Why Mindfulness Meditation Is Such A Powerful Weight Loss Tool
The Ultimate Guide To Weight Loss
The weight loss benefits of meditation are nothing short of incredible. Here, from a variety of angles, we discuss how meditation can propel anyone to their ideal body.
How Stress Makes Us Fat
The Human Mind: Making Mountains Out Of Mole-Hills
Stress is a fact of life. We all know this. But it goes much further. In addition to making our heart race, stomach swirl, and underarms sweat, stress can also make the number on the scale go up. Real high. To the sky.
Whether it's losing our job, going through a bad breakup, or moving to a new city, many of us have witnessed the "bumpiness" in our life affecting the "plumpiness" of our physique.
The problem is that while we live in modern cities free of mastodons and woolly mammoths, our job, relationship, and money worries are still triggering our "caveman" primal fear instincts many times every day.
While our "fight-or-flight" stress response was designed to keep "organic-free-range-human" off the local saber tooth tiger's weekend brunch menu, we modern day humans have inadvertently tricked our bodies into being stuck in survival mode 24/7/365... And it's making us super fat.
Of all the reasons stress makes our torso nice and round, the hormone "cortisol" takes the cake. And the brownies. And the pizza. Mmm... tasty.
Too Much Cortisol Is Like Jet Fuel For Piling on The Pounds
How much damage can cortisol do, exactly? Think zombie apocalypse.
Cortisol interferes with our sleep, eats away at our muscles, makes us anxious and depressed, sparks widespread tissue inflammation, sandbags our digestive system, and stonewalls our immune system.
Bob Roth, author of the bestselling book "Strength In Stillness" and well-known meditation teacher to famous celebrities like Katy Perry, Jerry Seinfeld, and Gisele Bündchen, recently told Popsugar magazine, "We know if a person is stressed, they get sick more. If they're stressed, they gain weight. A lot of this comes down to the release of cortisol in the body... [which becomes] toxic when we have too much."
Excess cortisol makes our body think that something big is on the horizon, and that we may be starving in the near future due to natural disaster. Think flood, hurricane, drought, earthquake, zombie apocalypse, etc.
To survive the "Mad-Max" scenario soon to be unleashed on humanity, our stressed out, cortisol soaked body will prepare by storing even more fat... You know, "for later."
While this biological programming helped our famine facing ancestors, we really shouldn't be cranking up our stress hormones so willy nilly.
With our stack of bills, unhealthy relationship(s), and unfulfilling work pumping cortisol into our body every waking hour, it's easy to see why the chronic stress vortex has sucked in so many victims.
Luckily, there is a solution.
Study: Meditation Squeezes Cortisol From Our Cells Like A Dirty Dish Sponge
In 2013 University of California-Davis (Saron et al) researchers found that meditation cuts cortisol levels by more than half!
For those of us wishing to be lighter on our feet, dramatically reducing our stress hormones relaxes our body, quiets our mind, cools off our overheated amygdala, and helicopter rescues us from the fat gain vortex.
By reminding our physiology that a "store blubber now or soon perish" zombie apocalypse was but a self-generated mental hoax, meditation lets our body's built in fat burning furnace do its job.
Stress Eating & Emotional Eating
Why We Use Food To Numb Our Feelings
For many of us, food is not just fuel for our bodies.
We order a Domino’s extra-pepperoni pizza when we are lonely. We fill up on a pint of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream when we are feeling down. We swing by Jack in the Box to blow off steam. We binge a whole bag of Lay’s sour cream & onion chips when we are bored.
Instead of feeling our uncomfortable emotions, we turn to food.
The problem is, while binging on carrot cake might make us feel better for an hour or two, it does nothing to address the deeply ingrained emotional issues which bulldozed us into gorging in the first place.
Because food can’t fill our inner potholes, like a cat chasing its own tail, filling up when we are feeling down only leaves us dazed and confused.
Making matters worse, every time we use calories to snuff out our feelings — another guilt, shame, and remorse wad gets crammed into our ready to burst emotional baggage.
While rewarding ourselves with a tasty treat every now and then is perfectly fine, when our first impulse reaction to anger, stress, boredom, and sadness is to Usain Bolt into the kitchen, then we know our inner world needs a gut renovation.
If your food cravings have you on the ropes, if you keep sabotaging your diet, then there is a solution. It’s called meditation.
Dr. Ian Campbell, British weight loss expert, BBC contributor, and medical consultant for "The Biggest Loser", recently told DailyMail, "Just telling people to eat less and exercise more doesn't tend to work, we have incorporated mindfulness into our weight loss programme and the results have been fantastic… Mindfulness could provide the ‘missing link’ between the biology and psychology of weight loss."
Emotional Hunger Vs Natural Hunger
Those of us at war with the scale know it well. Emotional hunger.
If you have ever, in an unconscious trance-like state, binged a whole box of Miss Debbie oatmeal cream pies, then you have used food to extinguish your emotions.
So, what’s the difference between "natural" hunger and "emotional" hunger?
While emotional hunger can have us eating until we are blue in the face, natural hunger needs just the right amount of food. While emotional hunger hits us like a ton of bricks, natural hunger comes on gradually, taking hours to build.
While emotional hunger usually craves comfort foods loaded with sugar, fat, and salt, natural hunger craves whole, nutritious foods like fruit, lean protein, and vegetables.
Less Stress & Anxiety, Less Emotional Eating: How? Meditation
As the two-headed monster behind why we humans eat emotionally, both stress and anxiety need to be sacked or the dirty cycle won't stop. Luckily, meditation tackles them harder than NFL hall of fame linebacker, Lawrence Taylor.
With thousands of studies and millions of anecdotal reports, meditation's "stress & anxiety" defensive playbook could fill the New England Patriots front office. We have listed a few plays here:
First, meditation raises our emotional break point. When our mindful armor becomes impenetrable to the things that usually get us hot and bothered, then our unconscious grab to self-medicate with food gets dropped like a bad habit.
Second, through the power of neuroplasticity, meditation fortifies our brain's "command and control center" prefrontal cortex. Like an electrical outlet, this stress modulating brain region keeps us cool, calm, & collected when our back is against the wall.
By dramatically upgrading the wattage needed to make our systems go haywire, meditation ensures a balanced state of consciousness all the livelong day. Staying equalized helps us crave food when our cells need it, not our emotions.
Third, meditation activates our body’s "relaxation response." Coined by the esteemed Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson in the 1980's, this "opposite of stress" response is the highest healing state for the human body.
Cranking up our relaxation response purges poisonous stress hormones (like cortisol) from our body, purifying "us" from the inside out. By cleansing our cellular toxic stress residue, meditation rolls out the red carpet for our natural hunger's grand entrance.
Fourth, by dramatically reducing the 70,000 thoughts per day that the human mind thinks, meditation anchors our awareness firmly into the present moment.
Quieting down our impulsive "must raid the fridge right now" monkey mind chatter reveals a treasure buried under years of emotional eating — our natural hunger.
In the end, meditation helps us become our own inner Mozart, where all we need to orchestrate our next cell-nourishing meal is the deeply resonant symphony of our growling belly.
Good riddance to our emotional hunger's harsh screeching, clattering, and clanking.
How Meditation Burns Belly Fat
Sinister "Visceral" Fat
Where do you store the majority of your fat? Your belly? If so, we have news for you.
While most of our body fat (subcutaneous) is the wiggly, jiggly kind that we can see and pinch — there exists an unseen, deeper, more sinister kind of fat which goes beyond simply making our favorite sweater a bit too snug.
Wake Forest University assistant professor of endocrinology, Dr. Kristen Hairston, told WebMD that visceral fat "doesn’t just sit there," it creates "lots of nasty substances." Hiding under our abdominal wall, too much of this "bad fat" can impact our health in big ways.
What kind of harm can it do? So destructive, this stuff sticks to our organs, cranks up our stress hormones, sets our body ablaze with inflammation — while also being linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and even brain disorders like dementia. Yikes.
"But I’m relatively thin, this stuff doesn’t affect me, right? I have nothing to worry about."
Think again. One study found that thin people who ate right yet didn’t exercise had loads of visceral fat. If you have resigned yourself to a life of being "skinny-fat" then you might be at risk.
Big Stress, Big Insulin Resistance, Big Fat Belly
Have you tried every belly fat melting diet and exercise routine to no avail? Can you lose fat everywhere on your body except your stubborn midsection? Well, it might not be your fault.
According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts (Hardy et al), with stress as a leading cause, a high percentage of people with excess belly fat can blame their plight on what’s known as "insulin resistance."
What does this mean, exactly?
When our insulin receptors don't open up properly, our liver and muscle cells can't store the energy (glucose) we need from food. This sends our blood sugar to the moon.
All of this extra energy's gotta' go somewhere. And it does… it gets converted to fat. But not the regular soft & fluffy kind that actually responds well to diet and exercise.
The ocean of glucose circulating in insulin resistant people’s blood stream becomes the notoriously unhealthy aforementioned visceral fat.
Sticking like crazy-glue to our midsection and vital organs, the best solution for visceral fat might very well be a stick of dynamite.
Compounding the problem, with starving, nutritionally deficient cells — insulin resistant people often have an insatiable appetite.
Because their blood markers are not quite in the pre-diabates / diabetes range, these folks often hang in medical limbo, undiagnosed by their doctor.
And it’s far more common than we realize. In lab tests at her practice, weight loss (bariatric) physician, Dr. Caroline Cederquist found that around 90% of her obese patients suffered from insulin resistance!
How Meditation Burns Belly Fat
"Since a stick of dynamite sounds like it might hurt, is there another way?"
While the tried and true methods of targeting ultra-stubborn belly fat are a low-sugar diet (Paleo, Mediterranean, etc) and certain types of exercise (High Intensity Interval Training HIIT), there exists an under the radar dark horse.
While meditation is the last thing most people think of when it comes to burning belly fat, the studies prove otherwise.
How can a practice that largely targets the brain be so effective at incinerating stubborn belly fat? Because meditation arrests the secret evil agent responsible for insulin resistance: stress.
Study: Meditators Smash Insulin Resistance Markers
With the thesis that stress greatly impacts "metabolic syndrome" (i.e. abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, etc), scientists from Cedars-Sinai Research Institute (Labrador et al) had 47 coronary heart patients practice meditation for 16 weeks. What did they find?
