A Santa Claus Belly Is Not Always Jolly

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A Santa Claus Belly Is Not Always Jolly

A Santa Claus Belly Is Not Always Jolly



When it comes to the impact of excess weight,
new research is showing that it is not only how
much extra you have, but also how and where you
store it.

For many, that excess weight, often
created as a result of "unresolved stress," is
stored in the midsection or belly. The ensuing
apple shape is an ominous sign of fat accumulation
around the internal organs, raising the risk of
heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and
certain types of cancer.


To learn more about the stress-comfort food-belly
fat connection, I consulted Mary Dallman, PhD,
professor of physiology at the University of California
in San Francisco.

In their research, Dr. Dallman and
her colleagues found that healthy rats who were
deliberately subjected to stress chose to eat less
of their normal food (chow pellets) and ingest more
comfort food (sugar-water, saccharin and lard).

Soon the rodents began to put on more belly fat,
and as this happened, their level of stress hormones
went down. The more belly fat, the less stress.
That sounds good, right? Not so fast.

Although people are not rats and the mechanism by
which the human belly accumulates fat is no doubt
more complicated, the UCSF research gives us insight
into the complex relationships that exist between
stress, comfort food and belly fat.

According to Dr. Dallman...

The body responds to stress by producing glucocorticoid
steroid hormones.

In rats -- and most likely in people too -- glucocorticoids
act on the brain to influence eating behavior. Together
with insulin, they increase the preference for comfort
foods rich in fat and sugar, promote the breakdown of
fat and protein in the extremities, and encourage the
selective storage of abdominal fat.

This is likely a result of our societal evolution in which humans needed
quick energy available for fight or flight situations.
A still unidentified signal from increased belly fat
seems to slow down the stress response, suggesting that
eating comfort food is a form of self-medication to
relieve stress.


If you're an average man with a waist size greater
than 40 inches, or an average woman with a waist
circumference of more than 35 inches, your abdominal
fat is putting you at greater risk of health problems,
such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
You need to trim down and manage stress -- plain and simple.

Besides eating less and exercising more, consider stress
management options that include meditation, tai chi,
yoga or just a good, old-fashioned walk in the park.

Interestingly, as I wrote this article, still another
study came out looking at belly fat, this one linking
it with cigarette smoke. According to research published
in the August 1, 2005, issue of Circulation, exposure to
cigarette smoke among teens put them at higher risk of
metabolic syndrome, a disorder associated with belly fat
that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Proof once again that an all-around healthy lifestyle --
not only doing the right things but also avoiding the bad --
is the key to maintaining good health.