6. How Stress Causes Belly Fat
Stress will usually force the body to store more fat as belly fat. There are 2 reasons for this.
The first is by playing a factor in insulin resistance. Cortisol, the stress hormone, causes a couple of things to happen when it is present. First, cortisol turns down glucose uptake by the muscles, allowing the brain to horde the sugar. Second, cortisol increases the release of free fatty acids from our fat, giving the muscles an alternative fuel.
If you are stressed because you’re about to be eaten by a tiger, this provides your body with a quick source of energy to run away. Most stress doesn’t come in this form today, however, but rather in forms which do not require either a mobile response or an increase in fuel.
(PEERtrainer Tip: When you become aware of your emotions, it really is possible to “let them go.” Make a decision to become aware of them and then release them. If you do this, you win. It takes a little practice, but this works.)
When cortisol runs too high too often, glucose uptake is impaired and the blood can run too high in free fatty acids, which then impair the action of insulin. The end result can be decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased belly fat.
7. Why Stress Puts Fat On Belly In Particular
While stress may possibly play a role in increasing belly fat through insulin sensitivity, the more insidious way and common way which stress influences the production of belly fat is through selective deposition of free fatty acids. Cortisol actively selects for fat to be deposited as belly fat instead of subcutaneous fat!
We are not certain why cortisol has this effect, but a well-regarded theory is that it serves the body well, when stressed, to store its excess energy in a readily available form.
Belly fat is easier to release and burn than subcutaneous fat, so storing excess energy as belly fat favors a quick energy response to stress, allowing us to escape a future stressful situation better. But when the stress is constant, we just keep storing more and more fat in the belly, and since our response to stress is usually not running or climbing, we never give the body the opportunity to burn it back off!
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