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Does Meditation Help you Lose Weight?

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When you start a weight loss regime you’ll no doubt think about the types of activities that will help you burn calories, and the types of foods that you can eat to promote health.

Meditation is probably not top of the list when people think of fat burning activities – it isn’t your typical fitness tool. But some research suggests that it might be beneficial for learning about controlling cravings and becoming more mindful of what you eat, and why.

So can it help with weight loss as well? In this article we’ll have a look at what the research says. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is meditation?
  • Can it help with weight loss?
  • The Science behind it
  • Should you start doing it?

What is meditation?

This particular spiritual practice has been around for centuries – it is a relaxation experience that aims to achieve calm, silence and ‘mindfulness’. It has been practiced for centuries in India and has, over the last few years, become a popular activity in the west too.

It is a method where an individual attempts to induce a state of relaxation, peace and calmness by focusing on breathing and blocking out other thoughts and environment. As a practice, it teaches you to observe the contents of the mind and sensations of the body without judgment, and to learn detached awareness [1].

This spiritual practice has more recently been used as a treatment for a number of illnesses including anxiety, as well as management of pain and addiction. It has also been used for controlling the symptoms of binge eating disorder (BED). The idea behind using these techniques for controlling illnesses comes from the ability to focus attention away from one ‘object’ to another, in this case the pain or the addiction.

Meditation can make us aware of negative emotions and associations, and teaches us how to manage them better. By becoming more aware of your eating habits you can learn the causes that trigger binges. Couple that with its stress reducing benefits, and you can see why claims have been made that it can help you lose weight.

But does it? Let’s have a look at the research…


Meditation-to-Lose-Weight

Key Point: Mindfulness activities aim to help you observe the contents of your mind and improve the sensations of your body.


Does meditation help with weight loss?

There isn’t a great deal of research out there, but here is a breakdown of the studies you need to know about:

#Study 1: Kristeller et al [2]

In this study, the reliability of mindfulness techniques was assessed using 18 obese women who suffered from regular binge eating. Over a 6 week period, the women were invited to meditate on a daily basis.

Over the course of the study, the number of binge eating episodes decreased – 9 of the women reduced binges to less than one per week, and 5 decreased to 1-2 binges per week. Additionally, perceived levels of eating control, sense of mindfulness, and awareness of hunger cues and satiety cues all increased significantly. 

While there was no weight loss observed over the 12 week study, the authors suggested that meditation helped to form a longer term habit that would help with longer term weight loss.

#Study 2: Daubenmier et al [3]

In this study, published in the Journal of Obesity, 47 overweight women were divided into one of two groups over a 4 month period.

One group received information on ‘mindful eating’ – being aware of the experience of eating – as well as weekly mindfulness lessons. They were instructed to meditate for 30 minutes on a daily basis. The other group received no such training or experience.

The goal of the study was to look at the effects of using mindful eating as a way of controlling comfort and binge eating. The results were promising – whilst the effects of the outcome were only moderate, the meditation group lost weight, whilst the control group gained weight. 

Another point of interest was that the experimental group also reported a reduction in the hormone cortisol -this hormone is released in times of physical or emotional stress – it’s an important one as it helps us to break down and use stored energy, but when you are overly stressed it pumps too much into your bloodstream.

Higher levels of cortisol are linked with reduced muscle mass and increased abdominal fat gain – in particular belly fat, which is the fat that builds up around the internal organs and has drastic effects on your health.

#Study 3: Olsen et al [4]

This study is classed as a ‘systematic review’ which is a large study analyzing all other similar studies on meditation and weight loss. Its considered to be one of the most robust research methods available.

The research paper looked into 19 studies and evaluated them based on their results. The findings suggested that out of 19 studies chosen for the review, 13 found significant relationships between weight loss and mindfulness interventions.

There was one limiting factor however. The authors suggested that in some studies, the strength of the research was limited, and that they were unable to conclude as well as why weight loss occurred. Regardless, the link between the activity and the outcome seemed strong. 


Binge-Eating-and-Meditation

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Key Point: Research has found that mindfulness helps to reduce cortisol as well as increase mindful eating.

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Summary – does meditation help you lose weight?

Meditation is an ancient and traditional practice that focuses on resting the mind and achieving a state of peace and calmness. As a method of promoting relaxation, it is an effective stress buster – helping you to lower your cortisol levels and reduce belly fat.

It can make you more aware of not only hunger management, but also the feelings associated with binge eating and how to address and cope with them. Whilst the evidence isn’t conclusive, the use of mindfulness techniques for weight loss is certainly an area of interest and beneficial on so many levels.

Here are the main benefits of meditation for weight loss:

a) Helps you to de-stress and reduce cortisol

b) Increases awareness of cravings and hunger and how to manage them

c) Set coping strategies for binge eating by using mindful eating

d) Reduce negative associations with food

The bottom line: there are definitely reasons for you to include the ancient spiritual practice of meditation in your daily routine. Whilst it shouldn’t replace a good diet or more strenuous physical activities such as strength training and cardio, it is a useful tool to add to your lifestyle.


References

  1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Dell.
  2. Kristeller, JL et al. An exploratory study of meditation-based intervention for binge eating disorder. J Health Psych. 1999; 4(3): 357-363
  3. Daubenmier, J et al. Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study. J Obesity. 2011; DOI: 10.1155/2011/651936
  4. Olsen, KL et al. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychosom Med. 2015; 77(1): 59-67