Mindfulness is The Foundation for Long Term Weight Loss
How many times have you lost weight and gained all or most of it back? If you have, you’re in good company, that’s what happens to most people. In a meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained.* But the good news is, long-term, permanent weight loss is possible.
Change your relationship with food
If you want to make long-term, substantial changes, the first thing, before you change your diet, you need to change your relationship to food.
And in order to make that change you need to know where you are right now. Do you know what characterizes your relationship with food? Do you know what drives you to keep eating things that you know aren’t good for you? Or eating beyond full? Or making less than ideal choices? This is why mindfulness can be a powerful ally in making the transformation. In order to rewire your relationship with food, you need to first look at the one you have with an open curiosity and without judgement.
At its core, mindfulness is a way of being in relationship with anything that happens to us in any given moment. Any circumstance, no matter how painful, can be a doorway to healing. And lots of us have a painful relationship with food.
Manage stress without food
Take stress eating for instance, so many people eat in response to stress. It’s actually normal. Eating is pleasurable after all, it has to be. From an evolutionary standpoint, if eating weren’t pleasurable we wouldn’t do it and we would have never survived. We wouldn’t be here. Food triggers pleasure by releasing feel good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in our brains. Some foods trigger more of it than others. Which is why when we’re stressed, we generally don’t reach for broccoli.
One of the big benefits of a mindfulness practice is stress management. In a nutshell, it’s about recognizing, and paying attention to what you’re experiencing, whether it’s events, thoughts or feelings and more likely all three. It’s about giving them space to exist, rather than pushing it away or getting swamped by it.
Will meditation make stress go away? Hardly, but it will definitely change the impact of it. Even after years of practice, I still have the urge to eat when I’m stressed. A little while ago I spent an hour and a half writing an email. It was on an online platform and was supposed to be autosaved. But It just disappeared. The saved version was nowhere to be found. The thought of spending another hour and a half trying to rewrite it was beyond maddening. After lots of yelling, and complaining, and the use of a few choice words, I went into the kitchen and I wanted to eat something. I knew I wasn’t hungry but wanted to eat anyway. And of course I wanted the salty, crunchy stuff that my husband keeps in his personal stash of snacks. Here’s the benefit of mindfulness practice: I knew I was angry and stressed, I was able to accept that an hour and a half of work just went down the drain. So I was able to stand apart from it a little bit and observe, rather than get so tangled up in the moment that I wasn’t thinking. Was I perfect? No but I managed to eat some oil-free hummus rather than the salty crunchies.
Returning to what I said earlier, any circumstance, no matter how painful, can become a doorway to healing. A smooth sea doesn’t make a skilled sailor. Maybe a cliche, but that doesn’t make it less true. It’s the difficulties we experience that can help us grow.
This is why I believe a mindfulness practice is the first step in the journey toward permanent weight loss. This is a journey, it takes practice. Mistakes are learning opportunities, not failures.
- Anderson JW, Konz EC, Frederich RC, Wood CL. Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;74(5):579–584.