Can Stress Affect Your Weight Loss Efforts?

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Woman in a pink shirt with a stress level gauge beside her.

Imagine this: You’ve been diligently following your weight loss plan for months.

You’re eating healthier, exercising regularly, and finally seeing the numbers on the scale drop. But then, work gets hectic. 

Deadlines start piling up, and your stress levels soar.

Suddenly, you find yourself reaching for that pint of ice cream in the freezer after a particularly tough day.

Despite sticking to your diet and exercise routine, the weight loss progress slows down, or worse, you start gaining a few pounds back.

You feel frustrated and confused. Why isn’t your hard work paying off anymore?

This scenario is all too common. The truth is, that stress can impact your weight loss efforts, sometimes in ways you don’t even realize. 

But don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many people face the same challenge. 

By understanding how stress affects your body and finding ways to manage it, you can get back on track and continue your journey toward a healthier you.

Let me tell you first how stress affects your weight loss goals.

Different Ways Stress Causes Weight Gain

Here are different ways stress can block your weight loss progress:

Emotional Eating

Woman eating a large burger, looking distressed.

When you’re stressed, your body is on basically on high alert, and sometimes it looks for a quick fix to help you feel better.

That’s where emotional eating comes in.  

Think of it like this: when you’re feeling all wound up, worried, or just plain frazzled, your body craves comfort, and often, it finds that comfort in food.

You might not even be hungry, but you eat because it gives you a temporary escape from stress.

It’s like your brain is saying, “Hey, things are rough right now, let’s have a treat to cheer up!”

And often, those treats are things like ice cream, chips, or chocolate—stuff that’s high in calories and can make you feel good in the moment.

While that cookie or bag of chips might give you a temporary lift, it doesn’t fix the real problem that’s stressing you out.

And sometimes, after the initial yumminess, you might even feel worse because now you’re stressed and feeling guilty about overeating. It’s a tricky cycle.

When you eat because of stress, you’re usually not grabbing a salad or an apple. It’s typically the sugary or fatty foods that get the call-up, and they’re loaded with calories.

If this happens a lot, all those extra calories can add up, and before you know it, you might see the numbers on the scale creeping up. 

Also Read: Are Cheat Meals Helpful or Harmful For Weight Loss?

Not Exercising

Woman relaxing on a couch, watching something.

When you’re feeling stressed out, your body and mind are going through a lot.

It might feel like your brain is working overtime, thinking about all the things that are worrying you. 

This can make you feel tired, cranky, and just not in the mood to do anything active.

Exercise might feel like the last thing you want to do because your body is already tense and your mind is busy with all these stressful thoughts. 

You might just want to sit on the couch, watch Netflix, or eat comfort foods to make yourself feel better. 

But the problem is that not exercising when you’re stressed can lead to weight gain.

This happens because stress can make your body produce a hormone called cortisol, which can make you crave foods that are high in fat and sugar, like chips or ice cream.

Eating these foods might make you feel good for a little while, but they have a lot of calories. 

And if you’re not exercising to stay active and build muscle, your metabolism will slow down and you ll start storing those food energy as fat.

Plus, when you’re not exercising, you’re not getting the good feelings that come from working out, like feeling strong, proud of yourself, or just plain happier because of the chemicals your brain releases during exercise. 

Disrupted Sleep Pattern

Woman lying in bed, looking at her phone, appearing tired.

Your body is supposed to relax and calm down before bedtime, but feeling stressed can keep it revved up. 

This is because stress triggers a ‘fight or flight‘ response in your body, which is great if you need to run away from a bear, but not so great when you’re trying to snooze.

Your heart beats faster, your muscles stay tense, and your brain stays alert—all things that are the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to fall asleep. 

Plus, stress can make you toss and turn, trying to find that perfect sleeping position that just doesn’t seem to exist. 

And if you do manage to fall asleep, stress can make you wake up in the middle of the night, leaving you staring at the ceiling and counting sheep until the sun comes up.

Now, here’s the thing about not getting enough sleep—it messes with the chemicals in your body that control hunger. 

When you’re tired, your body makes more ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you feel hungry, and less leptin, which is a hormone that tells you when you’re full. 

So, you end up feeling hungrier and less satisfied after you eat, which can lead to eating more than you need. And hence you gain weight.

Also Read: Best Sleeping Position For Weight Loss

Tips For Managing Stress While Trying to Lose Weight

Here are some key things I want to keep in mind when you are feeling stressed constantly:

Dont Skip Exercise

Woman running on a treadmill, sweating and focused.

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins.

These are often called “feel-good” hormones because they can boost your mood and make you feel more relaxed and positive.

It’s your body’s natural stress-relief medicine! 

Exercise also helps lower the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in your body.

Remember how these hormones can keep you awake at night?

By reducing them through exercise, you’re helping your body and mind calm down. 

Plus, when you’re focused on a physical activity, whether it’s running, doing yoga, or playing a sport, you’re giving your mind a break from worrying.

Regular exercise can also improve your sleep quality, which we know is super important for managing stress.

When you’re physically tired from a good workout, it’s often easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Another great thing about not skipping exercise is that it can boost your self-esteem.

When you stick to a routine and see improvements in your strength, endurance, or flexibility, it makes you feel accomplished and more in control. 

This feeling can spill over into other parts of your life, making you feel more capable of handling stressful situations. 

And don’t forget, exercise can also be a social activity. Whether you’re joining a class, going for a walk with a friend, or playing team sports, connecting with others can provide emotional support and further reduce stress. 

