Meditation and Weight Loss
Before you commit to that detox or diet you’re considering, try the simple, cost-free strategy that could not only help you slim down but also lift stress and anxiety off your shoulders. We checked in with Doron Libshtein, CEO of a Mentor Channel.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a daily practice of clearing your mind in order to return to a place of clear thinking and calm emotions. Some people practice for as little as five minutes a day, although most meditation experts suggest working up to 20 minutes daily.
How do you meditate?
Meditation doesn’t have to be difficult! If you’re just starting out, try taking five minutes as soon as you wake up to clear your mind before you face your busy day. Simply close your eyes and focus on the pattern of your breathing without trying to change it. Focus only on your breathing. If your mind wanders--and it probably will at first--simply guide your mind back to your breathing without judgement.
Although Libshtein suggests practicing for 10 minutes daily--five minutes in the morning and five at night--he recognizes that “the amount of time is not as important as simply doing it regularly.” It can be hard to form new habits, so if you start at just five minutes a day, that’s OK. Whatever amount of time you start with, “it’s been shown that the best time to meditate is first thing in the morning and right before you go to bed at night,” Libshtein shares. Feel free to sit or lie down, whatever feels most comfortable for you.
What’s the connection between meditation and weight loss?
First of all, yes, there is a connection! “Meditation can be an effective tool to help people lose weight,” Libshtein tells us. What exactly makes meditation so powerful? It helps us “align the conscious and unconscious mind to agree on changes we want to apply to our behavior,” he explains. Those changes could be a number of factors such as cravings for unhealthy food or control of eating behaviors. It’s important to get your unconscious mind involved because that’s where those bad habits that often cause us to pack on the pounds, like emotional eating, are ingrained. Meditation can help you be more aware of these and, with practice, override them and even replace them with slimming habits.
But there’s a more immediate payoff of meditating. “Meditation can directly reduce the levels of stress hormones,” Libshtein explains. Stress hormones, like cortisol, signal our bodies to store calories as fat. If you have a ton of cortisol pumping through your system, it’s going to be harder to lose weight even if you’re making healthy choices than if you clear all that stress out. We know that sounds hard; we’re all stressed, and it seems impossible to shake. But all it takes is 25 minutes of meditation three days in a row to significantly reduce stress, a study out of Carnegie Mellon University found. Libshtein notes that these hormones not only tell our bodies to store extra weight but also cause other physical problems that can lead to excess weight, like inflammation.
In fact, participants in a 2016 study showed “increased attention, relaxation, calmness, body-mind awareness, and brain activity,” after just a couple short sessions according to Yi-Yuan Tang, the presidential endowed chair in neuroscience and a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Texas Tech University. Your self-control could also increase with daily practice, the study suggests. Researchers found that the parts of the brain most affected by meditation were those that help us control ourselves. That means a couple minutes of meditation daily could make it easier to pass on that second cookie or avoid the ice cream when you’re feeling down.
How can meditation help when diet and exercise don’t seem to be working?
“In many cases stress is a primary trigger for excessive weight gain or the inability to effectively lose weight,” Libshtein explains. So if you’ve been dieting and exercising, but constantly feel stressed, you might not be addressing the problem that’s keeping the weight around. Again, stress releases hormones that store extra fat--exactly what we don’t want! This can even fuel a cycle of stress. You can’t lose weight because you’re stressed, which makes you stress about not being able to lose weight. It’s an easy pattern to get stuck in, but you can break it--and meditation can help.
To better deal with stress or eliminate it, you need to first understand what causes it the most in your life. Some stressors are easy to identify, but others can be more subtle. “I recommend using the WellBe to help understand, monitor and cope with stress,” Libshtein says. It functions sort of like an activity tracker, but it’s the first bracelet to focus on your emotional wellness. “It even tells you who and what activities in your life trigger emotional stress and thus can help you come up with alternative coping mechanisms that may assist in weight loss.”
See the WellBe in action in the video below with Libshtein and our editor, Linda Rodgers.
How can you make sure meditation works for you?
If you want to add meditation to your weight-loss arsenal, it’s important to not make it stressful. Meditation is supposed to help you ditch the stress, not be a source of it. That’s why we asked Libshtein for three easy ways to incorporate the calming practice into your daily life without feeling like it’s an extra obligation or chore. Of course, you’ll see the best results if you make meditation a habit and make time every day for even a couple minutes of practice.
Use a mantra that helps you lose weight. A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself to focus your practice and bring you back to center when your mind wanders. As Libshtein explains, “a mantra can give you something to focus on while you meditate.” Although many people find it helpful to their practice--especially since you pick something that resonates with you personally--it is absolutely not necessary. Don’t feel that you need to force yourself to use one if it doesn’t feel natural or helpful. If you choose to use one, Libshtein suggests repeating it to yourself as you inhale and again as you exhale. Common choices include “I am loved,” “I am at peace,” and “Om.” If a mantra just doesn’t feel right for you, Libshtein says to simply focus on your breathing.
Follow your breath to reduce stress. “Try using four counts on your inhale and eight counts on your exhale,” Libshtein suggests. But meditation is all about reducing stress, so if these counts feel strained or unnatural it’s OK to deviate from them. Try to increase your counts every time you meditate. “Don’t be concerned if it takes you some time to work up to eight counts,” Libshtein says. “Just know that lengthening the exhale will significantly help calm you down.”
Try a guided meditation. Feeling a little lost on your own? No problem! There are plenty of recordings, podcasts, websites, and phone apps that connect you with experts who can guide you through meditation exercises until you feel comfortable going it alone. Libshtein’s website, Mentors Channel, is just one example of such a service.
What should you expect from a guided meditation?
If you want to use meditation specifically to lose weight, look for guided meditations with this as the subject. The expert in the video or audio recording will likely ask you to imagine several things: what you might look and feel like after you’ve lost the weight, an inspiring person who has already managed to lose weight and what they might think and feel, what they probably do to successfully lose weight and keep it off, and how you can incorporate these habits into your own daily life.
Are there limitations to using meditation for weight loss?
Meditation should be seen as just one tool in a whole weight-loss toolkit. Diet and exercise are important parts of the equation too, and you’re always going to see the best results when you combine all three of them into a lifestyle that you can continue long-term. The key with meditation, like diet and exercise, is dedication. You need to stick with the practice to see lasting changes. “Research shows that meditation directly changes the brain structure after practicing for an extended period of time (such as 21 days),” Libshtein says. That’s why Mentors Channel offers 21-day programs: so you can see changes that actually last.