Most people look at body fat as an enemy and they should to a certain extent. However, in understanding how to beat belly fat, it helps to understand the genetically engineered reasons that we store body fat the way we do and the differences between modern life and the way our ancestors lived. It all started with simple survival. Without the ability to easily store fat some of us would not even be here on this earth today, so thank your ancestors for improving the hardiness of your family's gene pool and keeping you in the mix.
Despite fat's value in the evolutionary scheme of things, excess belly fat can cause many problems and I'm not talking about whether you can tie your shoelaces. Belly fat - which refers largely to visceral fat, not just the subcutaneous fat below your skin - has been associated in recent years with all kinds of health problems ranging from heart disease, to strokes to diabetes. Fat can be cosmetically frustrating, but belly fat can also be deadly.
Gender is one factor that affects where you store your fat. Men store most of it in their belly, while women store more fat in their hips and thighs. Women store body fat in the lower body because of childbirth and hormonal reasons. After menopause when hormones change women also tend to begin storing more fat in the abdominal region.
But why does the fat go there so quickly and easily?
Why doesn't it just even itself out all across the body rather than concentrating in one unsightly area? And why do we get belly fat in the first place? Obviously, the first reason is caloric excess. That is always true in males and in females, so before you start pointing your finger at genetics, gender, hormones, adrenergic receptors or anything else, look at how much you're eating every day first.
At the risk of continuing to state the obvious, the second reason is not enough exercise. In today's modern technologically advanced society, we do not work like our grandparents did, and our waistlines show it. I also believe that in our society today, we are much more stressed out than our ancestors were. Sure, there were fight or flight situations in the natural environment which we no longer have today, but those occasional natural phenomena have now been replaced by continuous daily stress from our regular daily workload. Combine that with the reduced exercise and increased portion sizes and availability of food, and could this be a third reason for belly fat?
Experts argue about whether stress "causes" fat, but there is no question that stress correlates highly with fat and it creates a situation - both environmentally and hormonally - that is highly conducive to increasing fat. Because of the nature of stress hormones such as cortisol, combined with metabolic syndrome, excess insulin and insulin resistance that is the common result of sedentary lifestyle combined with refined foods, the caloric surplus is stored as visceral body fat and our bellies begin to bulge.
More and More Research Is Proving the Connection
More and more research is starting to explain, scientifically, how high levels of stress ultimately lead to increased body fat. In a paper published in the journal Hormonal Metabolic Research (Kyrou July 2007) Greek researchers said that stress may affect the thyroid by inhibiting the enzymatic conversion of T4 into the biologically active form, T3. They also noted that while stress causes a generalized catabolic state, the extended action of the glucocorticoids on the metabolic pathways eventually leads to increased visceral body fat accumulation and insulin resistance. In fact, numerous researchers now point at central obesity as the distinguishing factor in metabolic syndrome.
So although we may not be able to say that "stress causes belly fat" literally, there is very clearly a strong association between the two. How are your stress levels? What does your diet look like? How does your exercise regimen stack up? How does you belly look? Add high stress levels onto a sedentary lifestyle with an excess of calories and you have a textbook formula for gaining belly fat.
The belly fat, in turn can lead to more health problems than you ever thought. "Hundreds of studies have led to the conclusion that any fat can be problematic," said obesity expert Jeffrey S Flier, MD, "But it's much, much more dangerous when it's accumulated in the abdomen.," He added that pound for pound, fat that builds up in the abdomen is much more likely to cause diabetes and heart disease. His research is published in the Dec. 7 issue of Science.
Flier and his colleagues looked at a stress hormone called cortisol - the "fight or flight" hormone that kicks in during stressful situations. When the body produces excess cortisol, it tends to cause a build-up of belly fat.
So what do we do about all this?
In addition to the usual prescription of eat less and exercise more, it looks like we have to add something else: reduce stress… Relax and enjoy life. Stop worrying and start taking care of yourself. Consider taking up meditation. In light of the recent evidence about the stress-belly fat connection, this no longer seems like a "new agey" type of thing to do. Even of 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises daily could work wonders.
Many people are failing to reach their fat reduction goals because they have not considered the possible effect of stress on their weight as well as their health. This is one of the reasons I included a stress relief course along with my Flatten Your Abs Program.
When you combine the calorie deficit from nutrition with muscle building exercises, fat burning exercises AND stress relief exercises (which in my course include yoga and mind body relaxation techniques of Tai Chi And Qigong), you may very well have the most complete approach to a flat stomach that has ever been created.
You can learn more about the Firm And Flatten Your Abs program as well as the bonus courses, including the stress relievers program on the home page at: