Already have an account?
Get back to the

The Cortisol-Belly Fat Correlation — How To Stop Your Mind From Tricking Your Body

Feel your best in your sundress.


Sunny spring days are finally here. Nature’s blooming makes us feel joyful. Unfortunately, stress doesn’t always melt away with the waning of winter. Stress is uncomfortable — it causes our minds to race, which keeps us from thinking clearly or getting the rest we need. Another bummer? Worrying means an increase in your body’s production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which may cause weight gain — specifically around your tummy. Stress-induced belly fat is the last thing you want to worry about as you prep for spring adventures. Good news: there are easy, enjoyable tricks to harness the power of your five senses to keep cortisol low. Keep reading so you can enjoy the season with less stress (and belly fat).

Listen to a page-turner.

Cue up a fun audiobook while folding laundry, and you’ll turn a tiresome chore into a surprising stress-buster. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that children in intensive care units who listened to a fictional story read aloud for 30 minutes had increased oxytocin, decreased cortisol levels, and lowered pain. Regardless of your age, getting lost in a fictional world by listening to an audiobook may help you feel more relaxed. Added bonus: There are several audiobooks to choose from online — some of them are even free.

Sniff rosemary.

Take a minute to stop and smell the rosemary. A study published in Psychiatry Research found that taking deep sniffs of a rosemary oil may lower the levels of cortisol in the body. Tip: Add three drops of rosemary essential oil to a cotton ball and place it inside a clean, empty lip balm jar. Tuck it in your purse and take a whiff anytime, anywhere to tame stress on the go.

Savor your food.

Eating mindfully means paying close, careful attention to the flavors and textures of your food and the way your body feels. It allows you to slow down, enjoy your meal, and notice hunger and fullness cues. This method not only makes eating more enjoyable — it may also reduce your stress and the inches around your waistline, says research published in the Journal of Obesity. To do: Briefly concentrate your attention on individual flavors, such as focusing on the cheese, then the tomato, then the bread when eating pizza. This reconnects you to the present moment, potentially blocking the production of stress hormones. Bonus: North Carolina State University research found dieting women who savored food this way lost more weight than those who didn’t practice mindful eating.

Gaze at daffodils.

Stressful encounters can spike cortisol for several hours, says research published in Physical Therapy. The fix: Gaze at pretty spring blooms, whether in your yard or in a vase on your kitchen counter. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that office workers who looked at fresh flowers for just four minutes felt more relaxed.

Give yourself a special hug.

Research in the International Journal of Neuroscience suggests that soothing, relaxing touch may decrease cortisol while increasing feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine. To do: Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly; gently press. A study published in Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology says the trick may short-circuit your worry loop, lowering cortisol as effectively as receiving a hug from a loved one.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.