Can meditation help with weight loss?

One of the secrets for weight loss I share with clients every day is the concept of mindfulness especially in terms of paying attention to your hunger signals. Like most nutritionists, I have strong opinions about the types of foods I think are the most nutritious and most likely to help with wellness and weight loss.  But, I often tell my clients, that they could eat almost any healthy diet combined with hunger mindfulness and would be able to get to their natural weight. Meditation itself is a form of mindfulness and a powerful way to learn the technique.

A second reason to practice meditation is that is acts as a stress buster.  Stress management is one of the cornerstones of weight loss is stress management. Stress can lead to weight gain for several reasons. Two most common reasons are:

1)physical: a rise in your body’s adaptive stress hormone cortisol which causes, among other things: fat deposition around your middle, a spike in your insulin, an increase in hunger especially for sweets.

2)emotional: many of us have learned to manage stress is to turn to food and alcohol to buffer our emotions.

Meditation helps to bust stress by improving your overall mood, lowering your cortisol levels as well as balancing your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest).

What is meditation?

Meditation quite simply is intentional focused awareness on the present moment. It’s not about religion or a particular belief system. There is nothing mystical or magical about it. It is a way of training your mind so that you can manage your thoughts and feel more comfortable in your own skin. Meditation is a practice (not a performance) so there is no perfect way to do it. And, ANYONE can do it regardless of age or experience.

How to meditate

There are many different meditation techniques (and thousands of books, articles, blogs, podcasts, videos etc. on the subject). I’ll offer you a simple but highly effective meditation and one I often practice myself.

  1. Find a quiet space. Sit in a comfortably in a chair or on the floor (or even lying down in bed) in any position that feels natural. Prop yourself up with whatever cushions you need so you can stay in this position for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Close your eyes and notice the feeling of your body on whatever surface you are on.
  3. Begin to notice the breath moving in and out.
  4. Now, start to say to yourself on each breath in “I am breathing in” and on each breath out “I am breathing out.”
  5. Continue with this practice for 5-30 minutes (it helps to set a timer so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of time or being late for something).

While you are practicing your meditation,  your mind will likely wander (this is what the mind does). Whatever thoughts come into your head, simply label them as thoughts and come back to your awareness of the breath. When I have a thought (and it sometimes takes me a few moments to figure out that my mind has wandered), I just say to myself “thought” and return back to my breathing awareness.

Want to get some additional help with this?

Check out Peter Russel’s webpage. He has some free meditations and offers a course on a pay what you wish basis. Headspace is an app for smart phones that teaches meditation. It’s got really appealing graphics and explains the process simply and clearly. Also check out the websites of Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg and Jon Kabat-Zinn who all offer workshops, free online resources and have authored many wonderful books on the subject. And, your local yoga studios, therapists and even medical practices may offer meditation workshops and classes.