Amazingly, the meditating heart patients plummeted three key metabolic syndrome markers, including their insulin resistance, glucose, and HOMA scores (homeostasis model assessment).
Versus their "health education only" control group counterparts (who managed to get much worse over the 16 week study), the meditators smashed the non-meditating group’s metabolic syndrome stats by more than 200%!
What does this mean for those of us looking to slim and trim our beer belly and/or muffin-top?
In effect, by pulling the rug out from under two of the most important reasons many of us put on pounds in the first place (stress and cellular insulin resistance), meditation lets our stubborn visceral belly fat burning furnace do its job.
Study: Mindful People Have Less Belly Fat
In 2015, Brown University researchers (Loucks et al) measured the "everyday mindfulness" levels of 400 participants via a short questionnaire (MAAS - Mindful Attention Awareness Scale). What did they find?
Amazingly, the study found that those who were highly aware of their thoughts and feelings (as measured by MAAS) actually weighed much less overall (BMI), and more amazingly, when put under a high powered x-ray scanner — also had signficantly less abdominal fat than the control group!
Becoming a master mind mechanic through meditation does much more than simply make you calm, smart, and focused — it can seriously upgrade your body.
Honorable Mention: The stress hormone "cortisol" is another a huge contributor to our big fat bellies. Luckily, meditation fixes that too. With multiple studies confirming that the ancient practice drops cortisol like a ton of bricks, add one more notch to why meditators often find themselves slim & trim without even trying.
Dopamine: Why We Get Addicted To Food, Overeat
Food Can Be A Drug
Why do we raid the junk food cabinet at midnight? What makes us inhale a day’s worth of calories in 15 minutes?
Is it our "forever curious" taste buds? Perhaps it’s our "flooded at first thought" salivary glands? Maybe it’s our "must eat now or else" hanger? What is it?
The truth is, food can be a drug.
By stimulating our physiological reward center, food can affect our brain in the same way that cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, and even hard drugs do.
According to a 2015 University of Michigan study, the most addictive foods of all tend to be full of calories, sugar, and saturated fat — with french fries, pizza, ice cream, cake, and cookies topping the list. Shocker.
Specifically, certain types of food (especially in large quantities) pump us full of the neurotransmitter "dopamine," the chemical embodiment of addiction.
So, the next time you hear someone say their favorite restaurant’s cheesecake "is like crack!" — well, neurochemically speaking, it actually kind of is!
The High, The Crash, & Tolerance
The blood sugar and dopamine rush we get after wiping out that warm, delicious pan of Betty Crocker fudge brownies makes us feel like we are walking on cloud nine. No better feeling in the world… for awhile.
As with any addiction, after every high comes... the inevitable crash.
Hours after that big meal, when we are no longer swimming in the dopamine deep end, our body becomes desperate to fill our pleasure pool right back up.
In turn, signals get sent to our brain, and food cravings begin all over again.
But this time, because food can be a drug and tolerance comes with the territory — we need to fill up our troughs even more to stabilize our crashed dopamine levels.
Because withdrawal ain't easy, our next binge session needs even more calories or our body will freak out like a crazy straightjacket wearing dude locked in a padded room.
This vicious cycle can have us shopping in the big & tall section before long.
Crank Up Your Dopamine Naturally With Meditation
So, what’s the solution? How do we break this nasty cycle? We need to "get high naturally", pumping up our feel good juices in ways which don’t involve the fork and plate.
And the best way to do this? Meditation.
A landmark 2002 study at the John F. Kennedy Institute (Kjaer et al) found that dopamine levels were boosted by a colossal 65% during meditation!
Perhaps more importantly, the meditators' dopamine levels remained high and tight, day and night. In other words, no crashing; no more biochemical potholes which need to be filled by a Quarter Pounder, extra large french fries, and McFlurry.
When meditation naturally makes us feel incredible all the time, then we put down the fork to enjoy the present moment. This transformation puts us on the fat loss superhighway.
Add one more notch to the list of reasons new meditators so often, without any real effort, shed pounds and inches so quickly after beginning a regimen.
Depression: Filling Our Empty Lives With Food
Why We Turn To Food
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." — Henry David Thoreau
For many of us, our dead end jobs, unhealthy relationships, and never-ending responsibilities make us feel like prisoners.
With not much to look forward to, we fill our emptiness, unhappiness, and loneliness with food.
"I hate my life, let’s eat to make it better… Day after day of meaningless work, my only source of enjoyment is Netflix and food… With nobody to love in this cold world, this freshly baked pan of brownies will warm me right up…"
The chicken or the egg, whether our depression caused our weight gain or vice versa, there is a very powerful solution. It’s called meditation.
Here are four ways meditation dominates depression into submission:
#1: How Meditation Beats Depression: Feel Good Neurotransmitters
Between our ridiculously complex brain’s 100 billion neurons are an internet-like group of information communicators known as "neurotransmitters."
For those of us who fill up when feeling down, serotonin and norepinephrine are the two most important pick-me-up neurotransmitters.
If the names sound familiar to you, it’s because anti-depressants usually target one or both of these chemicals (and not that well, according to recent research).
