When a person is under stress, cortisol levels increase and this can cause a decrease in the level of leptin. When leptin levels are low, the body may store more fat, particularly in the abdominal area. This is because low levels of leptin signal to the brain that the body is not full and therefore it will produce hunger, leading to overeating.
Additionally, when cortisol is high it can lead to a decrease in muscle mass, which can also lead to a decrease in leptin levels. Less muscle mass means less energy is being burned, which can also lead to weight gain and an increase in belly fat.
Stress can also disrupt sleep patterns, which can contribute to weight gain and belly fat. When a person is stressed, it can be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, leading to less restful sleep. Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body, leading to an increase in appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods.