For centuries, mindfulness has been viewed as an avenue to relaxation and spiritual enlightenment. In the last few decades, the medical community is also taking a serious look at how mindfulness techniques can promote positive behavior change. The evidence is especially strong when it comes to healthy eating and weight control.
Long-term weight loss
In 2018, nutritionist Carolyn Dunn and colleagues at North Carolina State University conducted a comprehensive review of the recent scientific literature that examined the intersection of mindfulness and weight loss. In all of the studies they evaluated, participants successfully lost weight in the programs that incorporated mindfulness. In addition, four of the five studies showed that the people who had been in these programs continued to lose weight after the formal study period ended.
Perhaps the most impressive effect of mindfulness, however, appears to be in helping people maintain their weight loss. Most people who take part in traditional weight loss programs will regain half of the weight they lost within the following year. Within three to five years, 80% of these individuals will have returned to their original weight, and some will have gained even more. Remarkably, in four of the five studies that Dunn and her associates analyzed, this did not happen. The participants in these mindfulness-based programs were able to maintain their new lower weight over the long-term.
Why mindfulness works
Scientists have pondered why the programs that incorporate mindfulness techniques produce superior results to those that only emphasized diet and exercise. The secret seems to lie in the power of mindfulness to combat underlying stress and emotional problems that trigger unhealthy eating patterns and result in obesity. These include anxiety, negative self-image and binge eating. Instead, mindfulness training helps you shift your attention away from environmental cues that spark a desire to eat such as the sight and smell of food. Also, the heightened recognition of internal signals such as hunger and fullness helps you adjust your food intake accordingly. Refocusing your perception in this way, you can avert food cravings and avoid falling into the trap of emotional eating.
In other studies, researchers have demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction can improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. There has also been some early investigation into how mindfulness approaches could be used to correct imbalances in the brain connections in children at risk for obesity, allowing them better control over their eating behaviors.
So let’s recap
Mindfulness can change your behavior for the better. You can lose weight by changing the way that you think, and be on your way to a happier, healthier you.