Many millions of trees sacrificed their lives providing paper for all the books and articles about diets, dieting and weight loss. Low fat. Low carb. High protein. Paleo. Atkins. Mediterranean. It’s never ending.
I don’t have any qualms about any of these. I’m sure they work for the people who do them…for as long as they do them. But how many people actually stay on a diet for the rest of their lives? Not many. Which leads to the proverbial yo-yo, up and down, lose fifteen, gain eighteen, lose twenty, gain twenty path that so many weight loss aspirants travel.
The annoying Jennifers
I don’t mean to be flippant about this. Weight loss, dieting, body image…it’s an area that dominates the emotional landscape of many millions of people, especially women in America who are tormented every time they wait in a supermarket checkout line and are bombarded by the perfect bodies of Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Lawrence on the cover of Vapid Magazine (aka Glamour, Cosmo, Elle, Vogue…take your pick).
Fine. So people go on and off diets and their weights fluctuate wildly. Nothing new there.
There’s also nothing new about what has come next in the evolution of the weight loss/dieting debate. The smart people in this area say we don’t need to diet; we need to change our eating habits.
The three food culprits
What does that mean? Eating less refined sugar is definitely numero uno, followed by avoiding refined carbs and trans fats.
Which begs the question: Why do people eat badly, i.e., consume lots of sweets, carbs and fried foods? For most people the answer can be summed up in one word: stress.
Why does stress make you eat more, bad food? Because when we get stressed, our levels of a hormone called cortisol rise. Cortisol makes us crave sugary, salty and fatty foods, because our brains think they need fast fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress.
Ben & Jerry’s strikes again
Making matters worse, these unhealthy sugary, fatty foods actually turn off the mechanism in our brains that send out the signal that we are full. That’s why we tend to eat the entire pint (or two) of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey after a stressful day at work! (The Active Times, July 15, 2015, Katie Rosenbrock)
This, then, is where the focus of the weight-loss world needs to be — on reducing stress. I’ve relied on exercise to slay my stress for going on forty years. And of course there are myriad other salutary ways to reduce stress.
But in terms of stress reduction to facilitate weight loss, nothing is more effective than meditation. Meditation contributes in two main ways.
Meditation slays cortisol
First, it reduces cortisol in our system. A 2013 University of California-Davis (Saron et al) study found that meditation cut cortisol levels by more than half. (EOC Institute). This shouldn’t be the least bit surprising as the chief result of meditation is the calming of the mind which calms the entire being.
But it’s in the second area that meditation offers weight-loss seekers something that exercise and the other stress reduction techniques don’t. And that is the ability to do the inner work necessary to change our eating habits.
What inner work? Specifically, meditation trains us to be able to observe ourselves from a place of objectivity and nonjudgment.
See cookie, eat cookie
What the heck does that mean? When we eat from a place of emotion and stress, we ARE that emotion and stress. So we see that bag of chocolate chip cookies and there is no entity there to regulate our actions. It’s just see bag, grab bag, open bag, eat cookies until they’re gone.
What meditation does is separate what I call our conscious, true self from the egoic, all powerful, out of control self that dominates in most humans. By separating this conscious self from its dominant big brother, meditation allows that self to observe what big brother is doing.
Meditation strengthens the regulator
The more we meditate and the stronger this conscious self becomes, the better able we are to stop and say, “Okay. I see that bag of cookies. I feel the strong urge to go open it up and devour every cookie in the bag. But if I do that I’ll probably feel terrible in about fifteen minutes. Let’s hold off.”
Bottom line: Meditation strengthens our ability to observe and consequently self-regulate our behaviors. And in the world of dieting and weight-loss I can’t think of anything more important. Because self-regulating our eating really is most of the ball game when it comes to weight-loss.
Not to mention that regular meditation reduces anxiety, depression and chronic pain, strengthens our immune system and improves our focus, among many benefits. More important, meditation makes us calmer, more compassionate human beings.
So if you want to lose weight for the long term and garner all those other profound benefits, get meditating! If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my free program for regular people at davidgerken.net.