How To Lose Cortisol Belly Fat – Causes, Signs & 6 Tips To Lower Your Cortisol Level In 2024

Dr. Susan Adeosun
Dr. Maya Frankfurt, PhD
Tired of that extra weight? Discover effective strategies in our 2024 guide on how to lose cortisol belly fat for a healthier you.
how to lose cortisol belly fat
Reducing high cortisol levels can lead to weight loss. Photo: Ba Le Ho

Are you hearing the words cortisol belly fat for the first time? In fact, it is quite a common occurrence. If you have been experiencing weight gain around the belly, this might just be the cause. This is due to the fact that cortisol, the hormone released in response to stress, plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism and energy storage.

When chronically stressed, cortisol levels become unhealthily elevated. Excess cortisol increases appetite, particularly for sugary and fatty foods that are calorie-dense. The body tends to store these extra calories as visceral fat, which is the deep abdominal fat commonly referred to as belly fat.

Below, we will see how to lose cortisol belly fat. We will explore how cortisol affects the body and learn strategies to reduce belly fat.

6 Ways To Lose Cortisol Belly Fat

Cortisol belly fat refers to the accumulation of excess abdominal fat associated with high levels of the hormone cortisol. Here are 6 great ways to lose cortisol belly fat quickly:

  1. Manage stress.
  2. Start exercising.
  3. Adopt a proper diet.
  4. Avoid inflammatory meals.
  5. Stay hydrated.
  6. Get enough sleep.

6 Ways On How To Get Rid Of Cortisol Belly Fat

how to lose cortisol belly fat
Practice these 6 strategies daily can help lower cortisol levels and shed belly fat. Photo: BEAUTY STUDIO/Shutterstock

Are you concerned about how to reduce cortisol belly fat? Do not worry. By implementing these six strategies into your daily routine, you can effectively lower cortisol levels and work towards shedding belly fat.

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Manage Stress

This is the most effective strategy to use when you search for how to get rid of cortisol belly fat. It is the first step to losing fat because weight gain is directly linked to stress. Research[1] demonstrates that stress increases cortisol levels. Increased cortisol, in turn, causes weight gain and even obesity.

There are several ways to manage stress.[2] The first step is to determine the stressor. Stressors may be work, relationships, finances, or more. Aside from removing the stressor, other stress management techniques include:

  • Mindfulness and meditation. 
  • Yoga, acupuncture, and other holistic practices.
  • Deep breathing exercises.
  • Therapy and counseling.

Start Exercising

While stress is the cause of weight gain, it cannot simply disappear by removing the stressor. Exercising is the next step in losing belly fat. Workouts help you lose weight by burning calories. This helps create a calorie deficit when combined with a healthy diet. This deficit is essential for weight loss, including reducing belly fat.

Exercise also has an effect on reducing cortisol levels.[3] Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Regular physical activity helps reduce stress[4] and can indirectly impact your cortisol levels and lower belly fat. A range of 150–200 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise is recommended.

Here are some easy workouts to help lose belly fat:

  • Walking: Walking is one of the simplest and most effective exercises for burning calories and reducing belly fat. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days. 
  • Cycling: If you have a bicycle, cycling is an excellent, low-impact exercise that targets the core and burns calories.
  • Planks: These are a great way to strengthen your core muscles and improve posture. Start with a 20-30-second plank and gradually increase the time as you get stronger.
  • Crunches: This is another focused workout that targets the core abdominal muscles. 
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head or across your chest.
  2. Lift your upper body off the ground by contracting your abdominal muscles.
  3. Lower your upper body back down without straining your neck or using your hands to pull yourself up.
  4. Do two to three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Before you start with any exercise, consult with a healthcare professional or fitness expert if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Adopt A Proper Diet

When we want to lose weight, we often focus on physical activity. However, our diet is crucial, too. 

For starters, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. Calculate your daily calorie needs and aim for a moderate calorie deficit. This usually involves reducing your daily caloric intake by 500-750 calories to lose about 1-1.5 pounds weekly.

Next, ensure you are eating the proper meals. Prioritize eating nutrient-dense meals like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.[5] They support cortisol regulation and weight loss at the same time. Omega-3-rich sources like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds in your diet can further contribute to a more balanced cortisol response.[6]

Additionally, include specific stress-reducing foods like dark chocolate and green tea.  Green tea, in particular, has been linked to abdominal weight loss[7] in overweight individuals. In essence, these meals support weight loss and cortisol management.

Avoid Inflammatory Meals

Another factor in losing cortisol belly fat is to target unhealthy habits. Certain foods can contribute to chronic inflammation, which is linked to various health issues, including weight gain and increased cortisol levels.

What are inflammatory foods? They include highly processed foods. These foods often contain trans fats, high levels of sugar, and refined carbohydrates, all of which can promote inflammation[8] and belly weight gain. So you are advised to detox from them.

Instead, as mentioned above, opt for foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, like fish, berries, leafy greens, and spices such as turmeric and ginger.

Stay Hydrated

If you want to lose cortisol belly fat, your only drink should be water. Other liquids like caffeine and alcohol are strongly linked to increased cortisol levels. Alcohol,[9] in particular, causes a beer belly where fat accumulates in the abdomen. So, you are advised to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake.

Conversely, water plays an important role in various metabolic processes, including the breakdown of fats.  Dehydration can increase cortisol levels,[10] as the body perceives dehydration as a form of stress. The elevation in cortisol can contribute to abdominal fat storage. Staying hydrated can support a healthy metabolism and is essential for weight management.

