by Gill Cummings-Bell BA Hon’s M.Sc. MBA. PGCE. AMCSP

If you have started to store fat around the middle it is the most dangerous place to store the fat rather than on your thighs and bottom as it is more indicative of coronary heart disease, type 11 diabetes or insulin sensitivity.  It is also the hardest fat for your body to give up.

The main cause of this stubborn fat storage around the abdominal is hormonal.  Hormones can give the body powerful punches.  Two culprits punching above the belt in fat storage, which are rife in most people’s lifestyle, are the hormones Cortisol and Insulin.  Both of which can be friend or foe depending on lifestyle.


Insulin has a sweet and sour side.  Its sweet side is that it regulates the blood sugar and keeps it within normal parameters of 2.5 – 10 mmols per litre of blood.  This is important for brain function, mood levels and optimal neurological performance.

Insulin however has a nasty sour side which if it is too elevated it impacts onto a fat cell hormone called ‘lipoprotein lipase’ which is one of the gatekeepers of the fat cell.

I always think of the fat cell as a nightclub with a bouncer on the door ‘lipoprotein lipase’.   Insulin is the ‘policeman’ of the blood.  What it does is, if one gang ‘sugar’ is flooding the blood, Insulin calls to the fat cell to call back in the second gang ‘fat’ into the nightclub and lock the door whilst it deals with the sugar.  We inevitably gain weight and become extremely efficient at fat storage and very poor at releasing it.

How does it become too elevated? As food we buy has become more and more refined the refining process has made a starchy carbohydrate such as pasta behave like sugar in the body.  The refining process has already started to break down the starch before it hits the digestive system and the body treats it the same as sugar.

Rule of thumb, if ‘its white its deadly’.  As we clients eat at most meals some form of refined carbohydrate we find that Insulin is constantly pumped out and always present in the blood at high levels trying to reduce the flood of sugar in the blood.  This keeps the fat cell closed inhibiting fat loss and also means that as you become more used to this your cells become resistant to Insulin and can cause Insulin sensitivity and Type 11 diabetes.


Cortisol is another hormone that is sweet and sour.  Cortisol is a stress hormone, which is vital for our body to respond to stress.  The term stress is often misrepresented by our industry.  Stress is positive and healthy and without it the body doesn’t adapt and respond.  However when we feel ‘stressed’ we actually mean ‘distress’ which is usually caused by chronic stress.

Cortisol levels elevate throughout the day quite naturally to a peak around 4-5 in the evening and then decline.  Insulin can also cause an increase in Cortisol levels.   An excess of Cortisol however activates the fat cells to store fat, and particularly the deep abdominal fat cells that have four times the amount of Cortisol receptors in their cell membranes.

If you put increased levels of the two hormones together you have major problems.   One makes you great at storing fat and one makes it hard to give up.  You can see with this chronic problem that the answer is not an easy one and cannot be achieved by diet alone, or exercise alone.  It is a matter of making sure the body’s hormones responses stay healthy and within normal healthy ranges.

For this to happen it is a combination of lifestyle changes, diet and exercise.

The Solution

Firstly having a lifestyle where stress levels are kept to a minimum with plenty of sleep, fun and relaxation.  Not easy I know, as most of today’s problems around, work, debt, speed of life cause distress.  You have to develop signal recognition and coping mechanisms or outlets.

Secondly exercise is crucial.  Not only as an outlet for stress and being able to be use it as a coping strategy but also because exercise helps regulate the hormone response, using up blood sugar, lowering insulin levels in turn lowering Cortisol levels.

Thirdly your diet needs to become balanced and unrefined. Try a healthy eating plan that includes a lot of healthy fats, higher protein and unrefined carbohydrates.  This includes, fish, unrefined rice such as wholemeal basmati, lots of nuts and seeds as examples.

Put all three together and you have a perfect recipe to convert the middle fat storage back to normal.

What to learn more about nutrition, enrol on our online Level 3 Nutrition Course.