Is it possible to use the stress-relieving benefits of meditation for weight loss? A few small studies have been performed on this question — with mixed results — but the issue is worth further investigation.
The Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain
Stress can be a major obstacle that comes between us and our optimal health. A body under constant stress stores up fat and glucose to prepare for potential fight-or-flight situations. Stress can cause a release of the hormone cortisol, which signals your body to eat in order to get even more calories into your fat reserves. This is why we're so often driven to eat while we're under stress, and why stress and cortisol levels are linked with obesity.
It might be tempting to address the cortisol directly with a pill, but as the LA Times explains, there has not yet been much reliable success using that route. On the other hand, meditation has been shown to lower stress and cortisol. In fact, a meta-analysis of 21 small studies, published in Obesity Reviews, showed promising results on the benefits of meditation reducing binge and emotional eating for those who engage in those behaviors.
How Does Meditation Help?
Meditation is mindfulness training, which helps you to pay attention to what is happening right now. It is the opposite of zoning out; it is a means of getting to know your body, precisely what you are feeling, and an awareness of why you are doing what you're doing in the moment.
Your awareness of why you're stress eating, how much you're eating, and whether that eating is actually making you feel any better has an impact on what and how much you eat. Often, when we are stress eating, we pack the calories away without realizing just how much we've eaten.
Over time, a meditation practice can help us make better decisions. In the long run, that will also help us deal with weight-loss issues around food and exercise choices.
The Link Between Meditation and Weight Loss
The small studies that have been conducted so far have not directly linked meditation and weight loss. They did show much lower stress levels in the participants, but the weight loss results had quite a bit of variance. A larger study conducted over a longer period of time may give us more useful data on how meditation connects directly with weight loss.
While there is insufficient proof to show that mediation on its own will support your efforts at losing weight, don't give up on meditation. When combined with other beneficial behaviors such as making healthy food and activity choices, adding meditation for weight loss can be beneficial.