Moreover, as many as 25 percent of folks taking antidepressants gain weight. And sometimes, lots of weight, up to 100 pounds, according to Dr. Andrew Weil.
While the reasons for this phenomenon vary from carb cravings to slowed metabolism, what's crystal clear is that finding a NATURAL way to boost these two pleasure chemicals carries zero side effects.
Then, how do we naturally uncap our happy juice fire hydrant? Meditation.
A slew of studies have shown that the ancient mind practice boosts our serotonin and norepinephrine to levels that punch depression right in the mouth.
By naturally flooding our brain with these two wonderful pleasure chemicals, meditation keeps us feeling great all the time without needing food as a pick-me-up.
#2: How Meditation Beats Depression: Bulletproof Hippocampus
While depression's bluesy effect on mood is well known, it actually does way worse stuff to our noggin.
Specifically, this debilitating disease can shrink certain parts of the brain, with our "memory center" hippocampus taking a great deal of the brunt.
When a basketball player wants to improve his vertical leap, he does calf raises, squats, and box jumps to strengthen his legs.
When we want to make our brain impenetrable to depression, we need to strengthen our hippocampus.
"But there isn't a hippocampus machine at my 24 Hour Fitness!"
Save yourself a trip to the gym. Meditation is your hippocampus machine.
Among many studies showing the same result, University of Geissen (Germany) neuroscientists found that meditation builds up a big and strong hippocampus, with the effect magnified by experience.
What does this mean? The more we meditate, the more bulletproof we make our brain to depression.
For calm, happy, and focused brains, the thought of using food to numb how we feel doesn't compute.
#3: How Meditation Beats Depression: Feeling Lonely, Disconnected
While an in-person social network (not Facebook) and a loving family is the best cure for loneliness, very few of us these days are so lucky.
In 2002, Dr. Andrew Newburg, a University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist, took brain images of Tibetan monks during meditation.
Among his long list of findings, the doctor discovered that meditation cooled off the very brain region that gets overheated when we feel disconnected, isolated, and lonely — the time and space oriented "parietal lobe."
While meditators have claimed for centuries that the powerful practice makes them feel "at one with everything," this might be the first time scientists have been able to measure this high level of consciousness in the lab.
Instead of emptiness and loneliness, meditation entangles us back into the quantum, making us feel connected to everyone and everything. When this happens, we can annul our unhealthy marriage with food.
#4: How Meditation Beats Depression: Unfulfillment
In our modern material focused world, we mindlessly pursue things which, in the end, leave us feeling empty and incomplete.
"If I had more money then I would finally be happy… Once we get that four bedroom house all will be well forever and ever, amen… A nice car will totally solve all of my problems… Landing that job will make me whole and complete..."
Once we realize that achieving / acquiring this or that life changing "thing" only left us feeling the same emptiness as before, then we seek out the next thing. And the next thing. And so on. Rinse and repeat.
With material possessions, status, and wealth topping the list, a life of grasping at thin air can quickly exhaust our mental and emotional reserves.
Once we realize that we are fighting an unwinnable battle, we become weary, we disconnect, we become disinterested in everything, and we raise the white flag.
With a life spiraling out of control, addiction can be a powerful crutch. For some of us, we turn to alcohol, pills, drugs, or gambling. For others, it’s food. Pick your poison.
Scarcity Mindset → Abundance Mindset: Luckily, there is a solution. From a cliff high above the valley, meditation allows us to see the big picture.
From this higher vantage point we become quickly aware that our "I don’t have enough" scarcity mindset gets us nowhere fast.
When our mind is relaxed, centered, and balanced, we realize that feeling whole and complete is an inner journey accomplished with inner journey tools — with meditation as the ultimate all-in-one inner-journey toolkit.
Reset your mind. Reset your body. Discover meditation.
"Urge-Surfing": How Meditation Helps Us Master Food Cravings
Should We Give In Or Should We Resist?
There is a delicious pumpkin cheesecake in the refrigerator... But you can't think about it.
If you do, your food cravings will begin. And once the urge starts, like an avalanche, there is nothing you can do to stop your sweet-tooth from leveling everything in it’s path.
Before you know it, your shirt is covered in pie crumbs, your belly is full of delight, and the next 24-48 hours are marred by guilt.
Conventional wisdom states that, when we get hit by food cravings, we have two options. We can either give in to the urge, or we can resist. Easy, right?
Here is a little exercise. For the next ten seconds, don’t think of the famous nursery rhyme singing, ultra-dopey purple dinosaur that once polarized everyone over the age of four...
Did it work? If you could withstand the image of "Barney" burning a hole in your brain, then you either have super thought-control or haven't had the fortune of catching one of his "chalk full of wisdom" TV episodes.
Now, imagine the same exercise lasting for three hours instead of just ten seconds, and now the thought of heaven-sent pumpkin cheesecake (waiting in the kitchen right now!) must be repelled from your mind instead of that ridiculously annoying purple dinosaur... Not so easy.
The point is, resisting our thoughts only makes them stronger. Forcing ourself to not think of the delicious pumpkin cheesecake in the fridge only makes us think of it more and want it more. It’s a belly ballooning paradox.
"So, if I give in to my cravings, then I will gain weight. Yet, if I resist my thoughts of food, then I will also gain weight. Great! My life long dream is to be a sumo wrestler!"
