I’ve had my share of stress in my life. But in 2005, several major stressors – a layoff due to funding issues, a recurrence of cancer in my brother’s wife, my mom’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, and graduate school. I pretty much went into autopilot and focused on dealing with what I could. Although I found another job and my sister-in-law lost her battle with cancer, the stress didn’t really go away during the next few years. And even though I tried to watch what I ate and worked in exercise where I could, I found the pounds just seemed to materialize, especially around my stomach.
Now, part of that weight gain may have been due to aging and a slowing metabolism. However, it turns out that stress itself may have been behind this gain. “When our ancestors faced periods of famine, they stored fat in their bellies with an organ called the omentum,” Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote in You: Staying Young. “We do the same thing: when we face chronic stress, we eat more food than we need, and we store it in our omentum for quick access to energy.” The doctors note that cortisol, a stress hormone, also end up in the omentum, causing it to grow. That leads to chemical reactions that cause you to fell hungry. Furthermore, foods and beverages that have caffeine or sugar also can cause the body’s stress reaction to kick in, according to Christine Garvin for Livestrong.com.
Growth in your middle is damaging since toxins from the omentum fat are sent into surround organs. In an appearance on the Oprah Show in 2006, Dr. Oz explained that the fat in the omentum creates an inflammatory process that causes irritation to arteries and increases the risk of blockages. “Study after study shows that it increases your risk of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and dementia,” a Fitness Magazine article by Maura Kelly states. “Not only that, women whose waists are bigger than 35 inches are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease than women whose middles measure less than 28 inches, according to research from the National Institutes of Health.” Visceral fat also can impact the liver by making it harder to filter out harmful substances.
So how can you reduce this type of fat? Here are some recommendations:
- Reduce stress. Look for healthy ways to ease your stress, such as meditation, massage and yoga.
- Look at your diet. Needless to say, cut down the amount of foods and beverages that you eat that contain caffeine and/or sugar. Also, avoid foods with trans fats. “When monkeys munched on trans-fat laced diets for 6 years, they developed more deep-belly fat than those who went trans-fat-free, even though both ate the same number of calories,” a blog on the RealAge website notes, pointing out that humans are close enough physiologically to monkeys to make this research applicable to us as well. Also, select whole grains, such as brown rice, steel-cut oats and whole-wheat pasta, which help target belly fat and also lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker that you have inflammation. Fruits, vegetables, fish and low-fat dairy also should be part of your diet.
- Eat smaller meals regularly during the day so you don’t overeat.
- Exercise. RealAge.com recommends taking a brisk 30-minute walk each day. After a month, add resistance exercises in order to add muscle and lose inches. Fitness Magazine recommends strength training, which can boost your metabolism for several hours after the workout. The magazine also recommends jogging 30-60 minutes at least two times weekly or doing interval training.
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