Mindfulness As A Powerful Weight Loss Strategy

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on November 13, 2019

Mindfulness, the act of directing your awareness to the present, seems to be the newest buzzword in the wellness community today and it is for great reasons. Not only can you use mindfulness to improve empathy, sleep well, and relieve stress, you can also use it to enhance your relationship with your body. That’s right! It is a real practice that can help shape your body as much as it shapes your philosophies. A mindful approach can help change the way you eat and exercise to lose weight.

Read on to learn how to harness the power of the mind to choose healthier foods, better exercises, lose weight, and enjoy life with no guilt or self-judgment necessary!

Can Mindfulness Aid in Weight Loss?

Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing on the present moment and bringing awareness to your feelings and thoughts. It has been shown to enhance weight loss by promoting healthy eating and training habits.

A review of 19 studies found that mindfulness-based interventions have helped increase weight loss and decreased obesity-related eating behaviors (1). Another review had the same findings, nothing that mindfulness caused significant weight loss in nearly 70% of the studies checked (2).

Another team of experts worked with more than 50 people participating in a dedicated weight management program. Thirty–three (33) of them participated in at least 3 or 4 mindfulness training sessions, which taught them mindful eating. After 6 months, they lost an average of 6.6 pounds as compared to just 2 pounds on those who had only 1 or 2 mindfulness sessions. Participants said that they were better able to plan meals in advance and felt more confident in managing weight loss on their own moving forward (3).

These studies are great as they proved that problematic eating behaviors can be improved with mindfulness applications. Health care practitioners are hoping to include similar courses in a primary care setting or even develop them into digital tools to reach a wider population and help achieve and maintain good health and well-being.

How to Use Mindfulness to Lose Weight?

Mindfulness is applicable in several areas. While many think that it should only happen in a quiet room, the core of the practice translates better to more active areas of everyday life with excellent health benefits. You should consider applying mindfulness to your eating habits and exercise regime.

1. Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a Buddhist concept. It is a form of meditation that helps people identify and cope with physical sensations and emotions (4, 5, 6, 7). It can be used to treat several conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other food-related behaviors (8, 9, 10).

Mindful eating can help you pay focus on your cravings, experiences and physical signs when eating (11). It normally involves:

  • Eating of food slowly without any distraction
  • Recognizing physical hunger cues and eating only until you feel full
  • Identifying triggers for eating
  • Use of senses to notice colors, sounds, textures, smells, and flavors
  • Learning to cope with anxiety and guilt about food
  • Noticing the effects food has on your feelings and body shape
  • Eating to improve overall health and well-being
  • Appreciating your food

All of these will allow you to replace instinctive thoughts and reactions with more conscious responses (12).

Why Try Mindful Eating?

Temptations are high with an abundance of food choices. Not to mention the distractions that shift our attention away from the actual act of eating like televisions and gadgets. Eating becomes a mindless act, usually done quickly. This can cause health problems.

Eating fast may not help you recognize the fullness signal until you have already consumed too much. This is quite common in binge eating. Mindful eating allows you to slow down and eat intentionally. It can also increase your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues. You can differentiate between true and emotional hunger (13). You’ll also know your triggers and it can help you make a space between them and your actions. You’ll have the time and freedom to choose how to respond.

Mindful Eating and Weight Loss

It’s well known that not all weight loss programs work long-term. More than 85% of obese patients who lost weight return or exceed their initial body mass within a few years (14). Emotional eating, binge eating, external eating, and eating brought about by cravings have been associated with weight gain and regain after successful weight loss (15, 16, 17, 18).

But, no worries! Studies showed that mindful eating can be of great help. A 6-week group seminar on mindful eating has been proven to be effective in helping patients lose an average of 9 pounds during the seminar and the 12-week follow-up period (13). Another 6-month seminar showed the same result. Participants lost 26 pounds without any regain in the next 3 months (19).

Stress may also play a role in overeating and obesity (20, 21). Many studies agreed that mindful eating helps you lose weight not only by changing your eating patterns but also by reducing stress (22). Binge eating, which involves repeatedly consuming large quantities of food, mindlessly and without control, has also been associated with eating disorders and weight gain. In fact, one research shows that nearly 70% of people who binge are obese (23, 24, 25, 26). Mindful eating can also help reduce the severity and frequency of binge eating episodes (21, 27, 28, 29). Evidence shows that after a 6-week group intervention in obese women, the severity and episodes of binge eating has decreased from 4 to 1.5 times weekly (30).

