How Meditation May Help You Lose Weight

The Obesity Epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that although obesity is one of the most obviously noticeable health problems, it is still one of the most neglected. It is a disease affecting people regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status or country. In 2008 it was estimated that 1.4 billion people worldwide were overweight and 500 million obese. Perhaps even more troubling, in 2013 approximately 42 million preschool children were considered overweight. As these numbers continue to increase, the risks for specific cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease also rise, contributing to over 2.8 million deaths each year.
Current Strategies 
The WHO emphasizes the importance of implementing strategies which enable people to make healthy decisions easily, noting that environmental and social factors are major contributors to this global problem. A multifaceted approach, this would require the collaboration of policy-makers, healthcare professionals and the community, meaning it could take a while to implement such change, and why it’s important for us to take individual action. The general rule of weight maintenance says that calories consumed must equal calories expended. Therefore to lose weight we must either eat less or exercise more - sounds simple, right? But how easy is it to finish one cookie and reach for a second, be it out of desire or simply habit. Perhaps by increasing our mindfulness towards these routine habits we could improve our relationship with food and improve our health.

Listening to Ourselves

The first step to increase our mindful eating habits is to listen to ourselves. Physiologically, we have two main hormones regulating our appetite. The first hormone is ghrelin, released when the stomach is empty and makes us feel hungry, while another, leptin, tells us to stop eating when we’re full. Although these hormones can be effective at regulating our appetite, they are easy to ignore. While conventional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to change our thoughts regarding appetite and “good”/“bad” foods, mindfulness takes a more passive approach, enabling us to become more accepting and aware of our thoughts, feelings and physiological cues. One study assessed the efficacy of a six week two-hour mindfulness program that included meditation, mindful eating and group discussion for obese patients. They found that upon completion, the patient's’ weight, stress levels and rates of depression were significantly reduced. The researchers believed that due to the patient’s increased mindfulness, they could acknowledge their physiological satiation cues and respond accordingly.
Self Regulation
The ability to recognize feelings of fullness is a fantastic start, however having the power to put down that second cookie is also important. It’s possible that by harnessing the tools from mindfulness meditation, we can improve our ability to regulate our behavior. Dalen and colleagues from the Oregon Research Institute and University of New Mexico implemented a mindfulness-based program to assess whether subjects could use the basic teachings of mindfulness to reduce their caloric intake. They were taught four principles: their thoughts are simply ideas passing through their minds, which don’t need to be acted upon; how to accept difficult feelings; to be passive, and non-judgemental to thoughts, and finally the importance of committing to goals in line with their values. Six months after this intervention program researchers found that those who attended the workshops and incorporated mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in body mass index (BMI) and increased rates of physical activity. By utilizing mindfulness techniques, it’s possible that we are better able to recognize and regulate our desires and actions.
Final Food for Thought
It’s time for us to take control of our relationship with food to create our best self. By maintaining a healthy weight we can increase our chances of living longer with a higher quality of life. By utilizing mindfulness techniques we can try to promote a positive relationship with food, learning to live a life rich in moderation and mindful choices.