We live in a fast-paced, high stress world. So telling someone to “relax” or “manage their stress” can almost seem laughable.

But what if I told you that your stress was making it hard for you to lose weight, or even was causing you to gain it? Would that make stress management seem more urgent?

Chronic stress not only disrupts sleep but also increases blood sugar levels. These both lead to increased hunger and and increase in preference for high-calorie comfort foods (ever eaten a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's because of a break-up?). Stress-eating is real and is can cause some serious weight gain through those stressful periods of life.

In addition, chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol cause water retention, which can cause big swings in the number you see on the scale. It's not unusual for the body to retain 2 to even 6 lbs of extra water while going through a stressful period. It can be very frustrating to see the number on the scale stay the same, or even to go up, despite diet and exercise.

All in all, stress and increased cortisol levels aren't good for fat loss. So how should you combat it?

1. Get more sleep
Lack of sleep signals to the body that stress is all around, triggering the body's self-preservation mode. This results in increased quantities of cortisol in the bloodstream. Try to sleep at least 7 hours a night.

2. Don’t over-train
More isn’t always better. When you’re working out, you should bust your butt—then give your body a rest. Muscle is torn down while we work out, but it rebuilds and grows when we rest. Take rest days, don't go balls-to-the-wall exercising seven days a week. I promise that doing more exercise isn’t going to guarantee faster weight-loss. For maximal fat loss, I recommend that you workout 4 to 5 days each week, with 3 days including HIIT training, for a total of 1 hour per day on workout days.

3. Quit caffeine
Many clients ask me about diet soda. It doesn't contain macros that we measure, so it SEEMS like you could drink a gallon a day, but as with most things, I suggest moderation. And once a day isn't moderation—I’m talking about maybe a handful of sodas each month. Also, 200 mg of caffeine (a can of diet coke has about 46 mg) can increase blood cortisol levels by 30 percent in an hour. Is it worth it? Regularly drinking multiple cups of coffee or taking large amounts of pre-workout will also push up your cortisol levels because of the caffeine they contain.

4. Reduce stress
It isn’t always easy to let things go. We put pressure on ourselves to meet the demands in our lives, to take care of our families, to excel in all our activities, and to make everyone around us happy. But when we forget about taking care of ourselves, the stress can start to appear in extra pounds or other things that impede our health and our ability to function. Take time for yourself and eliminate things that cause unnecessary stress in your life.

5. Gratitude
Being grateful for the things you do have, rather than focusing on what you don't have can help you better manage stress. Start a gratitude journal. Include gratitude in your prayers or meditation. Verbalize gratitude to those who support you. The more you express and focus on gratitude, the lower your stress levels will become.

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