Cortisol Belly: 4 Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels Naturally

Cortisol Belly

Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes fat redistribution in your body resulting in an enlarged belly, also called cortisol belly.

In addition to fat redistribution from your arms, legs, and thighs, it also causes cravings for sweets and carbs, and cause muscle wasting.

Cortisol also causes skin thinning that causes stretch marks (purplish striae) and hair growth at unusual sites such as your belly and face (in women).

So, not only do you end up having stubborn belly fat that is not responding to your weight loss measures, but you also have an unattractive belly fat of which you are ashamed.

If you have a cortisol belly, you are in a situation where it feels like no workout or diet can help you get rid of stubborn belly fat.

Most people have this unwanted weight gain around the middle area due to chronic stress. Stress from daily life can lead to weight gain and when you are unable to lose those pounds it makes you more stressed.

So, this is like a loophole without an escape. But is it impossible to shed this stress belly?

Let’s dive into how you can say goodbye to chronic stress and the resultant weight gain.


What is Cortisol Belly (Stress Belly or Hormonal Belly)?

Cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone. It plays a rather necessary role in the fight-or-flight function in the body.

When you face a threat the cortisol surges and provides a burst of energy which helps you deal with the situation, as an important survival mechanism.

However, when you are chronically stressed the problem becomes serious. The cortisol levels remain heightened in the body and this elevation can lead to disruption in the body’s natural process.

The disruption can influence fat storage. Cortisol signals the body to store fat in the belly area. This visceral fat is related to several health conditions:

So, this spare fat is not just a cosmetic concern it can lead to an ICU situation if not dealt with on time.


How Do You Know You Have A Cortisol Belly?

Before you give up, you need to be sure if you really have a cortisol belly. There are other reasons that may not let you lose weight despite all your efforts.

Here are a few reasons you may not be losing weight:

  • Genetic obesity:

Genes decide where the fat is stored in the body. Some people are naturally predisposed to more fat around the midsection.

  • Hypothyroidism:

Obesity associated with hypothyroidism, like cortisol belly, is also resistant to conventional weight loss measures.

Treating hypothyroidism with Levothyroxine replacement boosts your metabolism and keeps you in shape.

  • Insulin resistance:

Insulin resistance is the inability of your body to respond to insulin. Thus, your body tries to produce more and more insulin.

Because insulin is associated with weight gain, insulin resistance is usually associated with obesity.

Common examples of insulin resistance are PCOS and NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis), Diabetes, Hypertension, acromegaly, and medications (corticosteroids, antipsychotics, antidepressants, etc)

  • Diabetes:

Diabetes type 2 is commonly associated with obesity. Most individuals who have type 2 diabetes have concomitant obesity.

  • Depression:

Depression is also linked with obesity. Depressed patients may develop binge eating, have reduced physical activity compared to normal individuals, have disturbed sleep, and elevated stress hormones, all of which can cause weight gain.

  • Other Hormonal Disorders:

Growth hormones, female hormones (estrogen and progesterone), and oral contraceptive pills are all linked with weight gain and obesity.

How to differentiate between Cortisol Belly (or Stress belly) and Belly Fat due to Obesity?


Cortisol Belly

Belly Fat Due to Obesity

AppearanceCortisol belly looks rounded or protruding around the midsection with stretch marks on the sides.The belly is overall protuberant and proportionate.
Fat DepositionFat deposition is around the mid-abdomen.

There is disproportionate belly enlargement compared to thighs and hips.

Fat deposition occurs in the abdomen, thighs, hips, and buttocks.

Can accumulate in various parts of the body, including the abdomen, hips, thighs, and buttocks.

CausesCortisol belly, also called stress belly, is due to stress.

High cortisol levels cause overeating and cravings for high-calorie and high-fat foods.

Result of overeating, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, genetics, and hormonal imbalances.
TreatmentStress relieving measures such as exercises, meditation, and adequate sleep.A low-calorie diet, exercise, portion control, and medications or weight loss surgery.
Health RisksCortisol belly increases your risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.There is an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancers, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and other obesity-related health issues.
TestingTesting requires evaluating symptoms of chronic stress, plasma or salivary cortisol levels, overnight dexamethasone suppression test, and testing for associated complications.Check BMI, waist circumference, thyroid functions, and health risks associated with weight gain.

In Summary:

The increased belly fat is related to elevated cortisol but it is important to look at common symptoms associated with this condition.

  • The excess fat around the middle area is a hallmark of a stress belly.
  • Even while you are dieting and exercising you might keep gaining weight. Cortisol belly fat is resistant to weight loss measures.

However, it is important to remember that these symptoms can be due to other conditions:

Genetics: Genes decide where the fat is stored in the body. Some people are naturally predisposed to more fat around the midsection.

Diet: If your diet is rich in saturated fats and processed foods with sugary drinks then you are bound to gain weight in the belly section.


Cortisol Belly: 4 Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels Naturally

cortisol belly how to lower cortisol levels

1.    Stress-lowering techniques:

  • Mindfulness meditation:

This practice involves focusing on the present moment and relaxing your body. Studies have shown that meditation can reduce stress hormones including cortisol.

  • Deep breathing exercises:

By practicing slow, deep breaths you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system.

This opposes the fight-or-flight response and helps your body relax by lowering cortisol levels.

2.    Cortisol-lowering nutrients:

There are a few nutrients that can help lower the stress hormone, cortisol lowering nutrients. These help your body adapt to stress and manage cortisol production.

  • Adaptogens:

These include herbs, mushrooms, and natural substances. They work by supporting the adrenal glands which are responsible for producing cortisol.

  • Magnesium:

As a mineral, it can help regulate stress and relax your muscles. Also, low Mg levels are linked to increased cortisol.

  • Vitamin C:

This is an antioxidant that will help fight the damaging effects of stress hormones on your cells.

3.    Stress-lowering exercises:

If you exercise regularly, you will experience not only a better physical health but also a better mental health.

It can help you combat stress and lower cortisol levels by the following mechanisms:

  • Physical exercise signals the stimulation of endorphins, which are chemicals that make you feel good. They promote relaxation and improve mood by counteracting the stress response.
  • With exercise, you can burn excess fat and feel less stressed about stubborn belly fat.
  • Also, it can help you sleep like a baby by promoting sleep quality. This plays a good part in regulating cortisol levels,

These are a few exercises you might want to try:

  • Moderate-intensity cardio:

Activities like brisk walking, swimming, or cycling increase your heart rate and promote stress reduction.

You should go for a minimum of 150 minutes worth of moderate-intensity exercise or cardio every week.

  • Strength training:

Building your muscles not only improves the physique but also helps regulate cortisol levels.

Aim for strength training exercises involving major muscle areas at least twice weekly.

4.    Cortisol-lowering foods:

  • Dark chocolate:

This is rich in Mg and flavonols. Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa can help lower cortisol levels.

  • Leafy green veggies:

being a decent source of magnesium, these vegetables can help regulate neurotransmitters to prevent stress.

  • Berries:

not only are they yummy, but they are also packed with antioxidants to fight harmful oxidative damage.

  • Fatty fish:

They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which contain the ability to reduce cortisol levels in the body.

cortisol belly cortisol lowering foods



Worrying about the stubborn belly fat will only worsen your case. So, remember that consistency is the key to weight loss.

Include these stress-busting strategies and other habits into your routine and you can easily get rid of cortisol belly or stress belly.

However, it is important to note that this information is not an alternative to professional advice.

If you feel like your condition is more serious than just having a stress belly then consult a physician first.


What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

Here is a link to My Facebook Page. You can also contact me by email at or at My Twitter Account
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