Fight Fat with Yoga
By Deanna Michalopoulos
Mindfulness = a whittled middle
Get the Workout
Calorie counting is the go-to strategy to subtract numbers from the scale and shed unwanted pounds. And in a country where two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, it seems like adhering to a tough diet is the prescription. But a strict eating plan - whether it’s self-imposed or stemming from a program - isn’t always the answer.
One study published in the journal American Psychologist reviewed all previous research that tracked dieters for two to five years and found that at least one- to two-thirds of dieters gained all the weight they lost (plus some) within five years. Other studies show that strict dieting triggers people to eat more than those who aren’t on a diet at all, creating a vicious cycle of undereating and overindulging. In other words, if you skip cereal in the morning, come noon you may inhale a cupcake or two without thinking twice.
So what can you do if you want to look svelte while rocking a pair of skinny jeans? The answer is yoga. Research published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that people who practiced yoga regularly for four years or more actually gained less weight as they get older. What’s more, overweight individuals who practiced yoga for four or more years managed to lose weight over a 10-year period.
But as it turns out, it’s not just breaking a sweat during yoga class that helps whittle your middle. “Losing weight isn’t just about physical activity and it isn’t just about cognitive skills like counting calories, weighing portions or not stocking junk in your pantry,” says Alan Kristal, Ph.D., researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and co-author of the above-mentioned yoga study. “If you’re going to lose weight and keep it up, you need to be mindful in addition to these things.”
In fact, there’s been a surge of programs that promise weight-loss success based on a mindful approach to eating. These programs encourage people to weigh their hunger levels against emotions, such as anxiety, loneliness or anger, to make sure they are eating for the right reasons. So rather than chomping on chips to tame tension or reduce stress, you can learn to calm your body and mind with meditation and deep breathing.
“Mindfulness gives people a better sense of control over food and makes eating a more comfortable experience,” says Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, who runs his own online mindful eating training program, mindfulpractices.com, and is author of Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance Through Mindful Eating. The same techniques you use to stay focused and breathe through a challenging pose during yoga class can come in handy when you’re in the kitchen or a restaurant. Since yoga practitioners feel more in tune with their bodies, they are responsive to their body’s sensations - including hunger and satiety. When you’re more aware of why you’re eating or not eating, you could lose weight almost by accident.
An avid yoga practitioner himself, Kristal developed a scale that measured mindful eating, and his research found that the longer individuals practiced yoga, the higher they scored on the mindful eating scale. And high mindful eating marks were strongly correlated with a low body mass index (BMI). Want to slim down mindfully? Here’s how yoga can help: