Can stress cause belly fat?

Natasha Turner, ND
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Yes, most definitely. A 35-year Swedish study of 7,500 men found that participants who reported permanent stress have a significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who reported no stress. Not to mention that over time, exposure to cortisol decreases the body’s response to insulin and leads to increased insulin levels, upping our storage of body fat.

A long-term study published in the journal Diabetes Care followed a group of women for 15 years. The women who reported feeling frequently and intensely angry, tense or stressed also showed an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, the condition associated with insulin resistance.

Now, to all the worrywarts out there, what if every time you felt stressed you thought to yourself “is this really worth getting belly fat over?” It may certainly pay homage to the recommendation that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. 

Stress can most definitely cause negative composition changes within the body. When you are under high levels of stress, your body is going to operate in ways that will ensure its survival. One way of ensuring its survival is by increasing its fat stores. The body does this because it can rely on these fat stores in times of famish. Stress initiates a cascade of physiological events that produce a spider web of affects. One of these physiological events is the increase in the bodies production of the hormone cortisol. Excessive, elevated concentrations of cortisol cause a chain of catabolic based events that ultimately lead to muscle breakdown and an increase in fat deposits.

Not only can stress cause increases in belly fat due to physiological reasons but it can also do it via psychological reasons. If you are under a lot of stress you are likely to be emotionally sensitive. Stress causes people to deviate from their routines (like going to the gym after work) and causes them to adopt a "who cares" attitude. Typically stress will also causes you to dwell in negative thought processes. Instead of having a positive outlook on life, you find yourself expressing a negative demeanor in most, if not all situations. Stress has also been linked in increases in diseases and health ailments such as heart attacks, depression and hypertension to name just a few. Ultimately you want to decrease you stress levels as much as possible. Doing so will have a profound effect in all aspects of your life!

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

That fat around the middle affects your looks, but it can also add to your stress. In this video, Dr. Oz explains the direct relationship between stress in your brain and fat in your belly.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.