stress causing belly fat

How does stress cause belly fat?

November 02 2021

In small doses, stress can be beneficial; it not only tunes your brain but also improves your health and performance. Chronic stress, however, is the complete opposite of beneficial.

For many people, belly fat is synonymous with stress. Experts believe that stress and increased cortisol are the number one causes of unwanted belly fat. But how does stress cause belly fat, anyway? More importantly, what can you do to prevent it?

What is the correlation between stress and belly fat?

Belly fat caused by stress is more common than you think. In fact, it’s so common that medical experts dub it “stress belly.” Although not a medical diagnosis, stress belly is a term used to describe how stress and hormones caused by stress affect your belly.

Stress affects weight for a number of reasons. For one, it triggers the body’s cortisol. Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, among others. It’s also part of your body’s “fight or flight” response.

Increased long-term cortisol levels are thought to be directly related to abdominal obesity. Short-term stress may also cause belly fat, but it’s more likely to occur in individuals who are constantly under pressure and stress. Short-term stress may also cause diarrhoea and vomiting, which can result in long-term stress if not taken care of.

Stress can lead to uncontrollable eating, which is a direct symptom of excessive cortisol. When you’re in a constant state of stress, your body is consumed with the urge to eat. Food, after all, triggers the brain’s dopamine levels. Moreover, stress can reduce your brain’s ability to control your appetite, putting you in a perpetual state of hunger.

Why does stress cause belly fat?

Stress causes chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and disrupted sleep. It also keeps you from making rational food choices. Instead of indulging in a healthy, home-cooked meal, you’ll go with what your body craves in the least possible effort, whether it be sweets or highly processed food. Naturally, this will affect your overall health and your belly fat.

Prolonged lack of sleep decreases your body’s metabolism and prevents your body from burning fat. It’ll also drop your glucose tolerance due to low insulin sensitivity.

On top of that, stress can cause laziness and unproductivity. Stressed individuals are often too exhausted to partake in physical activities, preventing them from losing the weight they gained from overeating.

How to treat and prevent stress belly

Now that you understand why stress causes belly fat, here are some treatment and prevention tips to follow!

Look after your psychological health

Unfortunately, there’s no way of completely eliminating stress from your life, but there are several ways to at least reduce and manage it.

After a long day, make sure to unwind at home. Listen to your favourite tunes, read a good book, or watch a movie. Make yourself a relaxing drink or take a long, warm bath.

If you’re the social type, consider getting dinner with friends or inviting them to your home for a movie. Socialising with others can take your mind off your stressors.

Exercise, exercise, exercise

Exercise comes with a ton of mental and physical benefits. It reduces your body’s stress hormones and bumps up the production of endorphins. Moreover, it reduces the negative side-effects of stress, including belly fat.

You don’t have to partake in gruelling exercises every day. A light, 30-minute exercise will do. Taking the occasional walk break while at work can also help reduce stress. 

Eat properly

Proper nutrition is one of the best ways to combat stress and belly fat. As much as possible, include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Dark, leafy greens are especially vital for stress reduction.

Avoid high-calorie and processed food like snacks and fast food. Replacing soda and other sweet beverages with water is a great way to improve your nutrition.

Get enough sleep

According to the research conducted by the Obesity Society, adults between the ages of 18 to 65 who get less than six hours of sleep are at higher risk of visceral fat. Therefore, try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every day to reduce the chance of belly fat and stress.

Set a strict bedtime routine and follow it religiously. Also, avoid using your phone or laptop while in bed as it may prevent you from falling asleep at the right time.


Stress causes belly fat due to increased cortisol levels, overeating, disrupted sleep, and lowered metabolic rate. Prevent “stress belly” by following the treatment methods above. Following a sensible lifestyle will not reduce the risk of disease but also promote a healthier, fitter life. Even minor changes, like taking the stairs rather than the elevator, work wonders. Need stress help for you or your workforce? My Occ Health helps ensure a healthy workforce by providing a range of occupational health screening services.


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