Struggling with fat loss + building muscle? Try addressing these factors!

Obviously the right nutrition and training programs are super important when it comes achieving your goals - be it fat loss or building muscle. Other than these two things, we need to consider our lifestyle factors that also impact our ability and rate of fat loss.

I’ve written about these lifestyle factors as well as protocols to implement that will help you to improve on them to put you in the optimal position for any body composition goal you have!

1. Diet Adherence

healthy bowl

This is actually the most important factor for any diet or body composition goal. If you’re on a diet you’re unable to stick to… well you’re not going to achieve your goal. Discipline will only take you so far until old habits take over. It’s important to consider what your preferences are for an enjoyable diet. What foods do you want to incorporate, how many meals do you want to eat a day, do you prefer high carb or high fat, are there certain foods you can’t live without, do you need variety across the day or week, do you prefer routine?

For me, I like to have at least 60g of fat in my diet in a day so that I can flavour my food with nut butter, butter and other fat sources - this makes my food a lot more enjoyable and increases my adherence to the diet. Obviously when you start ‘cutting’ phases there mightn’t be as much flexibility when calories are lower, but those times should only be for short periods.

2. Stress

A lot of people think of stress only as highly stressful situations - for instance “I’m really stressed at work with deadlines”, “I’m really stressed about a conversation I have to have with a colleague”, “I’m really stressed about an event I have to host”, “I’m stressed about a Dr’s appointment I have” etc.. 

People actually underestimate the amount of stress they’re under, because they think these situations are the only ones that create stress responses in the body. We also adjust to the amount of stress we’re under and it kind of becomes the ‘norm’. What we don’t realise is that the smallest things can cause a stress response in our body. Stress is basically anything that makes a change in our body. Things like changes in temperature, allergies, intolerances, inflammation, emotional, physical or physiological stress! 

Our Autonomic Nervous System regulates our states, broken into our parasympathetic state known as rest, digest and recovery  and our sympathetic state known as our fight or flight response. We do need some stress in our lives - without stress, there are no adaptations (muscle growth, fat loss) but most people have TOO much stress which leads to the problem. 

How stress affects fat loss:

beach meditation

Over production and constant cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to:

  • Lowered immunity

  • Excess inflammation

  • Down regulation of gut health

  • Lower testosterone and increased estrogen

  • Decreased brain function

  • Reduction of key neurotransmitters, such as Gaba (our ability to be calm), Dopamine (our drive and motivation) and Serotonin (our feel good hormone - the precursor to melatonin which is the hormone that helps us get to sleep).

Now that we feel shit and our sleep has been affected our leptin levels drop (satiety) and our grhelin goes up (hunger) which is going to make us struggle to stick to any diet no matter how enjoyable it is!

Elevated stress levels can also create a resistance to catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) which are required to break down fat cells and pull the contents out, and then mobilise is to the mitochondria where it’s utilised as energy - constant stress prevents our catecholamines from working effectively and can decrease our ability to pull out free fatty acids from fat cells to use as energy, aka impart our ability to burn fat.

soph active life

Stress and fat storage also correlates with an accumulation of fat around our belly - so people who say they have trouble reducing fat around their abdomen could definitely look at implementing de-stressing protocols to assist this.

Finally, our thyroid which is our key regulator of our metabolic rate slows down - not what we want when we’re trying to lose fat!

All of this puts us in a terrible position for our bodies to be focussing on losing fat.

So what can I do to de-stress?

In order to mitigate the effects of stress, we need to include more activities that put us into the parasympathetic state (Rest, digest + recover).

My favourite things are:

  • Meditation (I use the Waking Up app by Sam Harris)

  • yoga and stretching

  • reading a book

  • listen to music

  • playing with pets

  • listening to podcasts

  • taking a bath

  • going for a walk

  • journaling 

  • calling a friend

Schedule in a few of these each day to help bring your stress levels down and make sure it’s something you’ll actually stick to in order to see the benefits.

3. Sleep

We need sleep for recovery and repairing, it’s particularly vital to those who work out as when we’re asleep is when we are most anabolic, creating the most regeneration of our muscle tissue.

Bad sleep leads to increased cortisol, decreased leptin + increased ghrelin = we are more likely to over eat.

beauty sleep

Poor sleep can also temporarily lead to issues with our insulin sensitivity, which can stop us from utilising carbs as effectively, which can potentially decrease our body ability to lose fat (this doesn’t impact us if we are in a deficit). But it can certainly make it harder to stay in a deficit if we’re craving more sweet things and feel hungrier.

Improving sleep:

In order to improve our sleep, we need to make sure we have a set sleep and wake cycle.

  • Implementing a bed time routine can assist with this as it will signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep

  • Get into bed 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep

  • Sleep before 11pm - after midnight we can miss out on a large amount of physical repair according to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the 10:00pm - 2:00am window is considered the best repair + physical adaptation window

  • Cut out stimulants before 3pm (coffee) - as they increase the stress chemicals and decrease your ability to relax

  • Set your room up to be as dark as possible = better secretion of melatonin (the brain thinks it’s day time and decreases melatonin produced due to exposure to electronic devices which helps us get to sleep). Start using blue light goggles or apps (like f.lux + iPhone night mode) to avoid blue light exposure for proper melatonin secretion

  • Ensure your room is well ventilated - fresh oxygen intake + cold temperatures optimise melatonin production

  • Chamomile and lavender aromatherapy will improve gaba sensitivity to allow our body to enter relaxation state

  • Stop working 2 hours before bed

  • Avoid consuming food 2 hours before bed as digestive system will need to focus on digesting food not resting

4. NEAT - Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis


NEAT = Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis which is basically just incidental exercise - fidgeting, steps, movement are all considered incidental activity.

There have been some studies showing individuals that got under 7,300 daily steps drives up ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel full, which is why my minimum daily steps will always be 10,000!

The more time we spend dieting, the more our bodies try to conserve our energy by moving less, so it will actually stop us from fidgeting, walking etc.. it will be harder to be as motivated or energised to do so. So make sure you’re getting up frequently, getting your daily steps in and ensuring incidental activity occurs even in the depths of your deficit!

Squad goals

Joint the squad and get some badass results with me and my girls! I’ve got gym or home based training programs as well as nutrition programs! Check them out below :)