Actually, there is a third option. It’s called "urge surfing." Fortunately, meditation unlocks this wonderful superpower.
Meditation Trains Our Mind To "Urge-Surf" Food Cravings
By observing our mind without judgement, mindfulness helps us realize that we are not our thoughts, we are not our urges, and we are not our cravings.
Like waves crashing upon the shore, our thoughts come and go. No wave is any more important than the one before it or the one after.
With a little bit of time and practice, mindfully urge surfing our food cravings as they surface, peak, and crash to the shore can be more wonderful than a day at the beach.
The Ridiculousness Of Fighting Food Cravings
Fighting with our cravings is like punching Niagara Falls' massive wall of water to make it stop. Eventually, our ridiculous efforts fail, and our swim skills get put to the ultimate test.
A simple yet beautifully elegant solution, meditation allows us to simply step aside from our cravings as they pass right by.
Mindfulness shifts our thoughts from "I’m a bad person who is doomed to be forever fat, why not give in and allow myself this pumpkin cheesecake?" to "I’m having a craving and just like any thought, it too shall pass."
In this way, we don’t have to resist the thought or push it away from us. By not labeling our craving as good or bad, we strip it of it’s power to control us.
Pro Urge Surfing: Master Your Mind, Master Your Physiology
"I've noticed that my food cravings don't just affect my thoughts, they attack my body like a crack-head itching for a hit. Does meditation fix that too?"
Yes. Because our mind and body are joined at the hip, meditation solves this easier than a two-piece puzzle.
Instead of our "must raid the fridge at midnight" food cravings triggering within us a massive "I'm starving, feed me now" physiological fake-out (crazy stomach growling, heart racing, saliva glands pumping, etc), meditation cuts the thought’s power down to nothing.
When our body no longer freaks out in response to what’s happening in our mind, then we gain a whole new set of superpowers above and beyond getting slim and trim.
Like a surfer watching the ocean horizon, meditation allows us to spot a wave (craving) long before it comes to shore. Knowing what’s coming down the pike helps keep our shirt free of pumpkin cheesecake crumbs.
And when a wave does make it to shore? We do what the legendary 11-Time World Surf League Champion, Kelly Slater would do. We get our favorite shortboard, wax it down, paddle out, and carve that wave into a masterpiece.
By mindfully observing our senses mid-craving: how our stomach feels, how our taste buds water, how our throat tightens, and so forth — we allow them to recede into oblivion.
Each time we successfully surf our urge instead of giving in to it, we forge a new mindful brick. In time, we have built ourselves a "higher thought" castle impenetrable to pillaging and plundering food-cravings.
Why Hating Our Body Makes Us Fat
How We Feel About Our Body Matters
"While I hate my body now, I will totally love it once I am slim!"
Says every person before their weight loss efforts fail miserably.
Love it or hate it, how we feel about our body matters.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Obesity (Robinson et al) examined the link between body image and weight loss for 14,000 adults. What did they find?
A big surprise, the researchers found that adults who perceived themselves as "fat" were actually far MORE likely to pile on pounds in the future.
"What kind of bizarro world are we living in? This make no sense at all! If I hate my body, won’t that light a fire under my butt to make a change?"
Maybe, but the odds aren’t in your favor.
The truth is, being infatuated with the scale, hating our body, and thinking that life will become magically perfect once we become slim and trim is, paradoxically, often the very reason we gain more weight. Yep, hating how fat we are often makes us fatter.
Internalizing Our "Big Fat Stupid Self" Thoughts
You have probably heard the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind." Well, the effects of hating our stay-puff marshmallow thighs last long after we squeeze them "safely" into our jeans, out of view.
Not only are we internalizing and cementing our identity with every "I hate my fatty, fat self" thought that we think, but we are attracting more of the same.
"I didn’t even know it was possible to gain weight there, no more skirts for me, gotta' hide my cankles… My thighs, oh my, they look like cottage-cheese plastered tree trunks… My belly dun’ lapped over my belt, Dunlaps Disease confirmed… My butt is so big Sir-Mix-A-Lot would deny…"
When we train our deep mind to "buy-in" to being overweight through our negative self talk, then we will believe "being fat" is who we truly are. The mind can be very literal in this way.
Once that happens, like a child kicking and screaming, our deep mind will sabotage any efforts (diet, exercise, etc) we make to change our "fat is the status quo" body.
Study: Meditation Makes Us Kind & Compassionate
"Nature versus nurture," we have all heard the phrase before.
Certain attributes are hard-wired into our DNA when we are born, like the color of our eyes, hair, and skin. Other attributes, like our capacity for compassion and kindness, we pick up as we go along.
University of Wisconsin neuroscientists have shown that when we help others, one specific part of the brain, namely the "right anterior dorsal insula," lights up like a Christmas tree.
"So, you're telling me that in order to stop hating my body, I need to join the Peace Corps?"
Actually that might work! Our world certainly needs all the help it can get. However, if you are handcuffed by a 9-5 like most of us, then another solution is ideal. Luckily, there's meditation!
In a highly cited 2012 study, UCLA School of Medicine researchers found that meditation activates the very same "compassionate" brain region as the aforementioned University of Wisconsin study.
