Before and after of woman's stomach

Two Words


Diet and de-stress.

Not “distress,” but “de-stress.”

First, let me say, and you might have heard this before- 6 pack abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. And what that means is that about 75-80% of your lean, flat stomach comes from your diet, not from doing crunches and sit-ups and other abdominal exercises. You can’t out exercise a bad diet. And you can’t spot reduce either. It just doesn’t work that way.

When you lose fat, you lose fat from all over, not just your stomach, or your thighs, or your hips. In fact, abdominal fat is usually the last to go.


Causes Of Fat Around Our Abdomen


Now, let me tell you what causes that fat around the middle in the first place, besides overeating. It’s stress and hormones. Predominantly, adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin. Without going too deep into the science of it all, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of what goes on inside our bodies.

Adrenaline, which is produced by the adrenal glands, is known as the “fight or flight” hormone. I’m sure you’ve heard that term before. In the old days, when we were in danger and had to worry about getting eaten by that sabre-toothed tiger, our bodies would release adrenaline and pretty immediately our hearts would race, we’d breathe faster, our muscles would tense, and we’d get a surge of energy. We’d be in survival mode.

A modern day example would be when you’ve just avoided a car accident. Think about how your body feels in that situation. You’re sharp, you’re focused, you’re more responsive, and your body is shifting blood away from areas where it might not be so crucial.

Or you’ve probably heard or read stories about the super strength a person gets when someone is in danger. They’re able to do things they otherwise wouldn’t be capable of, like lifting a car off a child.

Cortisol, which is also produced by the adrenal glands, is called the “stress” hormone. It’s produced in our body throughout the day. and when we are in a “threatening” situation, it kicks in a few minutes after the adrenaline kicks in to help to regulate fluid balance, blood pressure, and in survival mode, can help to save our lives. It also increases the sugar (glucose) levels available for our muscles to use.

Insulin, which is made in the pancreas, allows our bodies to use sugar (glucose) from the carbs we eat either for energy or to store for energy later. It also regulates our blood sugar level trying to keep it from getting too high or too low.

Your body doesn’t know if you’re being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger or if you’re stressed because there’s gridlock on the freeway coming home. All it perceives is that there’s danger and it goes into the same survival mode that it has since our cave man days.


What Happens In  A Stress Situation


Here’s what happens in a stress situation- Your adrenal glands release adrenaline which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. Then cortisol tells insulin to shut down the fat storage because our bodies need the energy for fight or flight. After the stressful event has passed, everything should return to normal.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. We’ve ditched the sabre toothed tiger and everything’s cool now, no more threat and our body replenishes the energy we’ve used.

But, unlike our ancestors, we don’t fight or run from sabre-toothed tigers any more. The stress we experience today doesn’t usually burn many, if any calories. We can feel stressed sitting at our desks. Yet our body reacts the way it always has. It doesn’t differentiate between the sources of our stress. It just senses a threat.

And in our modern society, usually one stressful event takes place after another.


Chronic Stress


Ever hear the term- “chronic stress?”

Of course you have. Stress can come from anything- work, kids, your elderly parents, traffic, worry, even thinking about what to eat. It can come from anything. Our stress response is triggered even when there isn’t any danger.

Because we suffer from chronic stress, our adrenal glands are constantly making cortisol.  And this cortisol is constantly telling our body’s cells to ignore insulin on a regular basis, which leads to insulin resistance and predisposes us to diabetes. One of cortisol’s jobs is to replenish our body after the danger has passed and can actually increase our appetite, leading to fat gain.

And high levels of stress and cortisol can actually slow our metabolism and lead to weight gain. With so much cortisol being pumped out, production of testosterone, which builds muscle, slows down. And as our muscle mass decreases, we burn fewer calories. (Just a quick aside- the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even if you just spend the day sitting on the couch).

High levels of stress can also lead to cravings for high-fat, salty, and sugary foods. This happens because these foods stimulate our brains to release chemicals that induce pleasure and reduce tension, which becomes addicting. No different really than a drug addiction.

Also, under high levels of stress, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet. You might be eating to satisfy an emotional need or eating snacks and fast food, because you’re too stressed to cook. Again, leading to fat gain.

Studies have shown that higher levels of stress are linked specifically to greater levels of abdominal or toxic fat, just what we don’t need.

Okay, I got off on a huge tangent, but an important one. To get rid of the abdominal fat around our middle, we need to watch what we eat and de-stress.


Ways To De-Stress


There are several different ways to de-stress- breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, listening to music, taking a 15 minute “power nap” in the afternoon, taking a walk, getting a massage, exercising, understanding what stresses you out and how you react to it, being self- compassionate, and laughing, among others. We’re all different, so it’s really just figuring out what chills you out and helps you calm down.


Those Two Words Again: Diet and De-Stress


Want to lose that fat around the middle?

Remember that 6-pack abs are made in the kitchen, so pay careful attention to what you eat. And just find an activity that helps you to relax so you’re less stressed.

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