When it comes to losing body fat, meditation and other mind-body activities may be the secret that you’ve been looking for.
Most people overlook meditation, yoga, and related new age pursuits because calorie expenditure is minimal, however, emerging research shows these activities can help you optimize your physiology, while simultaneously getting a handle on unhealthy eating behaviors. There are several ways meditation and mind-body activities may aid with fat loss:
Meditation has been shown to lower inflammation, stopping the inflammation-obesity cycle.
Meditation raises fat burning, muscle building hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and DHEA.
Mind-body activities lower stress, reducing release of cortisol, a hormone that deposits dangerous fat in the abdominal area.
Mindfulness helps mitigate anxiety and reduces inflammation that impairs restful sleep.
Mindfulness improves self-efficacy and reduces negative emotions that are linked to stress eating.
Mind-body activities can help kickstart healthy eating and exercise.
Meditation raises energizing hormones and neurotransmitters, helping you adopt a consistent exercise habit.
Meditation increases awareness, making it a useful tool for understanding your eating habits.
Because fat loss is challenging for most people, it’s worth delving into the details of how meditation can help. This article will review the physiological facts that impact body composition and help you understand the role of a mind-body practice.
How To Lose Fat
To lose body fat, you must create an energy deficit whereby you consume fewer calories than you expend. Conventionally, people put a lot of energy into increasing their calorie expenditure through exercise. Unfortunately, this approach is rarely successful for several reasons.
First, the body adapts, adjusting the amount of calories burned as you get in shape in an effort to minimize fat loss. Second, the proportion of calories burned during exercise is relatively small, especially compared to how many can be quickly consumed from high-calorie junk foods. Finally, exercise often stimulates appetite, leading people to compensate for calories burned during exercise.
Mind-body activities are often disregarded since they are not calorie burning powerhouses. But these activities provide an alternative approach to the typical calorie-focused fat loss program because they improve your physiology, setting you up to maintain muscle and burn fat, while helping you address harmful behaviors linked to eating. By getting to know your own mind, you can get in touch with self-limiting behaviors and delve into the truth of why you skip your workouts, or always break with your nutrition program by turning to junk food after a long day.
How Mind-Body Activities Protect Your Metabolism
Mind-body activities can set you up for fat loss success by improving hormone balance. A 1997 study found that compared to a control group, regular meditators had higher levels of fat burning, muscle building hormones including testosterone, growth hormone, and DHEA. They also had lower cortisol and responded more favorably to a stressful experience, producing a robust cortisol release that was cleared quickly, indicating the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
Other mind-body activities have similar effects. A recent study found that a tai chi practice improved levels of DHEA—the precursor to testosterone, which is known for its anti-obesity and anti-aging characteristics. The DHEA-to-cortisol ratio was higher, indicating a more anabolic environment—a factor that is especially important during aging when people are naturally catabolic, losing muscle and gaining body fat.
Other studies show mindfulness improves blood sugar regulation, which will lower insulin levels over time, allowing the body to spend more time in fat burning mode. Inflammation also drops in response to mind-body interventions. For example, one study of regular judo practitioners found that they had a lower inflammatory stress response to an intense exercise trial compared to sedentary subjects. Researchers theorize that mind-body activities can reset the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that governs the body’s stress response. This is important because we know that inflammation can stimulate overeating because chemical messages involved in appetite regulation are impaired.
How Mind-Body Activities Change Your Eating Behavior
If you are like most people trying to lose fat, getting control of what you put in their mouth is the biggest challenge. Scientists have identified the consumption of high-calorie comfort foods as a primary impediment to fat loss. Although not everyone responds to stress by eating, studies show that overweight individuals are much more likely to eat more in response to stress and negative emotions, and they tend to gain weight as a result.
“Comfort foods” are highly palatable, triggering the brain’s reward system and leading to the release of dopamine and other “feel good” compounds that help you temporarily feel better. This negative reinforcement contributes to emotional eating – stress and negative emotion become associated with the rewarding effects of eating comfort foods, and with repetition, this response becomes habitual. Additionally, repeated consumption of highly palatable food increases sensitivity of reward pathways, influencing food preference and intake. In this situation , a healthy meal of salmon with mixed greens, and water with lemon will never give you the same satisfaction as a pizza and soda.
