Why weight goes to our abdomen & what to do

Weight is so much more than calories in/calories out- it plays a role, but that in conjunction with potentially may other things going on, can seem like an uphill battle. And it kind of is. Chances are you didn’t just wake up one morning however many pounds heavier, but it was over a period of time where you did wake up one morning, and your clothes didn’t fit right, you felt lethargic/not good, thought the scale was broken or that higher number is actually muscle (if you’re working out- oh I’ve been there too!), or wondered why it could went to your abdomen instead of _______-> fill in the blank with desired body part.

Weight around our abdomen towards the center is typically representative of too much cortisol, our stress hormone, and around the sides represents insulin issues (either the body produces too much, or not enough is getting into the cells). Cortisol also raises glucose/sugar, which tells the body to raise insulin secretion from the pancreas in order to take sugar into the cells for energy. If we have elevated cortisol over a period of time, then eventually our cells become resistant to insulin.

Fat cells are also their own organ system, and when those cells are located around the abdomen, they are much more sensitive to receiving cortisol outputs- and secrete cortisol themselves too. Weight around the abdomen is also more likely due to the not so good fat, visceral, which surrounds our organs and harder to lose, versus the subcutaneous fat located under our skin.

Fat cells can also turn testosterone into estrogen, not such good news for men as this lowers their testosterone. Low testosterone has been linked to insulin sensitivity (risk factor for weight gain), and then the cycle perpetuates itself by lowering testosterone through fat cells. And elevated estrogen tells the body it doesn’t need any more testosterone either because they both signal the same receptor that would otherwise say ‘make more T'. However, too much testosterone is not good for anyone.

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High estrogen is not good for women either as they can also contribute to high levels of insulin, and on that note, low estrogen is not great and especially in women when this happens around perimenopause, the body looks for other sources of estrogen and targets fat cells! Also around this time estrogen metabolites tend to shift from predominantly the more potent estradiol to the less potent estrone (predominant estrogen from fat cells) that promotes weight gain around the abdomen.

All these stress/hormone imbalances also decrease the effectiveness of our thyroid- aka our metabolism.

Where does this ‘stress’ also come from outside of interacting with people on a day to day? Kidding! Well, sort of.. sometimes. Anywho.. it can be living in an urban (versus rural) environment where our body has to detox all the crap from outside, stressful moments, going to bed late or not sleeping well (cortisol should drop in the evening, and stay low throughout the night), not eating good, nutrient dense food, unresolved health concerns, alcohol, sugary drinks, caffeine, smoking, not moving, no joy in your life, genetic predisposition, certain pharmaceuticals (i.e. statins, oral contraceptives, psych meds) and so on.

Great, so now that we’ve realized that losing weight can take time because we are literally fighting an uphill battle especially as our fat cells have a mind/response of their own, here’s 3 actionable steps you can take on a regular basis to jumpstart your metabolism:

  • Fast- Have you heard of intermittent fasting? A great way to reset blood sugar is to wait at least 12 hours of any type of caloric intake between dinner and breakfast. This gives your pancreas (the gland that secretes insulin) a rest, and lets the body utilize resources take care of whatever dis-ease may be present, instead of digestion. If you’re feeling good, try 15 hours once, and perhaps a few days a week. This may take time too, as it can be a shock to the body if you’re not used to it. Further, wait at least 3-4 hours between each meal. If you’ve had a good balance of protein, fats, fiber, and carbs (including fruits and/or vegetables), you should be good to go. This also helps the body reset.

  • Take out extra calories- This can be easier said than done, but once in awhile, track your food. I tell patients it’s more for them than it is for me, as it really makes us get honest with ourselves. Not all calories are created equally, and liquid calories are the easiest culprits- alcohol, juice, creamer/milk in coffee. Also your body is a temple. Are you getting the most nutritional bang for your buck with what you’re eating? It’s bit of a shock when we realize that it can take a lot of a food to make us feel full, and that it’s crazy high in calories (I’ve been there too!), or there’s also lots more choices that are delicious, healthful, and filling where we can slash even sometimes hundreds of calories. Healthy food does not have to be boring either. Consider checking out some of my recipes here, or play around with some spices. It’s all about mindfulness and being in line with our goals.

  • Go to a comedy show- Or find that really funny friend/video who you love to be around. Or maybe it’s a setting or book or arts and crafts kit that makes you smile. Your cells pick up on this immediately and cortisol immediately starts to decrease. And so does blood sugar! And eventually the number on the scale. Fun fact: smile.. within a few seconds you’ll think of a happy memory and your whole body just relaxes, inflammation drops (our fat cells also secrete inflammatory metabolites that further raise cortisol). If that doesn’t work, go watch some youtube videos.

All of this takes time and consistency, because just as we didn't gain weight overnight, we’re not going to lose it overnight. The good news, is that all these strategies also help balance our hormone levels, blood sugar, and also help prevent additional weight gain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other conditions. If you’d like to learn more about what you can do, check out these extra super simple TIPS!