As a woman, one of the things I have been most insecure about is my belly fat. I have had a regular exercise and diet routine that has helped me maintain it at a relatively small size.
However, like anyone else, I lately found myself under too much stress from dealing with the family, my job, and the whole pandemic stress.
During that time, I noticed that my belly started growing despite maintaining my healthy habits. That’s when I did some research and realized I had the dreaded stress belly.
What Is A Stress Belly?
A stress belly is not a diagnosed health issue. Rather it is the excess belly fat that accumulated due to stress. Research has shown that high cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone, increase body fat.
An increase in cortisol causes increased glucose production to prepare the body for flight or fight situations. Stress also made me eat a lot of food, and most of the time, it was sugary and unhealthy.
Signs Of A Belly Fat
Belly fat can come from genetics, bad eating habits, or a health condition. However, some signs set aside a stress belly. Apart from excess fat build up in my mid-section, some other signs I experienced included:
- Being overwhelmed: I felt so frustrated at even the smallest things like dropping my phone, and most of the time, I felt like I wanted to cry. I later realized that the high cortisol levels associated with my stress were responsible for that.
- Feeling hungry all the time: Research shows that high-stress levels also increase the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone which increases appetite. I realized that even after eating my regular meals, I had the urge to snack even after bedtime.
How To Get Rid Of Stress Belly
1. Manage stress
Since a stress belly results from stress, this is one of the most effective ways I got rid of it. While it is easier said than done, I tried different methods of eliminating emotional, psychological, and physical stress.
One of the things I did was I made a routine to always go outside every morning and take in some fresh air and sunlight. That helped improve my mood and lift my spirits.
I also tried breathing techniques and meditation. I started with five minutes of each, and as I got used, I increased the time. During meditation, I would put on some relaxing music or infuse my humidifier with stress-relieving scents like lavender, lemon, and ylang-ylang.
Socializing is another thing that helped me a lot. When I could not go out and meet people, I would call them or make video calls. That way, I still felt connected with my loved ones and knew that someone was there for me.
After the world started opening up, I would take some time to meet up with friends and family members who were around and make plans for my partner and me, like dinner dates, game nights, or going to the movies.
Getting a full day of self-care once a week also helped, and I would get a massage, manicure, and pedicure. When I did not go to the spa, I took a hot bath at home, put on a face mask, and did my nails, which helped me feel better and lift my spirits.
Finally, I also tried finding a new hobby to help me express my stress. For me, that was painting and journaling. I would write about what is stressing me out and the steps I need to take to improve the situation.
In painting, I tried to make my pieces reflect my feelings, and as I drew, it was a good time to let out my feelings, like crying or even singing when I am happy.
2. Get enough rest
Stress and sleep have a strong relationship, and lack of one always leads to the other. Research shows that lack of enough sleep causes development of more viscera fat, which is one type of fat around the belly. It also increases cortisol production.
Sometimes I found it hard to fall and stay asleep throughout the night, which was one of the things that contributed to my stress eating.
To improve that, I went online and tried some suggestions. One was to make my bedroom more comfortable. For that, I minimized the light and sound by removing the TV and buying more comfortable bedding.
I soundproofed my room to avoid noise from outside and added darker blinds to eliminate most of the light. Someone also suggested a sleeping mask, but I only used it when it was really hard to fall asleep.
A new and more comfortable pajama set also helped because I was not itchy or hot at night, making it easier to remain asleep till morning.
I also came up with a sleep schedule and never napped during the day. At first, it was a struggle, but once I got used to it, it was easier. Not having my night coffee also helped a lot, and I woke up the following morning feeling happier and more energized.
3. Have a balanced diet
Implementing some tips to eliminate stress belly will not work while eating unhealthy foods. A balanced diet helps improve digestion and cut back on unhealthy fats and calories.
To improve my digestion and keep me fuller for longer, I increased my fiber intake by adding whole-grain meals, chia seeds, and beans.
I also reduced a lot of fried and sugary foods and substituted them with fruits, vegetables, and protein. I always included proteins and high-fiber foods for breakfast, which left me feeling fuller for longer, preventing me from my habitual snaking. I also ate smaller portions more times a day instead of bigger portions a few times, which helped digestion and prevented bloating.
For my meals during the day, I would have a light salad, fruit pudding, or smoothie, which made me feel full but had lesser calories. I also added a lot of leafy green vegetables and raw fruits.
Some research suggested foods filled with vitamin b like fish, eggs, chicken, banana, avocadoes, and dark green vegetables, which help reduce stress. It also suggested anti-inflammatory foods like garlic, ginger, berries, and turmeric, which help maintain a healthy weight. Drinking two to three liters of water also helped.
4. Exercise regularly
Exercise has been one of the most effective ways to lose weight. However, it becomes hard to find the motivation and strength to maintain a regular workout routine when undergoing stress.
Research shows that exercise helps burn the visceral fat, the hormonally active fat under the abdominal wall. That helps reduce the risk of developing other health complications like cardiovascular disease, asthma, and colorectal cancer. It also helps boost mood, which is important when undergoing stress.
I focused more on mood-boosting exercises when I was starting, then moved to more intense workouts. During most days, I would do moderate-intensity workouts for around 30 minutes, and on the other days, I would do strength training.
I took one or two days off weekly to help muscle recovery and avoid injury. Since at the beginning I would not go to a gym, I signed up for an online workout routine, and the trainer helped me come up with the best exercises for me and showed me how to do them without hurting myself.
I also incorporated yoga and stretching exercises, which were great to help me relax and warm up before my routine. I also tried walking my dog more often for longer distances and would register my steps and calorie burn on my Apple watch. Whenever I went to the mall, I preferred taking the stairs instead of walking to get in extra steps and burn extra calories.
One thing I found to have motivated me to remain active was buying new cute workout attire and rewarding myself after hitting a certain goal.
5. Quit smoking and taking alcohol
Alcohol is usually one thing to reach out for when stressed. While it might help forget about daily stress, it is only temporary and has more long-lasting effects.
This was one of the areas I struggled with the most because I had a habit of getting a glass of wine with almost all my meals or before I went to sleep. However, I found that alcohol contains many calories, and while I might be working out, I was adding more calories with my wine.
I started little by little, substituting my wine with a more healthy drink. Now I have no problem taking one glass of wine or alcoholic drink a week or even going longer without it.
That has helped make me healthier and helped me get better quality sleep and wake up feeling happier and with a lifted mood.
Research has also associated smoking with abdominal obesity. While I do not smoke, I have seen people who noticed a significant weight difference after quitting smoking.
Stress belly is one of the most visible and long-lasting effects of stress and could lead to other health complications. While the above tips helped me see a difference in as little as two weeks, some people might not see results or might have uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.
If that happens, it’s best to visit a doctor for a more accurate diagnosis and a better way to deal with the stress belly.