Visceral Fat and Stress

I just encountered an interesting fact about visceral fat, which is that stress is a cause in the formation of visceral fat. How interesting this is, on a variety of levels.

What is visceral fat?

It’s the fat surrounding your organs, not under your skin. Even if you are skinny, you could have a lot of visceral fat and not even know it. When people have belly fat or thick abdomens, it’s often visceral fat that has deposited.

What does visceral fat do?

Fat tissue is active tissue; it produces hormones and links the endocrine and immune systems. Healthy amounts of visceral fat can be beneficial but too much can lead to metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes among other health problems.

So it’s a good idea to figure how to minimize visceral fat as much as possible, which leads to my opening comment about stress.

I personally have had issues with visceral fat. It can be stubborn to get rid of, potentially harder than the fat under your skin. I’ve seen some protocols melt it away on me, and then at times, they’ve failed.  

One factor I have not considered is stress. Stress causes cortisol levels to rise, which encourages the formation of visceral fat.1 I had often wondered how my body composition numbers would show visceral fat rising and falling, even though eating and exercise regimens were the same.

One year I went to Hawaii on vacation and gained a lot of visceral fat despite working out regularly there. The next year, I went back and gained none. And then this last year, I went and came back with added visceral fat again. But this time, I had a tremendous amount of stress, dealing with family and jet lag. Could it have been stress all this time that has been adding visceral fat, or the lack of stress which removes it?

Last year I completed Precision Nutrition Level 2. Towards the end, they gave us a list of factors that enabled fat loss more than anything else, and one of them was simply the removal of stress: the removal of stressing over their weight, fat, how they looked, the management of stress in their lives. Once they stopped stressing and obsessing over it, then the pounds just melted off.

How’s the stress in your lives?

1 The regulation of adipose tissue distribution in humans., Björntorp P1., Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996 Apr;20(4):291-302.