Tight deadlines, bills, your kids—whatever your source of stress, having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it's not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you're stressed, though that's part of it. It's also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat.
To banish stubborn belly fat, you have to ramp up your workouts. In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, people who completed a high-intensity workout regimen lost more belly fat than those who followed a low-intensity plan. (In fact, the low-intensity exercises experienced no significant changes at all.) "You need to exercise at full intensity because the end goal is to burn more calories, and high intensity exercise does just that," says Natalie Jill, a San Diego, Calif.-based certified personal trainer. High intensity workouts mean you're going all out for as long as you can. If this sounds intimidating, think of it this way: you'll burn more calories in less time.
Visceral fat—a type of fat that lies deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs—is linked to a whole slew of terrifying health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even scarier: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your risk of those health issues increases even more if your waist size is greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.