So, even on days when stress makes you want to skip your workout, try to push through.

Even a short workout can make a big difference. 

Also Read: What Not To Do When Exercising For Weight Loss

Maintain a Caloric Deficit Diet

Hand holding a phone showing daily calories while another hand holds a plate of sweets.

Your body needs a certain number of calories each day for basic functions like breathing, keeping your heart beating, and powering your brain – this is called your basal metabolic rate. 

On top of that, you burn calories through daily activities and exercise.

A calorie deficit means you’re giving your body slightly less fuel than it’s using, so it has to tap into stored energy (like body fat) to make up the difference. 

This is how you lose weight. Now, when you’re stressed, your body might crave high-calorie comfort foods, and you might feel too tired or overwhelmed to cook healthy meals. 

But if you give in to these cravings too much, you could end up eating more calories than you’re burning, which stops your weight loss or even leads to weight gain.

Plus, remember that stress hormone cortisol we talked about? 

It can make your body hold onto fat, especially around your belly.

So, by sticking to your calorie deficit even when stressed, you’re counteracting these effects. 

You’re making sure that no matter what’s going on with stress and hormones, your body still has to use stored fat for energy.

It’s like saying, “Even though things are tough right now, I’m still in control of my health goals.” 

Also, losing weight can actually help reduce stress in the long run. As you see progress, you’ll feel more in control and accomplished. 

Also Read: The Biggest Mistake People Make When Counting Calories For Weight Loss

Take a Walk Where There is Nature

Woman walking a white dog on a grassy path outdoors.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, stepping outside into a natural environment can work wonders. 

The fresh air, the sounds of birds chirping or leaves rustling, and the sight of trees or water can immediately start to calm your mind. 

This is because nature has a soothing effect on our brains. It’s like nature speaks a language that our bodies understand deeply, telling us, “Everything’s okay, you can relax now.” 

This natural relaxation lowers stress hormones like cortisol which we talked about, which not only makes you feel better but also can help with sleep and reduce stress-related weight gain. 

Now, when you’re walking in nature, you’re also getting gentle exercise. 

You might not even notice it because you’re distracted by the beauty around you, but you’re burning calories.

Even a leisurely 30-minute walk can burn around 100-200 calories, depending on your weight and pace. If you make this a daily habit, that adds up! 

Plus, being in nature often means uneven paths or slight inclines, so your body works a bit harder than on a flat sidewalk. 

This walking also boosts those feel-good endorphins, further reducing stress and improving your mood. 

What’s interesting is that many great thinkers and leaders throughout history have used walks in nature to manage stress and boost creativity. 

For example, Charles Darwin, the famous scientist, had a special “thinking path” he walked daily to clear his mind. 

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings in nature, saying some of his best ideas came during these walks. 

Even great writers like William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau found inspiration and peace by walking in the countryside. 

They understood that there’s something powerful about moving your body in nature that not only reduces stress but can also spark creativity and problem-solving. 

So, when you take that walk in the park or woods, you’re not just helping your waistline and lowering your stress; you’re also tapping into a practice that some of the world’s most brilliant minds have used.

Make a 10-minute Meditation Part Of Your Daily Routine

Woman sitting cross-legged on a bed, meditating with eyes closed.

When you meditate, you’re basically giving your mind a break from all the worries and stresses that are buzzing around in your head.

You sit quietly, often with your eyes closed, and focus on something simple like your breathing or a calming word.

Studies have shown that regular meditation can actually lower cortisol levels in your body.

Lower cortisol means less stress-related weight gain and better sleep, which we know is crucial for weight loss.

But meditation does more than just chill out your stress hormones. It also helps you become more mindful, which is a fancy way of saying “more aware” of what’s going on in the present moment.

This mindfulness is a game-changer for weight loss because it helps you tune into your body’s real hunger and fullness signals.

When you’re stressed and not mindful, it’s easy to eat without really thinking about it – munching on chips while worrying about a problem, or scarfing down dinner while watching stressful news.

But when you’re mindful, you’re more likely to notice, “Am I eating because I’m truly hungry, or because I’m stressed?”

This awareness can stop stress eating and help you make healthier food choices. Meditation also boosts your willpower.

When you practice focusing your mind during meditation, it gets easier to resist those stress-induced cravings for junk food. You’re better able to stick to your healthy eating plan even when stress tries to knock you off course.

Even just 10-15 minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference. You don’t need any special equipment, just a quiet spot.

Some people even use apps with guided meditations to help them get started.

So, by taking this little time to quiet your mind, you’re not just reducing stress – you’re also giving your weight loss efforts a serious boost.


It’s clear that stress can impact your weight loss efforts.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Just like a plant that bends in the wind but doesn’t break, you can learn to sway with the stress without letting it uproot your weight loss goals.

It’s about finding balance.

You’ve got tools like meditation, and nature walks in your belt to keep you steady.

S even when stress storms in, you have the power to weather it and keep your weight loss journey on track.

And here’s a little secret: sometimes, the journey itself, with all its ups and downs, teaches you more about balance than the destination ever could.

Stay strong, stay calm, and let’s keep walking that path to wellness, one mindful step at a time.

This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission for purchases made through links at no extra cost to you. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Rahul is a professional nutritionist certified by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and a personal trainer certified through the American Council of Exercise (ACE). He has a special interest in the science of nutrition and how it can impact the body.

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