Get Enough Sleep

Finally, getting enough sleep is crucial for managing cortisol levels and losing cortisol belly fat. Creating a consistent sleep schedule is one effective way to ensure sound sleep. A good sleep schedule helps maintain hormonal balance, including cortisol regulation. This can lead to better stress and weight management.[11]

What Is Cortisol Belly Fat?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in response to stress. It is the body’s primary mechanism for adapting to stress. As part of the stress response, cortisol raises blood sugar[12] and suppresses inflammation. 

Cortisol levels fluctuate, following a circadian rhythm. However, when a person experiences chronic stress, cortisol levels may remain elevated for a long time. This can have adverse effects on health,[13] such as high blood pressure, fatigue, mood changes, and insulin resistance.

One significant effect of cortisol is fat accumulation in the abdominal area. This is also known as cortisol belly fat. One of the primary mechanisms by which cortisol contributes to belly fat is influencing the body’s energy storage. High levels of cortisol lead to an increased storage of fat. This means that excess cortisol in the body promotes the accumulation of fat around the belly.

How Stress Cause Cortisol Belly

Many of us struggle with chronic stress, and its impact on our bodies can be more significant than we realize. Stress can play a major role in developing cortisol belly fat. When you encounter stress, whether triggered by physical, emotional, or environmental factors, your adrenal glands release cortisol as part of the body’s innate fight-or-flight response.

While this hormonal release is a natural and necessary reaction to cope with daily stressors, chronic or prolonged stress can lead to persistently high levels of cortisol,[13] which, in turn, can contribute to cortisol belly. The key word here is a persistently high level of cortisol.

High cortisol levels prompt your body to increase fat storage. The new fat storage is often concentrated in the abdominal region. This occurs because cortisol promotes the breakdown of muscle tissue to provide the energy needed to deal with stress while simultaneously encouraging fat storage, particularly in the visceral area surrounding your internal organs. Also, stress is often associated with inflammation and is closely linked to weight gain.

Signs Of A Stress Belly

A stress belly is not a medical term. However, we can use it to describe the physical changes in the abdominal area that can occur due to chronic stress. Here are some signs that may be associated with a stress belly:

  1. Increased waist circumference: One of the most apparent signs of belly fat is an increase in waist size. Measuring your waist circumference can help identify excess abdominal fat. Generally, a waist circumference of more than 35 inches (88 cm) for women and 40 inches (102 cm) for men is considered a risk factor for health problems[14] associated with belly fat.
  2. Bloating:  Stress belly fat can cause feelings of fullness and discomfort in the abdominal area, leading to bloating and a sensation of “carrying extra weight” around the midsection.
  3. Digestive problems: Stress can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and lead to digestive issues. These digestive issues come with abdominal discomfort.

Additionally, chronic stress can have many negative health effects beyond changes in body composition, so managing stress is essential.

Health Risks Resulted From Chronic Stress

how to lose cortisol belly fat
Chronic stress accounts for numerous health risks. Photo: Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock

Chronic stress can impact your physical and mental health. When the body is constantly exposed to stress without adequate time to recover, it can lead to various health problems. 

Here are some potential health risks associated with chronic stress:

Cardiovascular Problems

Chronic stress can significantly impact cardiovascular health, increasing the risk of various cardiovascular problems. One of the primary ways chronic stress affects the cardiovascular system is by contributing to hypertension. Stress triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can temporarily raise blood pressure. High blood pressure[15] is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, making it a concerning consequence of chronic stress.

Gastrointestinal Issues

The gut-brain connection, known as the gut-brain axis, plays a substantial role in stress-induced gastrointestinal problems. One of chronic stress’s most common digestive problems is irritable bowel syndrome.[16]

Stress can potentially trigger IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is another digestive disorder impacted by stress. Stress can exacerbate GERD symptoms, characterized by acid reflux and heartburn.

Endocrine System Disruption

The endocrine system regulates the body’s hormones and critical physiological functions. Prolonged exposure to stress can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body. This disruption can affect various aspects of health, including blood sugar regulation, potentially contributing to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes.[17] Also, stress-related hormonal changes can disrupt the menstrual cycle and contribute to fertility problems in women.[18]

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When To See A Doctor

It’s important to seek medical attention for stress when it interferes significantly with your daily life. For instance, if you are experiencing severe or prolonged stress symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or persistent physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, or chest pain, you should consult a healthcare professional.

Chronic stress can lead to various physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, or immune system dysfunction. If you suspect stress contributes to or exacerbates a physical health condition, consult a healthcare provider to explore treatment options.


Losing cortisol belly fat requires effort. The first and best step is to manage and reduce stress. In addition to stress management, a balanced diet and regular exercise are key components of shedding excess belly fat. Consulting a healthcare provider or registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance if you find that losing belly fat remains a challenge despite your efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I lower my cortisol levels to lose weight?

To lower cortisol levels and aid weight loss, focus on stress reduction techniques such as meditation and exercise, ensure quality sleep, maintain a balanced diet, and manage portion sizes.

What foods reduce cortisol belly fat?

Foods like leafy greens, fatty fish, dark chocolate, and probiotics can help reduce cortisol levels and aid in losing belly fat.

Is belly fat due to high cortisol?

Yes, high cortisol levels due to chronic stress can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.

How do you get rid of adrenal belly fat?

Combining stress management techniques with regular exercise and a balanced diet can help reduce adrenal belly fat.

Can you get rid of a cortisol belly?

While it’s challenging, you can reduce a cortisol belly through stress management, a healthy diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. However, spot reduction is not effective; focus on overall weight loss.


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