Harvard Agrees: Meditation Can Help You Lose Weight (And Sleep Like a Drunk Baby)
If you think that losing weight by counting calories, skipping meals, or pumping iron is the way to go, you’ve already lost the battle.
There’s more to weight loss than meal plans, exercise, and supplements. Much of what we experience in life has something to do with the way we think:
If you think that you’re not going to be able to pay your student loans…
If you think that you’ll always be cheated on…
If you think that you can’t stop yourself from eating too much…
…those things will most likely happen, even if you really don’t want them to.
The story we tell ourselves shapes our reality.
Oftentimes, these stories have a pattern that reveals itself through the events in our lives. And sometimes, in the size of our waistline.
Healing a Broken Relationship With Food
When you think about all the stresses of life–school, family, work, relationships–it’s hard not to get frustrated.
How do you calm your nerves when challenges come your way?
Some people drink tea to relax. Some call their friends. Some travel solo to get a new perspective.
But when food becomes a way to feel better, it becomes difficult to control your weight.
You’re not hungry, but because you’re sad, you go ahead and stuff yourself.
Sometimes, people don’t eat a lot just because they’re depressed – you do it even when you’re happy.
Sometimes, people use food as a reward like, “Oh, I got a new promotion. I might as well get a tub of ice cream on my way home.”
One practice that’s surprisingly effective at gaining self awareness (and improving your relationship with food) is meditation.
Now, you might be thinking that meditation is way too woowoo.
But studies have proven time and time again that meditation, or mindfulness, is a tool that can help curb weight gain.
Mindfulness Works To Help Binge Eating. Here’s How.
Have you ever wondered why some people manage to remain slim even when there’s plenty of food “temptation” around?
Well, some have their parents’ genes to thank. But others just have a better way of handling food cravings, and gaining self-awareness over what’s happening in the moment.
If you’re bored and use food as a way to ease the boredom, guess what will happen?
It’s easy to stuff yourself with food that you’re not even hungry to eat.
With binge eating, it’s much more complex because you don’t just reach for a couple bags of chips. But you stuff yourself with excessive amounts of food.
One of the treatments used for Binge Eating Disorder is transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS. With tDCS, the patient receives continuous low-current electricity to the brain.
Although the treatment shows promising results according to a study, it’s probably not for everyone.
Personally, I’ll pass on someone poking my head with some device to deliver electricity to my brain.
Meditation works just as effectively and is not invasive like an electric treatment. In a study conducted among 18 obese women with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), the subjects went through eating-specific mindfulness meditation exercises.
After three weeks, the researchers noted that the women had binge eating episodes less frequently.
Additionally, their depression and anxiety also decreased, and the women had a better subjective sense of control.
Meditation helps people tune in better to internal cues (i.e. Are you really hungry or just bored?).
Finally, it also creates a present-state awareness, which is helpful in resisting food cravings.
Breakups, Office Reports, and Death: How Stress Makes Our Appetite go Haywire
Imagine you’re in the office rushing to finish a report. Or you’re in the process of breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
These situations are very stressful.
You feel your heartbeat get faster, your palms sweat, and your mind whirs with so many thoughts that it keeps you up at night.
Everybody goes through stressful events in life. But how you respond to the stressors has an impact on your overall health.
In fact, some studies suggest that stress – by itself – isn’t bad, as we’ve been taught.
Whether a person believes stress is good for them, or bad for them, will manifest this in their physiology. There’s an interesting book, The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGongial, Ph.D. that looks at the research on this more.
On the other hand, according to Harvard Health, stress can strongly affect your appetite – by increasing it, or decreasing it.
But only when the stress doesn’t last for a long time.
Adrenaline pumps us up in the moment of stress, and this decreases our appetite.
Long-term stress, on the other hand, releases the hormone cortisol, which increases the motivation to eat. The effects of cortisol tends to linger much longer, and it’s this hormone that tells our body to replenish food.
Think of a time when you’re tired and don’t get much sleep—it’s easy to compensate for that by eating more food than usual. And not just any food, but foods that are high in fat and sugar.
When you’re stressed out, the will to eat healthy often goes out the window.
This is one of those perfect moments for an intervention – and a meditative technique called the relaxation response can help.
The Relaxation response is the exact opposite of the fight or flight response that we experience when we are anxious. It counteracts the effects of stress in the body and mind.
Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of the Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, helped make meditation mainstream. According to his studies in the 1960s and 1970s, people experience lower stress levels when they meditate.
Committing To Your Weight Loss Goals Through Meditation
By now, you might be thinking:
“C’mon. How am I going to lose weight by sitting down and closing my eyes?”
You don’t. Unless you make a conscious effort to do so.
Meditation is like training a muscle to lift heavier weights. It’s hard to do at the beginning, but gets better the more that you do it.
People who are able to lose weight are the ones who do inner work. That is, they confront whatever thought, feeling or narrative that keeps coming up in their life.
Meditation is a useful habit to help you dig deeper and understand what’s going on behind the scenes, and help you create a better relationship with food.
Have you ever tried meditation to lose weight? How did it work out for you?