Can Cortisol Cause me to Store Extra Belly Fat?

"Stubborn" bellyfat

One of the latest products you see advertised on TV relates to Cortisol and belly fat. The commercial tells you that the hormone Cortisol, when released causes you to store fat around your belly.

The supposedly mechanism for this is as follows; when we get stressed our bodies release hormones to cause the sugar in our bloodstream to enter our cells rapidly so that we are able to move quickly as part of the “fight or flight” mechanism, that is we can fight with or run away from whatever is stressing us with a burst of energy. In today’s society we don’t generally respond to mental or physical stress by running away or fighting so we don’t use up this rush of blood sugar into our cells, therefore it is stored as body fat. Is this true? Absolutely not!

While it’s true that the hormone Cortisol is released during stress and is designed to cause the sugar in your blood stream to enter your cells quickly, this doesn’t increase your body fat.

Let’s go back to my blog about maintenance calorie levels. Say you’re an average male that weighs about 170 pounds. Your caloric maintenance level is approximately 2000 cal per day. This means that if you eat more than 2000 cal, you will add body fat, and if you eat less than 2000 cal you will lose body fat. Now let’s say that today you eat 2000 cal and that’s your total for the day. You haven’t gone over 2000 or under 2000 cal today. If you did not eat excess calories today, how could you possibly get fatter.

Even if you had a stressful moment and your hormones created these changes in your bloodstream you still couldn’t get fatter because you didn’t eat excess calories today.

This example represents a tactic that is typical in advertising. It sounds reasonable that if the sugar in your blood entered your cells and you did not use the energy in the fight or flight mechanism, then you would store this sugar as fat but it’s simply not true and not possible.

Myth– Not eating enough will cause me not to burn fat or lose weight. Over the years this idea has been put forth, usually by companies trying to sell you something.

The truth is when we say not eating enough that’s exactly what it means. You’re not eating enough which means that your body will use its reserves and possibly some muscle tissue to maintain life. There’s no way around this. You can’t violate the law of physics which tell us that you need a certain number of calories per day to maintain your current body mass.

A calorie is not an object rather it’s a measure of heat. When you consume food it’s either converted into body mass, burned as energy or stored as body fat depending on your total intake versus your caloric expense over time.

Here is the truth. Your body does make some metabolic adjustment to starvation. When you consume less calories than you need for maintenance, your body perceives that you are in starvation and responds by slowing metabolism. However, it can only slow metabolism by about 10% at the most.
Here’s an example: Let’s say your body needs 2000 cal a day to maintain its current mass. It doesn’t matter whether you eat 1900 or 100 cal per day, your body will senses starvation mode because both values are under 2000 cal. If your body reacts by adjusting metabolism by 10% this means your body needs about 1850 cal a day now to maintain its current mass.

Continuing, let’s say that you’re actually on a 1000 cal per day diet. Your body needs 1850 cal, your eating 1000, so there’s an 850 cal difference. It takes 3500 cal to constitute 1 pound of fat loss. So, it would take you approximately 4 days to lose 1 pound of fat (4×850 equals about 3500 cal).

Diet myths generally originate from the same sources as literary myths do; meaning there is usually some basis in truth which is stretched or altered to fit a given situation or to sell a given product.