Tips & Advice

From Dr. Liz Herself

October 9, 2015
Here’s how to shed belly fat, Part 1: Lower Your Cortisol
Woman Lifting Weights to Combat Belly Fat

At the beginning of October, we asked this question about hormones and belly fat: How come no one told me this was going to happen?

Or, as I start out in Dr. Liz’s Easy Guide to Menopause, quoting my girlfriend, “Why is my body changing and who gave it permission to change?”

Today is Part 1 of a series looking at the reasons for the onset of belly fat. If you miss any of the articles, they always go up on my blog page at

Too much cortisol

One major hormone change that causes weight to pack on around our middles is too much cortisol.

Our bodies are designed to release cortisol in response to a sudden stress problem, which we are supposed to solve by burning off the cortisol right away.

For example:

Problem: sudden fear of a tiger about to eat us
Solution: run away from the tiger and burn off that cortisol that was just released.

Problem is, in our modern world, lots of things trigger the release of  stress hormone without the opportunity to immediately burn it off.

For example, boss yells at us, bad traffic when we are late for work, etc; can’t run or do something right that minute to burn off the cortisol (at least not without causing an accident or losing our job).

Plenty of research studies back this up.

Researchers at Yale University found that slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. More results published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000 established a link between cortisol and increased storage of abdominal fat.

A European study found that women who had raised cortisol at work, continued to have high cortisol when they got home (you guessed it: they managed the household after a full day at work). Men in that study had higher cortisol at work, but it came back down when they got home. (We women can either blame the men, or we can figure out how to achieve that lowering of cortisol after leaving work.)

Persistently elevated cortisol is bad for your health as well your body composition. If you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or exhaustion, or if you have a digestive issue such as irritable bowel syndrome, you can bet your body is cranking up your cortisol. Not only does it increase your appetite and cravings, it causes a loss of muscle mass, libido and bone density, and also contributes to depression and memory loss.

Food (Stress Eating)

We also know that foods such as starchy carbs, including all of the “white” foods, including white sugar, white bread, and white rice, can increase your cortisol levels.

Here’s the catch: we crave these foods when our adrenals are under stress.

The lesson: food cravings can teach us what our body is needing help with. It takes three days to address a craving, for example to replace white sugar with the natural sugars in fruit.

What To Do

In addition to lowering stress and improving what we eat, improving our sleep is a crucial way to lower cortisol and help manage belly fat.

Stay tuned because improving our sleep quality will be the belly-fat combat topic next week!

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