Is Stress Making Your Belly Fat?

Do You Want a Stronger, Leaner Body?  The Body Makeover Coach


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Posted by Adelaide


Adelaide Brooks is a Certified Personal Trainer and Life Coach with a Degree in Sports and Exercise Science and a Masters in Psychology.  She has over 20 years experience as a trainer in the medical, pharmaceutical and fitness industry. 


If you would like to book a body transformation training session with Adelaide please take a look at the services page.  

If you are suffering from chronic stress, the answer is probably YES and it’s because of the effect that the stress hormone 'Cortisol' has on your body.  


Now, cortisol is not the villain here, it’s just that too much cortisol over long periods of time causes a cascade of health problems and with many of today’s pressures, chronic stress can cause cortisol levels to remain high. 

Whether the trigger is work stress such as being unhappy in your job, job loss, job pressures, or life stressors such as divorce, separation, death of a loved one, sickness or excess worrying, your body cannot tell the difference between missing a work deadline or being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger and its reaction to stress is always the same and that is to put your body into a flight or fight mode.

Overeating or Binge Eating

Stress can make you not want to eat but cortisol will trigger your body to re-fuel by increasing your appetite, making you feel hungry all the time, particularly for high calorie foods that are easy to convert into fuel namely carbohydrates (which gets converted into glucose) and you guessed it high fat foods.   

You may find yourself in a vicious circle of overeating sweet foods, chocolates, cakes, bread, drinking too much alcohol, using caffeine coffee/tea just to get past the slump and through the day, being more sedentary by watching way too much TV and smoking in order to cope.  You may also feel helpless and/or depressed during this time.


Way Forward

Address the stress and find ways to alleviate some of the key stress triggers.  Find the right exercise training program for you, proper nutrition, get a good night’s sleep, meditate, take up Yoga/Pilates, walking and breath-work, talking about your stress with friends, Psychotherapy and/or counselling all help to reduce cortisol levels, relieve stress and have a positive impact on your body weight, mind and well-being.  


Give yourself about three months to start seeing a shift in body weight as you may have been in flight or flee mode for so long that its takes time for the body to get the message that it’s safe to lose the fat stores. 

To find out how stressed you are you can take the BBC Stress test at or check out the NHS Mood Self-Assessment quiz at both give further advice on how to help tackle your stress but if you are struggling to cope with your stress do speak to your GP.   

For the right exercise training program, I have a range of workouts suitable for man and women of all abilities and provide nutritional support.   You can check out my page at Slim, Strong and Sculpt if you need a little extra help and support.

The Science Bit

Initially it does this by increasing your adrenaline levels so you’re alert and ready for action and by increasing your cortisol levels which pumps fat and glucose (blood sugar) into your blood stream to fuel this fight or flight response, but unless we do something physical or combat the stress, all this unused fat and sugar eventually gets re-deposited and stored as fat.   Abdominal fat has four times the number of receptors for cortisol, so the fat around our tummy is calling out for cortisol, effectively encouraging your body to store more fat around the waist, increasing your waistline.  

The increased sugar circulating around your bloodstream will also trigger the pancreas to release insulin – a hormone that promotes fat storage.  Abdominal fat (known as visceral fat) isn’t dormant, its metabolically active and releases compounds (inflammatory cytokines) that not only cause low grade inflammation in the body which leads to further fat storage but these compounds prevent insulin from doing its job of removing glucose from the blood stream, which is a key factor in being insulin resistant and can increase the risk of developing Type-II Diabetes later on.

In fact, continued high levels of cortisol and insulin in the blood stream signal your fat cells to not only store as much fat as they can, but to hold onto these stores by slowing down your metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn at rest.


High cortisol levels will also encourage muscle loss as the body begins to break down muscle amino acids or convert proteins (that would have been used for muscle growth) to glucose to use for fuel instead as well as decrease the levels of other hormones in the body such as testosterone, DHEA, Growth Hormone, IGF-1 and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) all of which promote muscle growth and help combat fat storage.