Meditation causes changes in brain areas responsible for body sensations, especially those related to hunger and craving. It trains your brain to attune to your body in a healthy way. High cortisol levels associated with abdominal weight gain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders that cause weight gain can be corrected by meditation.
Meditation is known for its ability to calm the mind, de-stress and improve your brain powers. Many studies have proved this. But can meditation have a physical effect on one’s body. Meditation can cause enough positive change in your brain in just 8 weeks to rewire the body’s circuitry, helping you modify your eating habits and other behaviors.
Although there’s not a lot of research showing that meditation directly helps you lose weight, meditation does help you become more aware of your thoughts and actions, including those that relate to food.
Why Do People Put On Weight?
People often put on weight from trying to comfort themselves with food. A recent research review showed that meditation can help with both binge eating and emotional eating. People eat for two reasons: Physical and emotional hunger. Meditation can help to calm you that you’re less likely to get stressed out and use food as a coping mechanism.
How Does Awareness Help You Lose Weight
A lot of times when we eat habitually, we get poised for action — we lean in and the tummy gets tight and we get ready to shove that food in as fast as we can. Taking deep breaths at least 5 relaxes the body and clears the emotional palate. This way you enjoy the food, taste it, and see it. You eat less because there is complete involvement.
Awareness of your stomach is a big part of mindful meditation strategy for weight loss. Lay a hand on your stomach before you eat and think about how hungry you are. On a scale of one to ten, with one being starved and ten being post-Thanksgiving dinner. Waiting till your hunger level is close to one is a good indicator.
Food tastes better when you’re hungry. An empty stomach is the size of a closed fist. Open your hands and imagine your two palms full of food. That’s about the right amount. You should only fill your stomach two-thirds full for optimal digestion. This is about a level five on the one to ten scale.
Cravings And Mindfulness
Mindfulness helps people make good choices, even when cravings are present. As people become more mindful, they learn to notice cravings as bodily sensations that arise in any given moment. As they become consciously aware of the sensations that make up the craving, they learn to observe these from moment to moment and notice any judgment that arises alongside it.
In doing this, they grow their power to witness a craving arise, peak, and subside without necessarily acting upon it. In doing so, they train their self-control.
During mindfulness practice, the mind focuses on a specific object, such as the breath. When the mind wanders to another object, such as a thought, a sound, or a physical sensation, attention should be gently but consistently brought back to the breath
Research on taste shows enjoyment drops significantly after about one serving size, perhaps even less. T he paradox is the fattier and sweeter and saltier the food is, the quicker that happens.
Reducing Stress For Weight Loss
Herbert Benson, MD, the Harvard doctor who initiated meditation studies in the 1970s, researched on the Relaxation Response. He discovered that during meditation, brain waves shift into a state similar to — and sometimes more relaxed than — sleep. This level of relaxation lowers the amount of stress hormones that can contribute to pain and illness.
High levels of stress can contribute to not just emotional eating but also weight gain because your body is gearing for trauma by increasing fat retention. When you’re stressed, steroids release and increase your belly fat because the body interprets chronic stress as famine. Meditation counteracts this response.
Negative Body Image And Meditation
Meditation can establish a foundation for healthier thinking and feeling. When you meditate, all the junk comes up. The negative body images come up, the desires for certain foods come up, and the emotions that are attached to those desires come up. The more they surface, the more you can be aware of it, acknowledge it and let it go.
Studies On Meditation Aiding Weight Loss
A group of researchers at UC San Francisco have conducted a study indicating that meditation could be a key in helping people to control their dietary habits and help them lose weight. It’s only a small-scale study and needs reproduction, but its findings are consistent with other studies of mindfulness.
The researchers took a randomized group of 47 overweight women and divided them into two groups. Both groups received training on the basics of diet and exercise, but no diets were prescribed to either group.
The experimental group received training in “mindful eating” and meditation in weekly sessions. In the mindful eating training, the women were trained to experience the moment-by-moment sensory experience of eating. They also meditated for 30 minutes a day.
The goal of the experiment was two-fold – to use mindful eating to help control cravings and overeating, and to use meditation as a stress relief to prevent “comfort eating.” The preliminary results showed that they were successful. The women in the control group gained weight while those in the experimental group maintained their weight and showed significant reductions in their cortisol levels (high cortisol levels are a side effect of stress).
“You’re training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns — to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling anger, for example,” said researcher Jennifer Daubenmier.
“If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision.”
Stress reduction and meditation
Stress reduction is one of the most notable outcomes of meditation. Researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, found that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This study shows the importance of long-term practice: Salivary cortisol levels went down after the eight-week course, but there was no drop after each individual session.
High cortisol levels are associated with diabetes and abdominal weight gain, which healthcare practitioners call “central obesity,” the worst kind, associated with increased risk of heart disease. Cortisol causes us to crave fatty and sugary snacks, and then store the calories as belly fat. This is yet another way mindfulness could improve one’s health and weight.
Emotional eating and meditation
Mindfulness also boosts mood. Dozens of studies have examined the effects of mindfulness on negative emotional states, including depression and anxiety. A literature review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at data from 47 randomized controlled trials with more than 3,500 patients and found that mindfulness helped alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, mindfulness interventions led to a nearly 40% decrease in anxiety. And mindfulness was about as good as anti-depressants in treating the blues. As mood improves, people are less likely to engage in emotional eating.
Meditation’s effects on brain function and its relation to mood have been studied by Richard Davidson, Ph.D., director of the Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Davidson and his team noted that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program increased activation in the left frontal lobe, which previous studies have linked to positive emotional states. Remarkably, this same study also demonstrated that this practice helps improve immune function. People in the mindfulness group produced more antibodies in response to the flu vaccine compared to the control group, indicating their immune systems were more potent.
The strength of their immune response was directly correlated to the left frontal lobe activation. There could be a direct scientific explanation for this: Negative emotions are associated with higher levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, which turns down the immune system. Thus, as mindfulness shifts our brain activity, there are direct, positive effects on hormones and overall physiology.
Sleep And Weight Loss
Meditation can also help improve sleep patterns. This area of research is still young; in fact, the JAMA review mentioned above said the effects of mindfulness on sleep are so far inconclusive. Yet, there are studies that give reason to hope meditation can help people rest more soundly. A small, randomized controlled trial in the journal Sleep demonstrated that mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI) led to significant improvements in sleep quality for people with chronic insomnia.
Study participants who received this MBTI feel less stimulated before sleep and spent less time tossing and turning, according to their own journals. A Danish study of 336 women after their diagnosis with breast cancer showed the mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly fewer sleep problems than the control group. Prior studies have shown that mindfulness training can improve sleep quality and length in teachers.
If mindfulness does indeed help us sleep better, this would send a powerful ripple effect into the rest of their lives; healthful sleep patterns have been associated with better learning and memory, as well as decreased risk of heart disease and a stronger immune system. Also, sleep disturbances create hormonal shifts that lead to problems with blood sugar regulation and even weight gain and obesity so sleeping well is an important contributor to reaching and maintaining a healthy body.
These findings are consistent with numerous brain studies showing that this practice of attending mindfully to present moment experience brings about changes in brain areas responsible for body sensations, especially body sensations related to hunger and craving (in the brain area called the ‘insula’), the idea here being that daily practice actually trains your brain to help you tune in to your body in a more healthy way.