will play a crucial role in getting rid of stress belly. Elevated blood sugars in your blood will make your body store fat. The less sugar and carbs you’re eating, the less you’ll have them circulating in your bloodstream.
If you have blood sugar control issues or insulin resistance, then try to take a carb controller before eating sugar or carb-rich meals.
Healthy Carb Management for Advanced Metabolic Wellness
- Supports healthy carb metabolism
- Supports healthy blood sugar metabolism
- May help maintain healthy blood sugar levels
- May assist weight management
- Can be used to support ketogenic lifestyle
Stress Belly Workout
Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress.
Extreme high-intensity exercise is probably not a good idea for most stressed people.25 Lower to moderate-intensity exercise can help to relieve tension and fight off stress.
Going for a walk even can help you lose weight. Walking is a great cardiovascular workout and allows you to get some fresh air and sunshine, which can help improve your mood. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help reduce stress levels and improve overall mental health.26
Strength training is also an effective way to improve your body composition. As you burn fat and build muscle with strength training you’ll slim, shape, tone, and tighten your body.
When you work out, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that interact with the brain to reduce stress levels. Not only does it help to burn off some of the nervous energy that can contribute to stress, but it also releases endorphins, which have a natural calming effect.
If you have trouble feeling stressed out all the time, then there are a few methods you can use to alleviate it. Lowering your stress is easier said than done but just trying will go a long way toward helping.
Meditation can sound woo-woo to many people, but I like to think of it as working out for your brain. Meditation has been proven to combat stress levels and associated metabolic syndrome.27
Meditation is beneficial for relieving stress because it promotes relaxation. When you’re relaxed, the body’s parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, slows down the heart rate and respiration, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress hormones like cortisol levels.
One study found those who are the most mindful had significantly less stomach fat.28
Breathing exercises can also lower your stress hormone levels.29 When you start practicing mindful meditation your cortisol levels will also go down along with your stomach fat.
One of the best breathing exercises to relieve stress is the 4-7-8 method. To do this exercise, first exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Next, close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale through your nose for a count of eight. Repeat this cycle four times.
Improving sleep quality is another big factor in lowering stress.30 We all know what it’s like not to get a good night’s sleep. You’re cranky, tired, and irritable the next day.
Bad sleep leads to higher cortisol levels and less self-control.31 Getting a good night’s sleep should be as important as eating healthy and working out.
Try to have a consistent bedtime to train your body’s internal clock that it’s time for sleep. The latest bedtime should be no later than 10 pm to keep in line with your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Caffeine can keep you awake for hours after drinking it, and alcohol disrupts REM sleep, which is crucial for deep, restful sleep.
Wrapping It Up
Lowering the amount of stress in your life is hardly easy. Sometimes it’s as simple as avoiding people and situations that stress you out.
Work stress can affect your autonomic nervous system more than you think. Your stress response can lead to high blood pressure, increased respiratory rate, and even stomach cramps.
More and more people are affected by mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. These mental health disorders directly impact your stress and can contribute to belly fat.
If you’re having a hard time with your mental health, contact a professional. Seeking professional help when needed can be the answer you’re looking for in reducing your overall stress.
The problem with a stress belly is you can never get rid of it despite how much exercise and dieting you do. This can lead to even more frustration and stress from the lack of seeing any results.
Your hormones impact your weight loss, metabolism, and abdominal fat more than people think. But once you’re able to lower your stress, you’ll be on your way to rebalancing your hormones and finally getting rid of that stress belly.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.