Mindfulness is a powerful solution to break the cycle of stress eating and establish sustainable, healthful eating habits. Identified as a form of mental training, mindfulness involves observing the changing internal and external patterns from moment to moment. Because it fosters a non-judgmental approach, it helps you shift away from thinking that “everything is about me” to a more objective approach that reduces the perceived threats associated with negative thoughts and emotions.
Studies show that when combined with weight loss interventions, such as diet and/or exercise, a mindfulness practice will improve the reduction of body fat. For example, one study that randomized overweight individuals into a mindfulness weight loss program or a traditional weight loss program found that the mindfulness program produced nearly double the weight at the end of the 10 month study (the mindfulness group lost 13 percent body weight and the traditional group lost 7.5 percent). The mindfulness group maintained their weight loss better as well (11 percent weight loss compared to 4.8 percent at the 6 month follow up).
How To Start Meditating For Fat Loss
The first step is to start a meditation or mind-body practice of some kind. As discussed in this article, any mind-body practice can convey benefits, however, it’s worth trying meditation because it will likely convey unique cognitive benefits that will make improving body composition more achievable.
Anyone with a mind and body can practice meditation. All you need is a few minutes a day and quiet place where you can spend time watching your breath and noting different thoughts as they pass through your mind.
There are many tools, including books, classes, and apps that can help you get started, but really it’s as simple as this:
Find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable. Start by focusing on your breathing, noting your chest or stomach as it rises and falls. Feel the air as it moves in and out of your mouth and nose. Listen to the sounds the air makes. Notice the other sounds around you. Do this for a minute or two, until you start to feel more relaxed.
Next, try closing your eyes, and follow these steps:
- Take a deep breath in. Hold it for several seconds.
- Slowly exhale and repeat.
- Breathe naturally.
- Observe your breath as it enters your nostrils, raises your chest, or moves your belly, but don’t alter it in any way.
- Continue focusing on your breath for 5 to 10 minutes.
- You’ll find your mind wandering, which is completely normal. Just acknowledge that your mind has wandered and return your attention to your breath.
- As you start to wrap up, reflect on how easily your mind wandered. Then, acknowledge how easy it was to bring your attention back to your breath.
Bring a sense of purpose to your practice. Take it seriously and do it regularly. Write down on your calendar the days that you meditate and try to do it most days of the week. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just get back to it on the next day.
Once you get into a meditation routine, it’s time to start paying attention to your eating habits. There are many ways to get a handle on your food intake, but the gold standard is to do a food journal in which you log everything you eat for at least three days and then identify trouble spots.
You can apply mindfulness to this process by noting how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after eating. Use this hunger scale to find the right balance. Try to eat when you are at a 3 or 4 and stop at a 5 or 6. Avoid 1 and 2 because this predisposes you to overeating and try to stop prior to 7-10 :
|1||So starved you’re weak or dizzy|
|2||Extremely hungry and feeling irritable; lots of stomach growling|
|3||Less famished; hungry enough for occasional stomach growling|
|5||Satiated—feeling neither hungry or full|
|6||Mildly full with no discomfort|
|7||Full but feeling as if you may have eaten too much|
|8||Stuffed enough for notable discomfort|
|9||“Thanksgiving stuffed,” with notable discomfort|
|10||Filled to the point of feeling sick|
Once you’ve got several days logged, it’s time to identify areas of improvement and establish a fixed eating schedule with several meals (2 to 4) over a 10- to 12- hour period so that you give yourself 12 to 14 hours overnight for digestion and fasting.
Being active in daily life and adding an exercise program that incorporates weight training and interval work is the next step to a successful fat loss program. Lifting weights a minimum of 2 days a week and doing at least 2 moderate intensity interval workouts will help keep your metabolism popping and maintain muscle during fat lass.
Final Words: Although meditation won’t overcome a bad diet or days spent on the couch, it can lay the groundwork for successful fat loss. By improving your relationship with food and balancing your metabolism, meditation can connect the dots between your intentions and action. You can finally become one of the successful people who gets the body you desire.