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The REAL cause of your stomach fat: Biochemist reveals how stress can lead to a bloated belly - and how to fix it for good

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 6 days ago Sophie Haslett For Daily Mail Australia

Getty © Getty Getty If you're eating all the right things and working out like crazy but still putting on weight, it might be because of your stress levels.

Acclaimed biochemist Dr Libby Weaver said that while you might think that it's as simple as 'calories in, calories out', in fact many people are 'pulling the wrong levers' in their bid to be slim and healthy.

'Despite good intentions, people are giving their body the wrong instructions when it comes to asking it to burn body fat effectively,' she wrote on her blog.

'They are unknowingly suffering from a major effect of too much cortisol.' 

Biochemist Dr Libby Weaver (pictured) said that while you might think that it's as simple as 'calories in, calories out', many people are 'pulling the wrong levers' in their bid to be slim © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Biochemist Dr Libby Weaver (pictured) said that while you might think that it's as simple as 'calories in, calories out', many people are 'pulling the wrong levers' in their bid to be slim

What is cortisol?

* Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone and 'your inbuilt alarm system'.

* It works with certain parts of your to control your mood, motivation, and fear.

* Your adrenal glands - triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys - make cortisol.

* It's best known for helping fuel your body's fight-or-flight instinct in a crisis, but you can produce too much of it when you are stressed.

Source: WebMD 

So how can you regulate your stress levels and get rid of the 'cortisol spread' so many of us suffer from?

The first thing Dr Libby said you need to do is understand exactly what cortisol is, and why it's causing unwanted fat around your midsection.

'Cortisol is a stress hormone, and our body produces this when it believes we've been experiencing persistent stress,' she said.

Whether this is your response to an overflowing inbox or to-do list, or your relationship with your finances and relationships, the production of cortisol comes about as a result of never giving your body a rest.

Dr Libby Weaver walking in the rain: And while you might not think your body is stressed, often by depriving your body of food after cortisol-induced weight gain, you only make yourself gain more kilos (pictured: Dr Libby) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited And while you might not think your body is stressed, often by depriving your body of food after cortisol-induced weight gain, you only make yourself gain more kilos (pictured: Dr Libby)

Cortisol, Dr Libby explained, was designed to save your life when food was scarce.

'It sends a message to every cell in your body that your metabolism needs to be slowed down so that those precious fat stores can keep you going until the food supply returns,' she said.

And while you might not think your body is stressed, often by depriving your body of food after cortisol-induced weight gain, you only make yourself gain more kilos.

a person on a laptop: Instead of dieting when you feel stressed, Dr Libby said you need to regulate your appetite and slow down in general - chew every mouthful and concentrate on food (stock image) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Instead of dieting when you feel stressed, Dr Libby said you need to regulate your appetite and slow down in general - chew every mouthful and concentrate on food (stock image)

How can you best regulate your cortisol levels?

* Eat slowly and chew your food well. Allow time for the digestive processes to work optimally.

* Put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls to aid digestion.

* Connect with your mind when you're eating, and try to use this mindfulness to let you know when you're full.

* Use your breath to alter your stress response and start the day with 20 long, slow breaths before you get out of bed. This diaphragmatic breathing lowers the stress hormone.

* Ensure you get eight hours of sleep - or as close to eight hours as possible - each night. 

Dr Libby Weaver sitting on a bench: Dr Libby (pictured) recommends you use your breath to alter your stress response and start the day with 20 long slow breaths before you get out of bed © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Dr Libby (pictured) recommends you use your breath to alter your stress response and start the day with 20 long slow breaths before you get out of bed Instead of dieting when you feel stressed, Dr Libby said you need to try to regulate your appetite and slow down in general.

'Eat slowly and chew your food well; allow time for the digestive processes to work optimally,' she said.

If you often inhale your food, she recommends you put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls. 

Dr Libby also said you should connect with your mind when you're eating, and try to use this mindfulness to let you know when you're full.

Lastly, she recommends you use your breath to alter your stress response and start the day with 20 long slow breaths before you get out of bed.

'When you breathe in this way, you communicate to every cell in your body that you are safe, as breathing is shallow when your life is literally in danger,' she said.

'Nothing lowers stress hormones faster than diaphragmatic breathing.'

To read more from Dr Libby Weaver, you can visit her website and blog here

Gallery: 50 Worst Habits For Belly Fat (Eat This, Not That!)

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