What does this mean, exactly? By cranking up our "right anterior dorsal insula," the ancient mind practice literally trains our brain to be kind to everyone and everything, including "us." This transformation automatically quiets down our negative "I hate my big fat stupid body" self-talk.
Is there any coincidence that many of history's greatest humanitarians practiced meditation?
While losing our stubborn belly fat may not win us a Nobel Prize, what's for certain is that making the world a better place starts with the man in the mirror. Meditation ensures the reflection we see is our highest and best version.
Loving Yourself Puts The Weight Loss Wind In Your Sails
When we trade our self-hatred for self-compassion a wonderful thing happens. We stop swimming against the weight loss current.
With a positive mindset capable of achieving anything, we accept our imperfections, we accept our current reality, and we become ok with our body as is. Loving ourself doesn’t make us lazy and unwilling to change, either. Quite the contrary.
It helps us realize that achieving the best version of "us" is both our destiny and our duty. With this mindset, we have the strength and discipline to stick to any plan moving forward.
Meditation is the perfect vehicle to bring about this shift in consciousness.
Fat Is Not Your Identity
"Do my shameful, self-hating thoughts, even if they ultimately make me sabotage my diet and exercise plan over and over, make me who I am? Will meditation throw out the baby with the bathwater?"
You are not your dysfunctional thoughts. Hating your body no more defines your state of being than a case of athlete’s foot defines your body.
Found in the wonderfully intoxicating space between each thought, the "real you" is that of pure consciousness.
Harnessing the power of meditation will open up a world you never imagined, with far kinder, deeper, clearer, and more insightful thoughts just the start.
Achieving the perfect body is easy when you realize how perfect you already are.
Lose Weight For The Right Reasons: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation
Why Do You Want To Lose Weight?
Do you dream of transforming your dad-bod into a beach-bod? Are you starving yourself to look like a ripped Hollywood movie star? Do the covers of GQ & Vogue have you slaving away on the treadmill? Are washboard abs the reason you count every calorie?
If so, then your weight loss efforts may not only be in vain, but are also likely to crash and burn.
A recent University of Toronto meta-analysis study (Johnston et al) compared the success of various weight loss programs for overweight people. What did they find?
The scientists discovered that the greatest determinant for success was not which diet the participants followed (low carb vs low fat), it was whether they were "extrinsically" or "intrinsically" motivated to lose weight.
Extrinsic Vs Instrinsic Motivation
What are the differences between the two? Some examples of extrinsic motivation:
"If I lose 40 pounds then... My new Instagram pics will get so many likes… I will fit into this cute new dress… I will make my ex so jealous… My doctor will get off my back... I can show off my six-pack… My wife will stop bugging me about my weight…"
While our upcoming beach vacation might extrinsically motivate us to drop a quick five or ten pounds, intrinsic motivation is how we achieve long lasting results.
Some examples of intrinsic motivation:
"If I lose 40 pounds then… I will have so much energy… I will feel awesome all day… I will be so healthy… I can play with my kids without getting exhausted… I will live a long and happy life… I will feel so proud of myself..."
People who are intrinsically motivated find self-satisfaction in the psychological and physiological benefits of weight loss (nutrition, mood, energy, self esteem, etc) rather than simply looking better or appeasing others.
It’s ok, especially in the beginning, to be more extrinsically motivated.
From a doctor telling us to "lose weight now or else" to a family member’s "save some pumpkin pie for the rest of us" Thanksgiving dinner wisecrack, extrinsic motivation is great for lighting a fire under our butt to lose weight... in the short term.
However, after we get the fat loss ball rolling, shifting into "intrinsic" gear is how to achieve long lasting results.
Meditation: Shift Into Intrinsic Motivation Gear
"My motivation broke-down on the side of the freeway. How do I fix it?"
You need to take your deep mind to the repair shop.
Thankfully, meditation is the world's foremost ASE certified master mind mechanic.
As the very best tool for putting our thoughts "up on the rack," meditation allows us to get "under the hood" of our mind to repair whatever is keeping our mental weight loss engine from firing on all cylinders.
No matter your current intrinsic to extrinsic motivation ratio (let’s face it, we are all superficially motivated sometimes), meditation can move the needle in the right direction.
Once meditation gives you power over your inner world, then everything in your outer world will simply fall into place.
When that happens, not only will the weight just fall off, but the wonderful energy, great health, and amazing quality of life benefits will keep you intrinsically motivated for a lifetime.
Weight Loss & The Power Of The Mind
Peeling The Weight Loss Onion
For those of us looking to shed our excess baggage forever — the stats look grim.
According to a UCLA analysis of 31 long-term diet studies — more than 80% of people who successfully lose weight gain it all back (and more) within just two years.
So, why is the yoyo diet the rule rather than the exception? Why are so many of us stuck on the "gain→lose →gain" weight loss merry-go-round?
Layer after layer, when you peel an onion all the way, what is left? The core.
Likewise, after stripping away all of the reasons we human beings put on weight (including poor diet, low motivation, and lack of exercise), what is at the root? The mind.
Here, we will dive into why our mind is the most critical weight loss component, and why meditation is the world’s best tool for shedding the pounds... forever.