By changing the way you think about food, negative thoughts and feelings associated with eating are replaced with awareness, better self-control, and positive emotions (21, 27, 31, 32, 33). When unwanted eating behaviors are resolved, you’ll have better chances of losing weight successfully long-term.

How to Practice Mindful Eating?

While attending seminars, online courses, and workshops on mindfulness can greatly help, there are several easy ways to get you started. These eating tips have powerful benefits on their own:

  • Don’t be in a hurry. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
  • Remove distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your gadgets.
  • Eat in silence.
  • Pay attention to how food makes you feel.
  • Stop eating when you are already full.
  • Ask yourself why you are eating. Are you really hungry? Is the food you’re eating healthy?

Try to focus on these points on a single meal daily. As soon as you get the hang of it, mindfulness will become more natural. Then you can implement these habits into more meals.

2. Meditation

Meditation helps connect your mind and body to achieve a sense of calmness. People have been practicing meditation for centuries now for spiritual reasons. Today, many use it to relieve stress and become more aware of their thoughts.

There are several kinds of meditation. Some are based on the use of mantras, while others focus on breathing or keeping the mind in the present moment. All of these techniques can help you understand yourself better, including how your body and mind works. It involves paying full attention to where you are, what you are doing, and the way you are feeling in the present moment. This increased awareness that meditation brings can also be used as a tool to understand your eating habits.

While mindfulness meditation won’t make you lose weight overnight, a little practice can potentially give long-lasting effects both on your weight and thought patterns. It can help you slim down and change your eating habits (34).

Mindfulness meditation can also be very helpful in curbing stress and emotional eating. By becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you will easily recognize the times when you eat because you are stressed, rather than hungry. It can also prevent you from falling into the harmful spiral of guilt and shame when trying to change your eating habits. With mindfulness meditation, you can recognize your feelings and behaviors for what they are, without judging yourself.

This allows you to forgive yourself when you make mistakes like stress-eating a bag of your favorite chips. That act of forgiveness will save you from ordering more unhealthy foods you already screwed up by one.

How to Meditate?

Anybody can practice mindfulness meditation. There are no special requirements. Perhaps for many, the hardest part is to simply find the time. Start with something reasonable and sustainable, like 10 minutes daily or even every other day. You can do it just about anywhere where you can sit or lie down quietly and focus.

Start by concentrating on your breath. Watch your chest rise and fall. Feel the air as it moves in and out of your nose or mouth. Listen to the sound waves that propagate in the air. Do this for a minute or two to make you feel more relaxed.

Next, with your eyes open or closed, do the following steps:

  1. Take a deep breath in and hold it for a few seconds.
  2. Exhale slowly and repeat.
  3. Breathe naturally.
  4. Observe your breath as it enters your nose, raises your chest, or moves your stomach, but do not alter it in any way.
  5. Continue concentrating on your breath for 5-10 minutes.
  6. You may notice your mind wandering, which is just normal. Just acknowledge your distraction and return your attention to your breath.
  7. As you begin to wrap up, reflect on how easily your mind got distracted. Then, think about how easy it was to bring your focus back to your breath.

Try to do this more often. Remember that it might not feel very effective at first, but with regular practice, it will get easier and aid in weight loss.

3. Yoga

The mental and spiritual aspects of yoga can increase your awareness on so many levels. It can help you become more conscious of how different foods affect your body, mind, and spirit. One study showed that those who develop mindfulness through yoga were better at resisting comfort eating and unhealthy foods. They can also easily notice when they are full (35). Another study reported that mindfulness training has positive effects on binge eating and physical activity participation. Weight loss can be linked with longer periods of mindfulness training (36).

Yoga is not considered an aerobic exercise. However, there are certain types that are more physical than others. Active and intense styles of yoga, such as ashtanga, vinyasa, and power yoga, can help you burn more calories. Yoga can boost metabolism and develop muscle tone. It can also help with behavioral change and management of stress (37). Restorative yoga, though not physical, can still help in weight loss. Evidence shows that it was effective in helping overweight women lose abdominal fat and weight (38).

