TikTok Says Cortisol Could Be A Culprit For Stubborn Belly Fat, But Is It True? A Physician Explains

Stress makes everything harder — harder to sleep, harder to work, harder to have fun — and, according to TikTok, it might make it harder to lose belly fat too. The claims focus on cortisol, in particular, the steroid hormone released in the body during times of stress, per the Cleveland Clinic. In one viral video, fitness influencer Liz Tenuto says that stubborn weight in your midsection is a result of high cortisol levels from everyday stress or overly intense workouts. In another clip, health coach Becca Holland suggests going on a morning walk and drinking more water to lower cortisol, thereby losing weight.

Countless other videos on the platform echo a similar theme: The stubborn weight you carry in your midsection won't go away until you get your cortisol under control — no matter how many crunches you do or weight-loss diets you try.

Previously, we debunked some of TikTok's hormone-balancing hacks, and to get to the bottom of the trending "cortisol belly" claims, we reached out to Dr. Jason Singh, board-certified physician and founder of One Oak Medical. According to the physician, who exclusively spoke to Glam, the content creators may actually be on to something this time.

The link between cortisol and abdominal weight

While you should take any health advice on TikTok with a grain of salt, there's some truth to the videos blaming cortisol for persistent stomach bloat. "There is some evidence to the claim that high cortisol levels can increase belly fat," Dr. Jason Singh exclusively told Glam. "When our bodies experience chronic stress, it triggers cortisol release, which can remain elevated for a prolonged period of time. This triggers visceral fat storage around the abdomen. Interestingly, we've seen studies demonstrate a correlation in folks that carry excess weight around their abdomen to have higher cortisol levels."

One such study is a 2018 research review published in Current Obesity Reports. The review found a link between chronic stress and obesity, though it concluded that the relationship is "bidirectional" — in other words, having more body mass could trigger stress and vice versa. An older 2000 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine also found evidence that cortisol may contribute to abdominal fat.

Despite the link between stubborn fat and cortisol, the stress hormone isn't all bad. Dr. Singh noted, "Keep in mind that cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and plays a critical role in our response to stress and regulation of metabolism." The physician added that it's normal for your cortisol levels to fluctuate and run high at times, such as in the mornings.

What can you do to lower high cortisol?

While it's natural for cortisol to occasionally spike, chronically high cortisol can spell trouble for your body, according to Healthline. Besides stubborn fat or weight gain, you might also experience acne, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, poor immunity, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Moreover, Yale Medicine points out that chronic stress is associated with potentially serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, addiction, depression, and anxiety.

If you suspect your cortisol levels are high, Dr. Jason Singh exclusively shared with Glam that natural, holistic remedies are often the best place to start. "These are typically accomplished by managing stress (mindfulness and breathing exercises/I'm a huge fan of Yoga Nidra that accomplishes this), exercise (moderate aerobic activity calms cortisol and burns calories), and a balanced diet (limiting processed foods and unhealthy fats and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3s)," the physician revealed. Specifically, Dr. Singh recommended "purple produce" such as blueberries, blackberries, pomegranate, and eggplant to reduce cortisol.

Most importantly, Dr. Signh added that everyone's body is different, and you may need to consult your physician — not TikTok — for advice. Your doctor can check for any underlying conditions that could be responsible for your stubborn belly fat and any other symptoms.