“How do I get rid of my belly fat?” is one of the most common questions I get asked. It's not all about eating less calories than what you are burning! Hormones are a big culprit, the 2 most important ones being cortisol and insulin. Take a look below and find out if these hormones are keeping your abs in hiding.
When you eat carbohydrates the body breaks it down into a simple sugar molecule glucose. Glucose is passed through the small intestine and into the blood. The pancreas detects a rise in blood sugar levels and secretes insulin. The amount of insulin that is released is determined by the type of carbohydrate you eat. Carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (quinoa, sweet potato, oats, wild rice, buckwheat, legumes) release blood sugar levels slowly, creating a low release of insluin. On the other hand carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, sugar, chocolate) create a blood sugar level spike and lead to a large release of insulin.
An influx of insulin in the blood cause:
- Fat cells to take up sugar and store it.
- You will stop burning fat for fuel, and only once insulin levels drop will your body start to burn fat again.
- High levels of insulin will suppress the release of growth hormone (a hormone responsible for fat burning, muscle growth and metabolism).
How to reduce insulin levels in the blood:
- Eat only low glycemic index and natural carbohydrates.
- Avoid processed carbs and refined sugar.
- Save the carbohydrates for after your workout. For glucose to cross the membranes of cells, a 'glucose transporter' is required. Exercise temporarily increases the amount of glucose transporters on muscle cells. This will encourage the muscles to take up more glucose and store it as glycogen rather than fat cells to take up glucose and store it as triglyceride.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands during the fight-or-flight response, which is a physiological system that prepares your body to fight against danger or run away. Studies now suggest that high cortisol levels can increase our visceral fat and the body will actually resist fat loss. The fat cells on our stomach have more cortisol receptors (which turn cortisol into an active form) than other fat cells in the body. Therefore while cortisol levels remain high the body will prefer to hold on to that belly fat!
High cortisol levels will cause:
- An increase blood sugar levels, which of course will increase insulin levels.
- Decrease our body’s response to the leptin (hormone that makes us feel full).
- Activates a part of the brain that makes you crave sugary foods.
- Decrease insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance drops.
How to reduce cortisol levels in the body:
- Eat healthy food at regular intervals and avoid skipping meals.
- When you eat food, cortisol levels rise. Cortisol levels in the body are naturally higher during the morning and lower in the evening, to help the body sleep. Have your larger meals in the morning and lunch, keep dinner small to decrease cortisol release in the evening.
- Irregular sleep patterns disrupt cortisol levels. Get into a sleep routine and hit the pillow for at least 8 hours.
- Try de-stressing techniques such as meditation to can help the reduce stress. If you are new to meditation then have a look at Headspace which is an awesome guided meditation and mindfulness app.