How does Stress Interfere with Your Goals?

With any goal we have, we are encouraged to measure progress throughout the journey, especially with a body composition/health goal regarding weight loss. But what if we’re doing everything right and we are not seeing the changes we expect to see? 

There are some people who do everything they are told, but the scale is not moving in the right direction. They are following the plan as prescribed:

  • Hitting their target macros daily

  • Exercising regularly

  • Drinking plenty of water 

  • Sleeping well every night

So, why isn’t the scale budging? There can be several reasons, but many times if all of the above points are true, then it’s probably stress. Stress affects the body in two ways:

  • Increasing cortisol (known as the stress hormone)

  • Impacting cognitive function

What happens to your decision-making skills when you’re stressed?

As a nutrition coach, I hear a lot of people talking about stress eating. When they are stressed from work or school deadlines, or stressed from planning a family event, they tend to go to comfort foods or treats to make them feel better…but what ends up happening is they feel worse and have a sense of guilt, which inevitably causes more stress. It ends up snowballing.

The part of your brain that is affected by stress is the decision-making part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex. Therefore when you are feeling stressed, the brain places its focus on managing the stress and lets the decision-making part of your brain go to what is familiar and routine– which is fast food and treats.

How can we control our brain to not hit the “easy button” when we are stressed? Create healthy coping behaviors/habits that your brain can go to under periods of stress.

What happens when cortisol is high?

Cortisol has been a hot topic in the world of nutrition as of recently, rightly so. It has a major impact on body composition and eating behaviors. When you are experiencing stress, cortisol is released in the body and long-term elevated cortisol levels result in weight gain and/or difficulty in losing weight, due to the following:

  • Increased Appetite: Cortisol increases your hunger cues

  • Selection of palatable food choices: This leads to choosing high fat/high sugar foods versus nutrient-dense, whole foods. 

  • Increased fat storage: Cortisol turns insulin released in your body into fat, thus increasing fat-storage in the long run. 

Cortisol also affects muscle gain! If you are experiencing long-term stress, the cortisol inhibits muscle gain by stimulating protein degradation.

How to handle stress

Stress is everywhere, and it’s pretty much unavoidable…but it should still be managed and continuously worked on. It has a big impact on your body and your goals. What can you do to fix it? You probably already know this since we constantly preach it, but let’s highlight it here:

  • Reorganize your work/life schedule to create more of a balance

  • Optimize your Sleep

  • Exercise Regularly– find a routine that you enjoy and that fits in your schedule


  • Hydrate

  • Take part in stress-relieving activities– breathing techniques, meditations, walk outdoors

Stress is unavoidable in many of our lives as we juggle work, family, hobbies, etc. however, it should be managed and controlled. Before you wonder why your nutrition approach or training is not trending the way you want it to, first check on stress and similar factors before jumping off the plan and losing consistency.