If you’re trying to lose belly fat, you may have noticed that eating less can lead to weight loss, but doesn’t necessarily help to reduce that muffin top. One possible reason for this is hormonal imbalance.
In this article you will discover the crucial role of two hormones – cortisol and insulin – when it comes to losing belly fat. You will also get four tips you can use boost your body’s natural fat burning capabilities.
First let’s look at cortisol and insulin and how they can make you fat…
Cortisol and fat loss
Cortisol is a hormone which is released in response to stress. It supports the metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates in the body. One if its functions is to convert stored fat into energy to be used by the body.
So, what’s wrong with cortisol? Sounds like a pretty useful hormone which actually helps you get rid of fat.
The problem starts when you are under prolonged stress. This will cause cortisol levels to shoot way up – and stay there. When that happens, it will stop your fat burning dead in its tracks.
When your body thinks times are hard, it starts holding onto its fat reserves. This reaction stems from our ancient ancestors, when stress was usually caused by not having anything to eat for prolonged periods of time.
In addition to causing your body to hoard fat, cortisol also has the nasty habit of transporting fat from areas like your hips, butt and thighs, and transporting it to your belly (which has more cortisol receptors).
Insulin and fat loss
Insulin is a hormone which is produced by the pancreas. You can think of it as a key which is needed to allow the cells of your body to absorb glucose (sugar). This glucose is either used for energy or stored as fat.
Whenever there is excess glucose in your blood (raised blood sugar levels), insulin is produced in order to transport it into your cells. This is also known as ‘insulin response’. If this insuline response doesn’t work properly, sugar piles up in you blood. The result is diabetes.
Eating too much carbohydrate rich foods (especially sugars) can make you less sensitive to insulin. This means your body needs to produce more insulin in order to regulate its blood sugar levels. This is known as increased insulin resistance.
When your insulin sensitivity decreases, it becomes more difficult for your body to absorb glucose and other nutrients. This can lead to weight gain and increases the risk of diabetes.
How does insulin resistance make you fat?
Besides helping your cells absorb glucose, insulin is also a fat storing hormone. Increased insulin resistance leads to an increased production of insulin. These increased insulin levels make it harder for your body to burn fat. People who have developed insulin resistance tend to develop distinct deposits of abdominal fat.
So, now you know why cortisol and insulin may be preventing you from getting rid of stubborn fat… what can you do to change this?
4 tips to balance your hormones and start burning belly fat
Now you understand the importance of cortisol and insulin for fat loss, it’s time to look at some things you can do to restore the balance and increase your body’s natural fat burning ability.
Tip 1: Reduce cortisol by reducing stress
Reducing stress will naturally lead to the reduction of cortisol levels. This will stop your body from hoarding its fat reserves and cause it to free them so they can be used for energy.
There are lots of ways to become more relaxed. It comes down to personal preference. Some examples are:
- Tai Chi
- progressive relaxation
- deep breathing
- a walk in the woods
If you’re stressed, spend 30 minutes per day doing something which relaxes you.
One study conducted by University College London in 2006, suggests that the daily drinking of black tea leads to a reduction of cortisol levels in the body.
Tip 2: Increase your insulin sensitivity by avoiding sugars
Eating lots of carbs – especially simple carbs such as sugar – decreases insulin sensitivity. This leads to increased insulin production, which in turn leads to craving more sugar. You can break this vicious circle and increase you insuline sensitivity by eating less sugar rich foods.
A good way to reduce your sugar intake is by choosing foods with a lower glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) refers to how fast certain carbs are converted to glucose in your body.
Simple carbs such as sugar have a high GI (they are quickly converted to glucose). Complex carbs have a lower GI. Low GI foods take the body longer to digest. This leaves you feeling full longer, reduces spikes in your blood sugar and allows you to eat less calories without feeling hungry.
To check the GI of the foods you are eating and to find better alternatives – check out this table of high, medium and low GI foods.
Special tip: Add blueberries and cinnamon to your menu
A study by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center indicates that the bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese men and women who are insulin resistant.
Tip 3: Eat unprocessed, nutrient rich foods
Most of our modern day foods are rich in calories but very low in nutrients. Your body needs nutrients. Until it gets the required amount, you will crave food. By eating calorie rich / nutrient poor foods, you will be getting way more calories than you need before you reach your body’s nutrient requirements.
What’s the solution? Start including more natural, unprocessed foods in your diet. As a rule of thumb – the closer the food is to the original source, the better. There are also some special ‘fat burning veggies‘ which you should definitley include in your diet if you’re looking to lose belly fat.
A great book on eating natural foods for fat loss is this one.
Tip 4: Increase your production of fat burning hormones
Besides hormones which stimulate fat storage – such as insulin and cortisol – there are also hormones which increase your body’s fat loss. These are growth hormone (GH) and testosteron.
You can boost the production of these fat burning hormones through the right type of exercise. What type of exercise? Research has proven that 25 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT) 3 to 6 times per week is extremely effective when it comes to burning excess fat.
Short periods 3 minute periods of high-intensity exercise alternated with 1 minute of lower intensity, are more effective than long periods of cardio. There are lots of great workouts which fill these requirements such as kettlebell workouts, bodyweight training or the moderate weight/high fatigue resistance training like it’s taught in this program.
If you don’t have time to go to the gym and don’t want to spend a lot of money on exercise equipment, then this program might be worth a try. It consists of 10-20 minute bodyweight workouts that will burn a lot of calories in a very short time and are actually realy fun to do.