This is an exclusive extract from Rescu Me: The makeover guide for a life more fabulous by Bahar Etminan.
We all suffer with those stubborn areas of body fat that seem impossible to budge. Those pesky love handles, thunder thighs and jelly-belly fat all relate to different hormones in the body. Personal trainer Sally Gatt explains how understanding and controlling these hormones is the real secret to lifelong weight control and fat loss.
Stubborn areas such as thighs, stomach and sides all contain hormone receptor sites. These receptor sites are proteins found within and on the surface of certain cells throughout the body, including breast cells. If the right substance comes along that fits into the receptor, like a lock and key, activity in the cell begins to occur which can either be a negative or positive hormone response. At this cell level you might either produce too much of one hormone or not enough of another and this can not only inhibit fat loss, but also lead to some serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Once we learn to read the signs of the hormonal spikes or dips that influence weight gain and fat storage and learn to control them with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle tactics including resistance training, blood sugar management and adequate sleep and hydration, we can become the master of our physique – not just in the short term by shaving off saddle bags but over a lifetime by understanding what changes and challenges our bodies come up against and what we need to do to maintain our shape.
LOWER BELLY OR NAVEL FAT
Hormone responsible: Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone released by the outer portion or cortex of the adrenal gland when a person is under stress. It can be so destructive to mood or disposition that cortisol levels are now considered by medical experts as a biological marker of suicide risk.
Excess or continued high levels of cortisol contribute greatly to body-fat storage around the navel area. It also puts us at a greater risk of burning out leading to adrenal and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Why does cortisol increase weight in this area?
When we are under prolonged periods of stress our bodies cling to fat. These stresses are not exclusively emotional and can include physiological stress including dehydration, lack of sleep and low blood sugar levels from eating too much sugar or not eating frequently enough. The belly is a long-term stress site, meaning fat builds up over time or creeps up on you if your lifestyle, diet and emotional stresses are left unaddressed. We often refer to it as the cortisol pouch or the lower belly fat and one day you wake up and suddenly think how did this belly fat get there, even though I am training and my diet is good?
We are only meant to secrete this hormone in low doses. If we look at caveman times cortisol was released when we were running from a wild animal and the secretion of this hormone protected us from getting sick but now, in modern times, we are exposed to work pressures, money struggles and poor lifestyle choices so that our bodies are secreting cortisol at a rapid rate to protect the body from burning out and getting ill.
Since there are more cortisol receptors in the abdomen, in particular around the navel, the body holds onto fat here. This unhealthy visceral fat (the fat surrounding your internal organs) can also increase inflammation and insulin resistance in the body, further increasing body fat and creating a vicious cycle of fat production throughout the body. Too much insulin in the body is the main contributing factor to poor carbohydrate metabolism so it is another major factor for fat storage. Insulin and cortisol acting together creates a vicious cycle of hormone imbalance as one hormone relates to the other – when blood sugar levels drop from too much insulin being produced too rapidly, cortisol is released.
Stress less or control the amount of stress you place on the body. Remember that stress is not always emotional, but physical. Low calorie diets, long endurance cardio, lack of sleep and dehydration are just a few of the stress factors that can increase cortisol and hinder your fat loss progress. Focus on adopting regular sleeping patterns, and taking up light activities including exercising less if you are working out too hard. How do you know if you are working out too hard? You feel smashed and you want to binge on bad food as a result of depleting your body! Try cutting the volume of your training, for example by training more intensely for a shorter time period. Meditation, doing something that is relaxing like playing a musical instrument, reading a good book or basically any activity that de-stresses you can ultimately help drop cortisol.
Most of us know that feeling overslept but under-rested, burnt out, snappy or on the edge is a red flag that we’re under too much pressure, but if you want to get a snapshot of what your cortisol is doing throughout the day I would recommend visiting a GP as they can often test for early stages of CFS which usually starts with an overproduction of cortisol in the body. I’d also suggest getting a blood test done by a GP if you have long periods of feeling low in energy particularly early morning fatigue.
Sally Gatt is a Personal Trainer & for the last 19 years has been helping women around the globe reach their hormone health, fitness & fat loss goals. She has continued teaching women worldwide to make friends with muscle which in turn will help balance their hormones & shred fat for life.