Few things are more disheartening than having a bulging belly that it seems no amount of dieting or exercise can effectively reduce. This is a common problem men and women of all ages and nationalities face, particularly those entering middle-age. It may be affecting you too. Fortunately, in many cases there is something you can do about it, and it all starts with simple stress reduction. Sound too good to be true? Read on…

A Hormonal Imbalance May Be to Blame

Often, the presence of excessive belly fat is an indication to holistic healers that their clients are suffering from a hormone imbalance. There are a number of different types of hormonal imbalances that can affect us as we grow older, but one of the most common — and the most likely to show in the belly — is an imbalance caused by an elevation of the hormone cortisol.

As naturopathic doctor, Natasha Turner, ND reports, “Under situations of chronic stress — whether the stress is physical, emotional, mental or environmental, real or imagined — our bodies release high amounts of the hormone cortisol. If you have a mood disorder like anxiety, depression, posttraumatic 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.”

Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced and demanding world, many people are dealing with a plethora of cortisol-inducing stressors. If you are one of them, the abundance of this hormone can distort your midsection into a large belly and can hinder your weight-loss efforts.

What Is Cortisol Anyway?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Although it is a hormone that your body produces during times of stress, this does not necessarily mean that cortisol is a bad thing. In fact, Matt Fitzgerald, a writer for Competitor.com, notes that many athletes, particularly long-distance runners, have increased levels of cortisol all the time, but that this is beneficial to them. Exceptions include cases of overtraining when cortisol levels can get too high. So, what is this hormone exactly, and what are its benefits?

Cortisol is responsible for a number of important bodily functions including helping your body maintain homeostasis and providing you with the crucial “fight-or-flight” response in times of emergency. In response to a stressor, your adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which inhibits insulin production and floods your body with energy-supplying glucose. Ideally, once the situation is resolved your body’s hormone levels return to normal.

The problem occurs when you face chronic stressful situations. Because this causes your body to release cortisone frequently, it becomes harder and harder to return to normal hormonal levels. This is when the physical problems begin.

Dina Aronson, MS, RD explains in Today’s Dietician, “Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain. One way is via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells (those under the muscle, deep in the abdomen).” This is the reason it results in uncontrollable belly fat.

Other problems faced by those with elevated cortisone levels include immune deficiencies, GI tract problems, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Treating this problem is therefore as crucial to maintaining your health and longevity as it is to reducing your waistline.

What Can I Do About It?

The good news is, if high levels of cortisol are to blame for your belly fat blues, a holistic health coach can recommend and guide you through any of the many very effective treatment methods that are available. Whether you engage in meditation, chakra healing, or any of the other spiritual healing techniques that are available, you are very likely to benefit from a reduction in cortisone levels.

This, in turn, will enable you to lose weight and reduce the size of your midsection. So, stop undoing the button on your jeans to get some breathing room and start reducing the stress in your life instead!