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Quit Coffee and Trim Down

Updated on February 7, 2013
Coffee might be chock full o' potential belly fat. Are you susceptible?
Coffee might be chock full o' potential belly fat. Are you susceptible?

How Coffee Encourages Belly Fat: My Story

It was a tough month at the office with lots of overtime. For a boost and to get eight more hours out of each day I started treating myself to a cup of coffee at 4:00 p.m., falling back into a habit I'd quit years ago. As I got older caffeine made me jumpy so I had stopped drinking it, although I missed good hot black coffee. Hooray; the afternoon cup, so comforting and zero calories, kept me up until midnight.

That same month I'd hired a twice-a-week personal trainer, mostly to work on strengthening core and back muscles to stabilize an aging spine. At our first meeting Ed measured my weight at 120 and my body fat at 30.0 percent. I'm 5'2" and told him that while my back was my priority I'd also like to lose a few pounds. So we worked hard, I kept a food diary he checked at every meeting, I gave up weekly martinis and doubled my walking and stationary biking (working on my smartphone while exercising!).

At the two-week point I weighed in at 122.5 pounds. At the four-week point I weighed 124.1 pounds -- which I hoped was muscle -- but my body fat had increased to 30.3 percent and my waistline had expanded two inches. Ed was surprised, and I was horrified. "This can't be," I said. "I've done everything right."

Unwilling to pay for another month of training and gaining, I simply kept up with my exercise schedule. Yet my middle got even bigger. Not the rest of me; just the middle. I topped the "danger point" of 30 inches (for men, it's 40 inches) and one day measured 31". I now had a size 12 waist on a size 6 body.

Yes, I was under some stress, and we all know stress affects the adrenal glands, which then release cortisol, the hormone that fuels us for "fight or flight." If you don't fight or fly but instead sit sweating out a deadline in an office chair, cortisol turns its quick-energy shot into visceral fat, stored behind the stomach muscles. But under stress I don't gain weight; I lose it.

I had done nothing differently except exercise more, consume a few less calories, and take that cup of coffee at 4:00 p.m. (No, I did not add cream or sugar, or dunk anything.) After a week or two of afternoon coffee, I treated myself to yet another delicious cup, in the morning before working all day. I felt like a true American. According to, Americans drink half a billion cups of coffee each day.

With the trainer's supervision, I got stronger and could do more reps, and should have lost fat and girth. But no. I recalled a similar situation, 20 years before, when my weight was at its all-time high of 136: I had to buy one size-12 black skirt and wore it with everything. I even went to my one and only Weight Watchers meeting. Back then I'd had my customary coffee in the morning and then added a second cup to cheer me up every afternoon. After quitting the p.m. coffee, 14 pounds fell off and I didn't know why (I was just glad). And during the one summer I was addicted to Diet Pepsi, I gained six pounds that vanished when I quit.

We are all learning that weight gain is about more than calories. Metabolism plays some kind of role, not yet clear and not the same for everyone. Morning caffeine seems to be okay because you burn off (metabolize) its cortisol energy during the day. Unused cortisol turns to visceral fat. Consume more coffee and your blood pressure rises and your body thinks it's under more stress and makes more cortisol. That is scientific fact. The two biggest male guts I know belong to men who drink coffee except when they're sleeping. One skips breakfast and, because he was gaining weight, saves calories by lunching on popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. I've watched him go from husky to obese. Men who mix caffeine and stress accumulate belly fat and that's a fact.

I might be particularly sensitive to caffeine or to coffee (they're not sure caffeine in itself is the culprit; it might be coffee's organic acids). What I do know for sure is that a week after quitting coffee, my waist was down to 29". The next week it was down to 28-1/2".

If you're trying to lose pounds or inches but are gaining them instead, one thing you can do besides see your doctor is cut out coffee. Yes, it can be done. And it is definitely worth a try.


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