When it comes to losing weight, we're always looking for the quick fix, the magical solution that will transform us from our current before picture selves into our most attractive after.
What will do the trick? The latest new diet? Extra trips to the gym? The latest healthy smoothie recipe we saw in a magazine at our doctor's office?
How about meditation?
The idea of meditating your way to fewer pounds has tremendous appeal. Hey! I can just relax my way down to my pre-holiday weight!
But does it work? Can meditation make a difference in how much weight we lose, more than a stricter diet or harder workouts?
Yes. Sort of.
Doctors and nutritionists know that the act of meditation itself, be it deep breathing, transcendental thinking, or even a consistent yoga practice isn't going to be solely responsible for the melting of unwanted pounds.
However, they agree that meditation can help address the deeper emotional reasons why we put on (and keep) extra weight in the first place. And once we address those, that goal weight won't be far behind. Here's how:
Using Meditation To Manage Stress and Weight Gain
Many of our unhealthy eating habits are actually ways we cope with stress. After a hard day at work, we open the fridge and reach for the "comfort foods" that we think help us relax and unwind.
Often this is a natural reaction to the adrenaline your body pumps out during stress-filled situations.
After the adrenaline boost helps you navigate the various challenges of your day (whether it's a difficult meeting at work, or a tough conversation with a friend or relative), the lowering of that adrenaline level can result in hunger, and a craving for comfort foods rich in excess sugar, fat and carbohydrates.
All that delicious food may boost your blood sugar levels and satisfy that immediate post-adrenaline craving... but doesn't actually help lower your stress at all.
Before sitting down to that end-of-the-day meal, a short meditation centered around deep breathing and slowing down your body processes can help lower your stress levels more effectively than a deep dish pizza.
Try sitting in a comfortable spot, closing your eyes, and focusing on slowed breathing before reaching for any junk food.
This simple daily practice can do more than help you find a sense of calm -- it can actually stabilize your adrenaline level, lower your blood pressure and give you some distance from that urge to use food as a source of relaxation.
Meditating to Curb Emotional Eating
We use food to help us deal with more than just stress. When we eat foods we love (particularly the good stuff with all that sugar, carbohydrates and fat), we temporarily stimulate the pleasure center of our brain.
And Psychology 101 tells us that pleasure-eating feels similar to fulfilling an emotional need for love, acceptance, and security. At least, for a little while.
The key to curbing emotional eating is to gain more awareness of the emotions you're feeling at any given time, and as a result, understand the source of those emotions.
Mindfulness Meditation is the practice of focusing on your physical and emotional state right there in the present. When you engage in mindfulness, you give yourself permission to experience your feelings, and let them wash over you without judgement, making it easier to let those emotions pass through you and depart.
Mindfulness meditation only requires a few minutes, a comfortable spot to sit, and the suspension of self-judgment. After a few physical stretches, allow your mind to rest and feel open, acknowledging the emotions that normally trigger eating.
Sometimes the simple act of giving yourself permission to have those emotions can lead to releasing them -- and releasing the eating habits they trigger.
Meditating For Body Awareness & Acceptance
Much of our stress and frustration builds when we compare ourselves to others, particularly those who have better bodies than we do: the model on the cover of that magazine, or the buff guy lifting weights next to us at the gym.
Such comparisons not only keep you feeling frustrated and depressed that you don't look the way you're "supposed to," but also increase your stress levels, which can lead to eating more food, even to the point of binging.
One of the best psychological benefits of meditation is that it allows you to become more in tune with your own body, appreciate what it feels like to inhabit you physical self, and let go of the idea of attaining the "perfect" body.
Most types of meditation incorporate the idea of acceptance; acceptance of who you are, how you feel, how you look, and your value in the world itself. When you take time to meditate, focus on how good it feels to move your limbs, and to inhabit the space you do.
As you relax, you can settle in to your body and appreciate it more. Then, you can focus on achieving your own health goals rather than what magazine ads say you "should" be doing. Healthy habits through self-acceptance can lead to a healthier and longer life.
Using Meditation To Stop Food Cravings
Whether food cravings are physical, psychological, or emotional, we all feel them. And many of us feel subsequently guilty for feeling them, even before we eat anything at all.
Using meditation to build awareness around how hunger feels can do a lot to diminish the urge to eat that Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
It can be helpful to measure your hunger with your own personal gauge before you eat.
As you practice meditation, ask yourself what your hunger level is on a scale of one to ten: one is "Sure, I could have half a salad if I split it with someone." Ten is "I'll need an hour alone at the buffet table, if you don't mind."
As you breathe and center yourself, imagine your own stomach, and how much food will (and won't) be needed to fill it.
Taking a few minutes to understand how much hunger you're actually feeling can take away the power of the craving, and replace it with the realization that a smaller portion will actually make you feel just as satisfied.
Can meditation alone result in shedding pounds? Not likely. But it can help you understand and master the causes of weight gain itself, and enable you to become your healthiest self.
Have you used meditation for weight loss or another skill? Let me know below!