Programming Our Mind With "Suboptimal" Choices
As the storage vault for our experiences, emotions, and beliefs — any svelte body goal that we set must click with our subconscious mind or our efforts will be for naught.
The problem is, many of us have programmed our minds with years and years of, let’s say, "suboptimal" choices.
From raiding the fridge at midnight, to snacking on junk food between meals, to filling up when we are feeling down, every decision we make digs our pathways that much deeper.
While we may be able cut carbs and follow P90x to drop a quick ten pounds, if we want to be permanently lean and mean then we must make sure the nature and quality of our thoughts are on the highest level.
What’s the best way to do this? Meditation.
Meditation Unleashes Our Subconscious Mind Power
The human mind is often compared to an iceberg.
Since our deeply rooted habitual, compulsive, and addictive thoughts ultimately play out in our "above the surface" conscious mind, we need to dive deep below the surface to identify and correct the problem.
Since meditation is, in essence, the very act of interfacing with our deepest mind layers, the millennia old practice is the perfect tool for the job.
When we gain awareness and eventual mastery of our subconscious mind through meditation — the weight loss game shifts.
By tapping into our inner "Indiana Jones treasure trove" on a daily basis, we repave any belt-stretching "feed me now... or else!" thought ruts we may have dug ourselves into over the years.With our mind clear of self-destructive "chocolate cake is love... make sure every cubic inch of your belly is full of love" toxic impulses, attaining our ideal body shifts from wishful thinking to reality.
What does this mean for those of us looking to tighten up the old waistline?
No more lust for junk food, no more polishing off a tub of Ben & Jerry's to feel "complete," no more devouring a whole bag of Doritos because you simply can’t "stop" — old habits are easy to break with meditation.
Knowing The Mind On A Deeper Level
By interfacing with our mind on the deepest level, meditation gets to the nitty-gritty of why we emotionally turn to food:
"Am I eating because I got chewed out by my boss today? Did the frustration of getting stuck in traffic for an hour cloud my dinner time judgement? Am I using calories to smother my loneliness? Am I stuffing myself because I have nothing else to look forward to?"
This higher awareness allows us to know when our food cravings are the result of "emotional hijacking" versus when our cells actually require nutrition (as nature intended).
By shining a light on the boogeyman hiding under the bed of our conscious mind, meditation clears out the shadowy reasons we unconsciously numb ourselves with food.
How Meditation Disciplines Our "Inner Fat Kid"
When it comes weight loss, the link to our mind runs deep. The struggles some overweight adults face often stem from childhood.
"I’ve been fat since kindergarten, it’s who I am…"
While a bit of a harsh term, our "inner fat kid’s" voice can have us dreaming of Snickers, Butterfinger, and Reese’s Pieces (or the adult equivalent) even decades down the road.
Luckily, meditation shines a light on the deepest, darkest depths of our mind, allowing us to purge any shadow that may be holding us back.
In other words, meditation ships our inner fat kid off to boot camp, puts him through the ringer, and builds him back into a highly disciplined warrior.
For folks struggling to conquer their weight loss demons, meditation can be the only real long term solution.
"Thought Diets" Blow "Food Diets" Out Of the Water
Neuroscientists believe that the human mind thinks 70,000+ thoughts per day. Pulling out our trusty TI-85 graphing calculator, that’s about one thought every two seconds!
And that’s just for normal folks. Those of us at war with the scale often have a far busier mind.
"I hate my body… What does it matter if I eat the whole box, I’m already fat anyway… What a crappy day at work, finishing off this angel food cake will make me forget my worries… I am doomed to be chubby, I have always been this way and always will… Losing weight is impossible, I am hopeless…"
By putting us on a highly nutritious "thought diet", meditation infuses our "vitamin deficient" mind with precisely what it needs for us to make healthy lifestyle choices.
In addition to making us far more mindful of what we put in our body, meditation’s powerful quieting and stilling of the so called "monkey mind" erases two of the key reasons many of us overeat in the first place: anxiety and depression.
Above and beyond becoming a master of the bathroom scale, meditation opens up a whole new world of benefits — with creativity, great sleep, success, less anxiety, less depression, and supercharged health just the beginning.
Mindful Eating: Gain Power Over Your Food
We Humans Are Mindless Eaters
Many of us eat mindlessly. We love to shovel down food as quickly as possible, eat when we are not hungry, eat the wrong foods, overeat — all without a second thought as to why.
And it might be the biggest reason we pack on the pounds.
So, how do we dig ourselves out of this hole? To overcome mindless eating, we need to eat mindfully.
Mindful Eaters Stay "Effortlessly Slim"
We all have that forever slim and trim friend who cares zero about their weight.
Well, a 2015 Cornell Unviversity study (Wansink et al) put 61 of these "effortlessly slim" folks under the microscope to find out what makes them tick.
Study co-author, Brian Wansink, PhD, told Science Daily, "We wanted to find [this group’s] small or simple behaviors that might have a big impact [on why they so easily stay slim]."
So what superpowers did the researchers find? Well, it turns out they were far more "in tune" with their body's "inner cues" about when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, etc.
In other words, whether they knew it or not, the effortlessly slim folks were actually mindful eaters. So, can regular people acquire this skill?
