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When it comes to weight loss, most of us think all that matters is counting calories and breaking a sweat. While these two factors do matter, it’s also important not to disregard the mind-body connection; research shows a strong relationship between stress and weight. People tend to seek high-calorie, high-fat foods during periods of stress, but our bodies also store more fat when we’re stressed than when we’re relaxed (Geiker, 2018).
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone—lots of us have engaged in unhealthy eating behaviors due to stress. The good news? There are many healthy ways to manage your stress and lose weight—and meditation is one of them.
Keep reading to learn more about meditation and weight loss.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an ancient practice that’s still relevant today due to its benefits for brain health and overall well-being. During meditation, you focus or try to clear your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques. These techniques may involve practices to sharpen focus and attention, connect to the body and breath, develop acceptance of difficult emotions, and even alter consciousness. Research has also shown that meditation may have physiological benefits, such as stress reduction and improved immunity (Goyal, 2014; Black, 2016).
Many different meditation techniques and types are available, all of which benefit the mind and body in different ways. There’s no perfect way to meditate; finding the right type of meditation for your specific needs is most important.
The nine most popular types of meditation include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Spiritual meditation
- Focused meditation
- Movement meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Progressive relaxation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Visualization meditation
There are so many different types of meditation, and knowing which is right for you can feel daunting. A great first step is researching the different kinds of meditation to find out which will most likely help you accomplish your goals. You can also talk to your healthcare provider or ask for guidance from other meditators you may know who are a bit more experienced than you.
Meditation for stress: a 5-minute antidote?
Benefits of meditation for weight loss
Meditation may reduce stress, help with sleeping habits, and improve focus—but those aren’t the only benefits of meditation (Goyal, 2014; Rusch 2019; Norris 2018). Meditation may also impact your eating habits, which can help you manage your weight if that’s a concern for you.
When you think about losing weight, you may think about exercise and movement. So it may seem a little strange to think that sitting in one place and focusing on your breath or thoughts can help you lose weight. But weight loss is not simply physical. Working on your emotions in a positive and sustainable way can help you develop a healthy relationship with food and prevent emotional eating.
While interventions like dieting and exercise have been shown to work, adding mindfulness interventions may help you lose weight and potentially keep it off in the long term (Carrière, 2017). Meditation can also help with binge eating and emotional eating (Katterman, 2014).
The tools you learn through meditation can help you cope with feelings of shame or guilt often associated with trying or struggling to lose weight. You’ll be able to gain awareness of your thoughts and behaviors around food without harsh judgments and accusations.
How to start with weight loss meditation
The good news is anyone can practice meditation—all you need is yourself. You don’t need any special equipment, and while classes can be helpful, they’re not necessary to accomplish your weight loss goals. For most people, the hardest part is finding the time to meditate and committing to daily practice. But something is always better than nothing—you can start with as little as five minutes a day or every other day to begin.
First, make sure you have a quiet place where you can practice. If you’ve got children, for example, you might want to make time before they wake up or after they’ve gone to bed. It’s important to minimize your distractions as much as possible.
Next, make yourself comfortable. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position you can hold for a set amount of time.
- Start by focusing on your breath and feeling your chest and belly as the air goes in and out.
- Do this for a few minutes, or at least until you feel more relaxed than when you first sat down.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Even if your mind wanders—and it almost certainly will—just notice that and try to return your attention to your breath.
- As you wrap up, you can reflect on how often and where your mind wandered, and see how easily you were able to bring your attention back to your breath.
Target heart rate for weight loss
A bonus tip? You can even apply this type of mindful awareness during meals. Mindful eating is a practice of eating without distractions, where you focus on the taste and texture of your meals by chewing slowly and trying to reflect on what you taste in each bite.
Meditation can be a great addition to your weight loss plan, along with diet and exercise, if you’re trying to lose weight. When done consistently and correctly, mindful eating and meditation may help you obtain lasting, sustainable weight loss—without shame, judgment, or harsh self-criticism.
- American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and eating. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating
- Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 66, 97-106. doi:10.1159/000289116. Retrieved form https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/289116#
- Black, D. S. & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13–24. doi:10.1111/nyas.12998. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26799456/
- Carrière, K., Khoury, B., Günak, M. M., et al. (2017) Mindfulness-based interventions for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 19, 164–177. doi:10.1111/obr.12623. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12623.
- Davis, D. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
- Geiker, N., Astrup, A., Hjorth, M. F., et al. (2018). Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa?. Obesity Reviews : Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 19(1), 81–97. doi:10.1111/obr.12603. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28849612/
- Goyal, M. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary and Alternative Medicine 174(3), 357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
- Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., et al. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197-204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1471015314000191?via%253Dihub
- Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., et al. (2018). Brief mindfulness meditation improves attention in novices. Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 315. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/
- Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., et al. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1445(1), 5–16. doi:10.1111/nyas.13996. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6557693/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.