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Stress, caffeine and that stubborn belly fat

I have noticed that despite being physically active and exercising frequently, I’ve had a stubborn tummy bulge that refuses to go off. Being overweight in the past, the fat would distribute evenly from my face, arms, legs but this time, it seemed to focus on the abdomen area.

From my personal experience, there is a very strong correlation between stress and weight. Of course some lucky ones tend to lose appetite and weight when they are stressed. But most of us tend to put on weight instead. The year when I quit my job to travel, I lose the weight almost effortlessly even though I still ate almost the same amount. Prior to quiting, I had found it so difficult to lose weight. The year when I took a paycut job (meaning lesser stress), I did not gain much weight even though I was eating like a horse.

When I came back to corporate world, slowly my weight start to build up.  The recent months things at work had gotten so bad, with so many key and important people leaving. Those who are left behind have more and more mess to pick up. With that, so is the bulge in my stomach gradually increasing.

Intensive cardio exercise few times a week does not seems to work. As my fitness build up, the stubborn belly fat still refuses to go down- causing difficulty in squeezing into my pants and skirts. Many people would say it is very important to reduce food intake- which I am now going to work on. Since now I am experiencing the effect myself, I am actively planning to do something about it to try to solve this and will share as I progress.

However, I would like to relate from the scientific research as well as the traditional Chinese healing systems on explanation about belly fat.

Scentific and health research:

  • stress would cause our adrenal glands to secrete the cortisol hormone- the stress hormone that we generally used in “flight or fight” syndrome. Chronic stress causes ongoing secretion of this hormone
  • our digestion become sluggish as the “flight or fight” syndrome causes blood flow to be channel to our limbs and less on the body
  • the cortisol hormone also causes buildup of belly fat- as a primitive response of our body to preserve ‘storage’ for possible leaner times
  • caffeine would stimulate adrenal glands to produce even more cortisol, making the situation worst

Ancient Chinese healing system

  • when we worry or think too much (common during stress), it damages our Heart blood and spleen qi.
  • thinking too much and pensiveness affects the qi movement, causing qi to become stagnant and movement obstructed. This causes our digestion and nutrient absorption. This will manifest in loss of appetite, distention and fullness of the upper abdomen.
  • symptoms related to this are: palpitations, amnesia, sleeping disorders such as insomnia and many dreams. Related to the spleen are indigestion and loss of appetite, abdominal distension and loose stools.
  • the connection between caffeine and how it affects our liver function causing digestive issues are also explained in a previous article.

Even though in ancient Chinese healing system it does not mention about cortisol, but it provides herbs and medication one can take to strengthen the spleen and liver. However, it would also be recommended that one reduces the intake of caffeine- and most important, to reduce stress and loading our hearts and minds with too much of worry and pensiveness.

Why I want to make a comparison is because even though there are many sources all over the internet that mentioned about cortisol’s role in belly fat, the methods suggested to reduce stress such as listening to music, going massage, doing yoga and physical activities….these does help but only temporary. For example, you may feel good after a massage but after the next few days, the stress may wear into you all over again.

Of course, movement and exercises are really very important- if we feel lousy, after a relaxing yoga session, we will feel better. If we stay at home and mull, then eventually we would just spiral downwards to the depths of despair and sink into depression. But to overcome this issue once and for all, the change must be inside out. We may change the way we respond to the stress situation.

How are we to overcome the overthinking, worry and negativity that predisposes us towards stress? Learning to let go, just do what we can,  and do not take remarks personally.  And breathing- my teacher taught me to just be aware of my breath at all times- if I can do that, most of my problems can be solved. I would sleep better with less active dreams. The gradually move on to deeper breathing which helps the mind to relax, being more focused inward and do not think too much. I am determined to try to the recommendation. The act of just being aware of the breath to help us train our awareness and focus….so simple that no one can belief in its effect.

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