And since you are not advised to do yoga on a full stomach, you may find yourself making healthy eating choices before the practice. After a session, you are more likely to ask for fresh, unprocessed foods too! You may also learn that chewing every bite more thoroughly and eating more slowly can lead to less consumption.

How Often Should You Do Yoga to Lose Weight?

Do yoga as often as possible to lose weight. You can perform more active, intense practices at least 3-5 times weekly for at least an hour. On the other days, do relaxing types. Yin, hatha, and restorative yoga are highly recommended.

If you are a newbie, start slowly. This will help you build up your strength and improve flexibility to avoid injuries. You can attend classes or you may practice at home for at least 20 minutes. There are several tutorials and videos about yoga poses online. Take at least one day of rest weekly. Combine your yoga practice with walking, cycling, or swimming to further improve your cardiovascular health.

As part of your routine, try not to weigh yourself directly after a session, especially if it is hot yoga. Expect to lose water weight during sessions. Instead, weigh yourself at the same time daily to be more accurate.

Other Mental Strategies for Weight Loss

Here are some other tips to help you take a mindfulness-based approach to slim down:

  • Don’t Be Discouraged: Be aggressively patient with yourself! Take it slowly. Do not expect the scale to show a massive drop on your first few weeks. Be satisfied with your pace and just continue following sustainable diet and exercise plans.
  • Set Small, Realistic Goals: It is always good to have a target, but make it manageable. If you aim to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year, start focusing on losing a few pounds the next month. Setting and achieving small goals will eventually add up to your ultimate goal.
  • Make Yourself Accountable: Share your weight loss goals with the people you love and ask for their support. This will help you keep motivated.
  • Don’t Worship the Scale: Although it can help you track your progress, the scale can be your worst enemy if you give it too much power.
  • Daily fluctuations are common so weighing every morning can be a real mind game, which may affect your attitude and food choices for the whole day. Instead, weigh yourself once weekly. Try to do it at the same time, wearing the same clothes or nothing at all. You must also know that it is possible to lose inches even if you are not shedding pounds weekly. Focus on how your clothes fit, your overall look, and of course, the way you feel.
  • Reward Yourself: Positive reinforcement is important! Every time you meet a small goal, give yourself a little reward. But do not defeat the purpose by eating unhealthy foods. Stick to non-food-based rewards. Go buy yourself a new pair of pants once you hit a smaller size or pamper yourself at a spa.
  • Practice Your Writing Skills: Last but not the list, it can be helpful to check in with yourself regularly. Before the week starts, create a list of the meals and snacks you intend to have. Use this list to make sure that your place is stocked accordingly. It is easier to make healthy choices if you only have healthy food in your fridge and counter. Also, write down everything you eat and be honest. You can review this later to help identify any problems with food and practices if there will be any.

Take-Home Message

Mindfulness can help you lose weight and improve your health in several ways. Evidence shows that mindfulness can help in many ways including stress relief, confidence, and vitality. It has been consistent in the wellness journey and it pays off both on and off the scale.

You can practice mindfulness at home or through structured programs, workshops, and classes. Practicing mindful eating and exercises like meditation and yoga can go a long way!

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29076610
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25490697
(3) https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-abstract/104/3/793/5167368?redirectedFrom=fulltext
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25361692
(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22888181/
(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23876574
(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21181579
(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256293/
(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26657183
(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22938745
(11) https://www.jimhopper.com/pdfs/bishop2004.pdf
(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19241400
(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21130363/
(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12119984
(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12532147/
(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22027541/
(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21256908/
(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1799280/
(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22440077/
(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26325143
(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24854804
(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977314/
(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11466589
(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17557971/
(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26334602
(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17292702/
(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636206
(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21181577
(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22703573
(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22021603
(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23627835
(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19300426
(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23876574
(34) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12623
(35) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2016/2914745/
(36) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1871403X16300837?via%3Dihub
(37) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827613492097
(38) https://www.ajmc.com/press-release/health-benefits-of-restorative-yoga-include-trimming-fat-nih-funded-study-finds

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