Yes! As a function of high awareness and sharp intuition, meditation pumps our mindful eating muscle up like a bodybuilder's bicep.
Mindfully "Checking-In" As Our Gastronomic Affairs Unfold
In our fast paced, always distracted outer world, it’s so easy to lose touch with our inner world. Luckily, meditation’s colossal consciousness upgrade spills awareness into all areas of our life.
Mindfulness teaches us the art of "checking-in" throughout our day, including when it's time to nourish our beautiful body.
By reassessing our "inner-happenings" (thoughts, feelings, etc) as our gastronomic affairs unfold, we gain a whole new set of power tools.
"How do I feel right now? Am I still hungry or am I full? Do I really need this food? If I keep going, do I really want my belly to feel like it’s going to burst? Or would I be better off breaking out the tupperware, saving the rest for tomorrow’s lunch?"
In time, slowing down to check-in with our senses becomes as natural as breathing.
With mindless eating the first domino to fall, meditation can work wonders for our mealtime enjoyment, waistline, and health.
Mindfulness Makes Eating A Multi-Sense Experience
When we inhale our meal, we limit ourselves to a mere fraction of the full sensory experience. Thankfully, mindfulness returns us to the truly multi-dimensional adventure that is food.
The skills learned in meditation help us devote our full attention to how our food looks, how it smells, how it feels, and how it tastes.
"How is the texture of this bite different from the last? How about the flavor? How would I describe this meal to someone who has never eaten it before?"
Like taking a minute to appreciate the immense beauty of a flower, mindful eating allows us to take in the awesomeness of the whole gastronomic experience.
With a new love for savory, highly nourishing foods, newly minted meditators often find themselves eating healthier with no real effort on their part.
The Accidental Foodie
With a newfound preference for small, flavorful meals, meditation can quickly transform any recovering "stomach stuffer" into a small meal loving foodie.
Rather than pigging out on a pint of Häagen-Dazs, we learn to savor the full amazingness of one "optimized" scoop of Sicilian pistachio gelato.
When we immerse ourselves in the limitless molecular wonder contained within each and every bite, then food quantity is of little matter.
In the end, the sense magnification achieved through mindful eating infuses bliss and joy into all areas of life, especially our mealtime experience.
Slow, Mindful Eating Moves Weight Loss Mountains
"Nature will castigate those who don't masticate" — Horace Fletcher
While it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to send the "Hey dum-dum, I‘m already full, stop feeding me!" notification to our brain (which is reason enough to never eat in a panic) — mindfully slowing down our meal goes much deeper.
Chowing down actually prevents us from experiencing the full pleasure of eating.Research suggests that, by eating too quickly, we don't give "leptin", our "I'm full now" satiety hormone, enough time to interact with "dopamine", our main pleasure neurotransmitter.
According to the Harvard Health blog, "The theory is that, by eating too quickly, people may not give this intricate hormonal cross-talk system enough time to work."
When we focus all of our attention on that small but decadent Ghirardelli brownie, we not only enjoy it much more than before — but we actually need LESS of it! Mindful eating satisfies our pleasure receptors after just a few slow, meticulous bites.
As meditation tunes us more deeply into our mind & body, we naturally put to bed countless bad food habits — including overeating, unhealthy snacking, grazing, sugar addiction, emotional eating, & stress eating.
Drop the crash diets. Drop the fad infomercial workout routines. Pickup meditation.
Mindful Eating Wipes Out Overeating
Do you sometimes feel like Joey Chestnut after his record setting 72nd hotdog? While he gets paid to devour voluminous quantities of food every Fourth of July, the rest of us aren’t so lucky.
"You better finish off your entire plate!" Even all these years later, I can still hear mom's commanding voice inside my head...
Whether we blame overeating on our childhood, stressful lives, bad habits, or the 100 other underlying reasons we stuff ourselves like a Thanksgiving turkey — most of us know that it’s not really such a good thing.
If you feel that not finishing your meal borders on the unthinkable, meditation will give you a whole new set of superpowers.
Study: Mindful Eating "Cures" Nearly 100% Of Clinical Binge Eaters
In a joint Duke / Indiana University study (Kristeller et al), a group of 150 overweight / obese mostly clinical binge eaters were trained in mindfulness for four months.
What did the researchers uncover? Amazingly, after four months, 95% of the group no longer fit the binge eating criteria!
While each of us overeat for our own reasons (whatever they may be), meditation's fine tuning of our thoughts and feelings naturally clears out whatever emotional "must bum-rush the kitchen" clutter we may have built up over the years.
This transformation opens the door to better food decisions 24/7/365.
Study: Mindful Eaters Lose 633% More Weight
A recent North Carolina State University study (Dunn et al) examined 80 people who were taught mindful eating. What did they find?
A jaw-dropping result, after only 15 weeks, the newly minted mindful eaters lost 633% (!) more weight than the control group, while keeping it off when re-assessed six months down the road.
Instead of mindlessly shoveling food down the hatch (yes, we all do this to a degree), meditation transforms us into a mindful inner expert.
Whether it’s our recurring thought patterns, deep seated emotions, subconscious programming, or else, meditation helps us purge our chronic overeating demons.
Eating when our cells actually require sustenance is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling than mindless overeating. Mindfulness opens the door to this higher awareness.