Everybody wants to know how to lose that stubborn belly fat. For so many people it seems that no matter how many crunches or HIIT circuits they do, that little bit of fat on their stomach won’t budge. Why is this fat so stubborn and difficult to lose?! If you’re eating right and training hard but can’t lose stomach fat, the answer may lie at a hormonal level. Let me introduce you to a little demon called cortisol…
Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’, and is released in your body in response to different types of stress. Cortisol has an important role to play in regulating the body, but prolonged elevation of cortisol can cause a number of negative effects such as sleep disruption, decreased muscle mass, lowered immune response and an increase in abdominal fat storage… (no thanks!). People who have high stress levels (myself included) and/or put their body under a lot of physical stress are likely to have elevated cortisol, which could result in any or all of the aforementioned problems.
The kinds of stress that causes release of cortisol is probably much broader than what you imagine. Stress can be mental, physical, emotional or chemical. Below I explain the different types of stress on the body and how you can manage them to help reduce your cortisol level.
Physical stress – refers to intense training and/or overtraining (overtraining is training in excess and not recovering adequately). Training at a high intensity is certainly still a good thing, provided you aren’t overtraining. However you can help reduce the spike in cortisol after an intense workout by taking the following supplements within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.
- Vitamin C:
You can get vitamin C through food like oranges, capsicum, berries and dark leafy greens like kale and spinach or you can take it in supplement form.
Glutamine is an amino acid than manages cortisol levels in the muscles. It can be found in foods like cheeses, or taken in supplement form ideally as a post workout to reduce cortisol that is produced in response to a tough training session. Add it to your post workout shake!
- Essential Amino Acids:
Some studies have suggested that taking an essential amino acid supplement (rather than BCAA’s which just contains the branch chain amino acids) after a workout can reduce the negative effects of cortisol and increase protein synthesis. Although I’m not sure how conclusive these studies relating to cortisol are, but taking an EAA shake post workout can improve protein synthesis, glycogen synthesis and muscle recovery so it has a number of positive benefits that should help to counter the negative effects of cortisol regardless.
Mental stress – when you are overwhelmed by tasks such as assignments, exams or work that is causing you to feel pressured or under the pump.
- Sleep more – some studies show that when you sleep for six hours instead of the recommended eight you will have 50% more cortisol in your blood stream. So work out when you need to get to bed to get the eight hours you need and make sure you do it! I also take a melatonin supplement to help me sleep because getting an unbroken nights sleep has long been an issue for me, but for most people it’s just about making sure they get to bed at a reasonable time.
- Meditation – meditation can help you relax and therefore help to reduce your cortisol levels. There are some great guided meditations online if you are new to meditating and want to get started! They talk you through every step and help you to learn how to switch off your mind, which can be difficult for a lot of people.
- Go for a walk or read a book – anything that helps you to relax can have a positive impact on your cortisol levels. Everyone is different, so just indulge in an activity that helps YOU to de-stress!
Emotional stress – There are many causes of emotional stress – sadness, depression, anxiety or relationship breakdowns to name a few.
- More Green Tea, less Coffee!
Green Tea contains L-Theanine, a nutrient that causes relaxation. Although caffeine usually increases cortisol levels, because of the l-theanine in green tea it has been found to actually reduce cortisol! So try switching your coffee for green tea. (Note that I’m still struggling with this one! :P)
- Again meditation, walking, reading or other relaxing activities will be of benefit to anyone who is experiencing emotional stress.
Chemical stress – when your body is exposed to toxins present in both what you’re eating and the environment. Although it’s not completely avoidable given the world we live in, it can certainly be minimized.
- Eat your greens!
Eating lots of green vegetables helps to detoxify your body. You can even get some great “Supergreens” shakes now to increase your intake of greens. Although real food is always the preferred alternative, these shakes can help you make sure you are meeting your nutrient requirements, and you can get some with little to no artificial additives.
- Avoid packaged foods
The less artificial crap you put in your body, the less your body has to work to try and detox from them. Eat a variety of whole foods like meat and vegetables cooked yourself instead of packet options.
- Avoid BPA plastics and microwaving your food in them
Water bottles and Tupperware can leach BPA into your food. Drink from glass water bottles and avoid microwaving your food in plastic – put it in a bowl first!
- Avoid parabens and harsh chemicals on your skin
Switch to natural and/or paraben free products that are more gentle on your body.
- Avoid alcohol
We all know alcohol is toxic to the body, so it’s just an added chemical stress that your body doesn’t need! Cut out or at least try and reduce your alcohol consumption.
Since taking all of the above steps to try and reduce my cortisol I have been able to see a dramatic drop in my abdominal fat storage. I’ve always trained hard and eaten healthy food, but struggled to reduce the fat on my stomach region. Since making an effort to reduce my stress levels and associated elevated cortisol, I finally have some visible abs!
If you feel like you’re doing everything else right but not getting the results you’re after in terms of abdominal fat loss, then give some of the above tips a go – it may just be what your body needs to finally strip that abdominal fat away!
And remember – stress less gorgeous! 🙂