As you climb the corporate ladder, many things get bigger for you. A bigger paycheck. More responsibilities. Maybe even a bigger office or house. And, definitely, more stress. You’re probably expecting most of those things, but many people don’t expect the expanding waistline that often comes with success.

As your stress level increases, so does your waist size.

Most people notice an increase in belly fat around the time they turn 40. Sometimes, you can chalk it up to eating out more often or spending less time at the gym. But you may not realize that stress plays a vital role in weight gain – especially the fat stored deep within your abdomen.

It’s no secret that stress is bad for your health. A stressful day at work or a phone call with some bad news hits you right in the stomach or leaves you with a pounding headache. In extreme cases, it can also spike your blood pressure and trigger a heart attack or stroke.

The symptoms of stress – the racing heart, shaking hands, fast breathing, are caused by a rush of hormones. It’s part of your “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s meant to help you run away from something that can harm you, like a bear. Except, there’s no running away from work deadlines and responsibilities. Or the Zoom call with your boss when your kids are crying on your home office floor.


Cortisol is one of your stress hormones. Produced by your adrenal glands, it helps keep you awake and alert. It also regulates many body functions, including how and when to use carbs, protein, and fat to survive.

When you’re under stress, cortisol increases the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. It also pulls (fat) triglycerides out of your liver and dumps it into your blood. It makes sure everything is in place, so your body has the quick fuel it needs run from danger.

The Link Between Stress and Belly Fat | Bodyworks For Your Health

Except, as you know, you can’t run away from the things causing your stress.


When stress levels remain high for long periods, cortisol stays high too. It sets off a cascade of metabolic reactions in your body that contribute to belly fat. Most people worry about how it looks. But more importantly deep belly fat (also known as visceral fat) increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even autoimmune diseases.

Here’s what happens:

  • Cortisol slows down the action of insulin, so there’s more glucose in your blood. Eventually, that leads to insulin resistance or prediabetes.
  • The unused fat from your liver goes back into storage, but this time it’s stored in visceral fat cells located deep within your abdomen.
  • Your belly fat makes you more insulin resistant. And, it increases cravings for sugar and carbs.
  • The extra calories you’re getting from sugar and carbs are stored as fat – in your abdomen.
  • And here’s the kicker. Visceral (abdominal) fat has more cortisol receptors than fat that’s located just under the skin.

As long as there’s stress, there will be belly fat. Fortunately, Bodyworks for Your Health can help.


As long as you have high levels of stress, you can eat a perfect diet, but still not lose that belly fat. Thus, if you’re easily affected by stress, it’s essential to work on ways to break the cycle and let it go.  Only then will you notice a significant change in your waistline.

The following things might be helpful:

  • Talk to a therapist who can help you find ways to put your stressors into perspective and make them more manageable.
  • Don’t skimp on your workouts. Exercise boosts your feel-good hormones, and it helps to keep belly fat in check. So, go for a walk, run, or bike ride most days of the week and do strength training exercises at least twice each week. If you prefer classes, Bodyworks has you covered with a range of virtual workouts. Try a little bit of everything to keep things interesting.
  • Whenever you feel stress, stop, breathe deeply, and redirect your negative thoughts. Focus on gratitude and the positive things in your life.
  • Get into a regular daily or weekly habit of doing yoga and meditation. They really help you to focus on the present, so you’re not worrying about tomorrow or what happened yesterday.


Eating better can help to slow weight gain. It also makes you physically and mentally stronger so you can bounce back from stress.

  • Eat some protein at each meal and snack. Good choices include fish, chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, legumes, and tofu or tempeh. And, load up on fruits and vegetables every time you eat. Eating a variety of whole foods keeps you full and helps curb cravings for sugar and processed carbs.
  • Ask a registered dietitian if you need extra nutritional supplements.  
    • Vitamins C, D, and many of the Bs are depleted faster when you’re under stress.
    • Omega-3 (fish oil) can help reduce stress-induced inflammation in your body.
    • Magnesium may have a calming effect, especially if you take it at night.
    • Adaptogenic herbs like holy basil can help lower cortisol and make you more resilient to stress.
  • Take time each week to plan your meals and snacks, and stock your fridge with healthy, low glycemic-index ingredients. A grocery delivery service can help if you’re pressed for time. Having a plan in place and food available makes healthy eating easier and eliminates the stress of “what’s for dinner.”
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Both can elevate cortisol levels.

The health experts at Bodyworks for Your Health are here for you if you need help putting a plan in place. We have a team of medical and lifestyle experts that include:

  • Medical doctors
  • Behavioral health therapists
  • Pain management specialists
  • Registered dietitians
  • Physical therapists
  • Fitness experts and personal trainers
  • Yoga teachers

We offer a wide range of personal wellness services and group programs to fit your needs. Contact us today to learn how you can join the Bodyworks community and get your health and well-being back on track.