When most people think of losing weight, exercise and diet are the first things that come to mind. At first thought, you might dismiss the idea of losing weight through meditation. Unlike walking or other exercises, meditation does not use much energy and cannot contribute directly to the calorie deficit you must achieve to burn fat. However, for many people, meditating may help to change the behaviors that lead to obesity.
Meditation can take many forms, including an expression of religious belief, but here we are talking about a conscious effort to become mindful of one’s own behavior and the reasons for that behavior. In this sense, meditation is the practice of focusing the mind inwardly and trying to understand the reasons for our feelings and behaviors, especially our eating behavior. Some people call this “mindfulness” or “mindfulness meditation.”
Eating is the natural response to feelings of physical hunger. When your stomach is empty and your blood sugar levels fall, it is normal to feel “hungry” from these physical causes. However, some people develop the habit of eating as a response to an emotional stimulus like stress, anxiety or depression. Food becomes a way of coping not only with physical hunger but also, “emotional hunger.”
Because we live in a time and in a society that can sometimes impose a lot of emotional stress, many people find themselves turning to food as a way to cope. This is partly due to the easy availability of prepackaged and “convenience” food products, things that were not available in the past. It is easy to mindlessly eat a bag of potato chips in response to a minor stressful situation. Doing this once will cause no harm, but when it becomes the normal way in which a person deals with life, it will surely lead to unhealthy consequences.
How can meditation help a person to deal with this behavior? Various professionals have advocated many different practices, but in this blog we will discuss just two simple meditation techniques for curbing unhealthy diet and eating behaviors. These are stress reduction meditations, sometimes called “transcendental meditation” and “mindful eating,” also known as “eating awareness.”
Stress reduction meditation can help change bad eating habits by simply lowering the level of exposure to daily stress. If a person has learned to deal with stressful situations by overeating, then this eating behavior can be ‘cut off at the pass’ by blocking the stress. Meditating can release hormones like oxytocin and serotonin which produce calming and mood elevating effects.
Describing the actual techniques and procedures for stress reduction meditation is beyond the scope of this blog. The web, bookstores and professional organizations like Florida Hospital can suggest specific programs for stress reduction, including meditation. Books and online instruction are available from numerous experts like Dr. Deepak Chopra, MD. Dr. Chopra may be the best known advocate of meditation and he suggests that meditation can cause a positive change in your brain in just eight weeks, helping you modify your eating habits and other behaviors. This claim is controversial, but other studies have associated meditation with a reduction in blood pressure, improvement in sleep patterns and increased feelings of well-being.
Another meditation technique that can be helpful in weight loss is known as “mindful eating.” This involves getting the person to concentrate exclusively on themselves and what they are consuming while eating. Often, a person might eat casually without thinking, for example consuming a bag of potato chips while watching television. Mindful eating requires the person to concentrate exclusively on the act of consuming food and their own feelings, asking themselves why they are hungry. Is this a normal, physical hunger or are they responding to some outside stimulus like stress or boredom?
One mindful eating technique asks the person to place their open hand on their stomach and concentrate before starting to eat. Closing the hand will show them a volume that is approximately the size of their empty stomach, reminding them that they should not eat an amount of food larger than the fist. While eating, they focus on the food and their own physical feelings, not on external sights and sounds. This awareness of self and the meal consumed leads them to eat more slowly, to anticipate each bite and to give them time to feel satiated when the right amount of food has been eaten.
Many other meditation techniques have been advocated by diet and nutrition professionals. If you have been treated by a bariatric physician or had weight reduction surgery, the behavior modification professional may have invited you to investigate one or more of them. Meditation can be an effective way of coping with stress or anxiety and help you to change unhealthy eating behaviors.