Is it possible to target belly fat?
I’m trying to get a flat stomach for summer but no matter how hard I try I can’t lose the last little bit of belly weight. Is it possible to lose weight from your stomach region, specifically?
Each hormone lays down a specific pattern of body fat around different areas of the body. Our mid section has been linked to our cortisol levels – our long-term stress hormone and also to insulin resistance.
When our body perceives that there is something to be stressed about, it signals to the body to make adrenaline. This historically short-term stress hormone prepares our body to fight or flee from an attack. Since survival is its main game, the body also diverts blood supply away from processes such as digestion to the muscles and causes the body to use glucose, not body fat as its fuel.
In today’s world, the stress that our body perceives from our lives is more often the result of something like deadlines, an overwhelming inbox, relationship worries or financial concerns. These kinds of stressors don’t tend to subside quickly, so if we don’t do anything to counteract it, our body can be relentlessly churning out adrenaline.
With prolonged adrenalin output comes inflammation so when stress becomes long term, the body starts to make cortisol which, among other things acts as an anti-inflammatory as well as beginning to break down our muscles for energy. Having less muscle subsequently slows down metabolism.
Cortisol, due to an ancient link to events such as famines and droughts, perceives that there is a lack of food in the world and so signals to your body to start storing fat instead of burning it – since a storage of energy means our survival will be prolonged if the food shortage continues.
For us, with little or no knowledge of this internal process, we look down at our softening bellies and think ‘‘I have to go on a diet!’’ and/or ‘‘I need to start training harder!’’ Both of these things have the propensity to continue the production of cortisol since a reduction in food consumption confirms to the body that there is a food shortage and intense exercise adds additional stress.
The best way to address this pattern of fat storage is to address our stress hormone production. Cultivating our calm through restorative practices (such as restorative yoga, qi gong, tai chi, meditation or breath work), addressing our perception of pressure and urgency and cutting down our consumption of caffeine (which promotes adrenaline production) will be much more effective than amping up our exercise intensity and going on a diet.
It might sound counterproductive to slow down to shed body fat but in some cases it is the best plan of attack. Once your body begins to realise that there is no immediate danger, it will begin to stop, or at least slow down, the output of stress hormones and your body will once again allow you to use body fat as an energy source and stop storing fat as a high priority.
Ensuring you are getting adequate sleep will also go a long way to helping your body to feel as though it can use body fat as an energy source.
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Visit drlibby.com.
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The best way to deal with belly fat storage is to address stress hormone production.