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Is Estrogen Really Making Your Belly FAT?

One would think that with all the research done to try and link mid-life weight gain in women to changing hormone levels (menopause) - science would have uncovered, or at least theorized, a solid explanation by now. But after reading the results of study after study, all that research has only proven that weight gain is largely due to lower activity levels and poor nutrition.

So, scientists have now turned their attention to uncovering why many women in mid-life start to accumulate that added weight as fat in the abdominal area. While fluctuating hormone levels, particularly lower estrogen levels, may be partially responsible for the redistribution of fat to the belly area, research is demonstrating that estrogen is not the only hormone responsible for this phenomenon.

It turns out that stress and stress related hormones have been linked to excessive fat storage around the abdominal area. How you ask? Apparently it's a result of the flight or fight instinct that our distant ancestors were so dependent upon for survival.

During times of stress, mental or physical, the body releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This generates a release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

The adrenaline released results in instant energy and increased strength. This is what allows people to do superhuman things, like the woman that lifts the car that fell on her son.

Meanwhile, cortisol is responsible for bringing the body back into balance after the stressful event. In other words, cortisol's job is to stimulate the appetite to replace the carbohydrates and fat that should of been burned while fleeing or fighting the stressful event.

However, as most of you know, today's sources of stress rarely result in calorie expenditure. Stress today is more likely to result in people sitting with frustration or anger while reaching for something to eat. But the body doesn't know that it did not expend any calories during the most recent stressful event. So cortisol is still expected to perform by increasing the appetite for carbohydrates and fat.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Yale University and published in the September 2000 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that cortisol may actually cause fat to be stored in the center of the body. Couple that fact with the fact that the fat cells located in the belly area are richer with stress hormone receptors than fat cells located elsewhere and you have a recipe for abdominal obesity.

If the added belly fat is not distressing enough, it should also be noted that belly fat has been linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Never fear, there is a way to combat belly fat generated from stress, it's EXERCISE! Exercise works to prevent belly fat generated from stress, by reducing the levels of stress hormones in your body. That's right, vigorous exercise generates beta-endorphins. These endorphins are responsible for calming the body down and reducing the level of stress hormones in the body!

How much exercise does one need to combat belly fat in times of stress? I suggest 20-30 minutes of a physical activity you enjoy. Whether it be a 20-30 minute vigorous walk or a weight training session. Just so long as you get the body moving and releasing those beta-endorphins.

Of course exercise also helps to combat belly fat simply by burning calories. This way when cortisol increases your appetite you will have expended the carbohydrate and fat calories during your workout. Allowing cortisol do its job and preventing those extra calories from being stored on your belly.

But - do not go overboard - exercising too hard for too long can also generate cortisol. This defeats the purpose of using exercise to combat cortisol and its belly fat generating affects.

So, the next time you start to get stressed out, instead of sitting and chewing food in your frustration, get up and take a 10 minute vigorous walk. This will help beat those stress hormones by releasing beta-endorphins and taking your mind off the thing stressing you out.

Tips for combating stressed out belly fat:

  • Exercise a minimum of 20-30 minutes, 3 days a week
  • Eat small balanced meals 5-6 times a day
  • Snack on whole grain high fiber foods
  • Set time aside to do activities you enjoy
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol & cigarettes - these items in excess have been shown to raise cortisol levels
  • Get your sleep - lack of sleep will also increase cortisol levels

By incorporating these tips you will be able to stop belly fat before it starts!

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