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Using Meditation to Help with Weight Loss

Saturday, July 22nd 2023 10:00am 4 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

When it comes to weight management, recognizing the influence of our thoughts and emotions is crucial. By calming our emotions and cultivating mindfulness of our thinking patterns, meditation can support healthier choices and sustainable weight loss.

How can meditation facilitate weight loss?

Meditation aids weight loss, but not in the traditional sense of burning calories like cardio exercises. Instead, meditation positively impacts our cognitive well-being, allowing us to adhere better to exercise and dietary regimens. Many people have experienced stress relief and the release of negative emotions that trigger episodes of overeating through meditation.

Here are five ways in which meditation can contribute to weight loss:

  1. Enhances Mindful Eating
    Engaging in mindless eating while multitasking or distracted, such as watching television or working, increases the risk of overeating. Meditation helps cultivate mindful eating, which involves fully experiencing and savoring our food, rather than using it solely to satisfy hunger. Mindful eating encourages us to enjoy the process of nourishing our bodies, leading to a decreased likelihood of overeating.
    A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine assigned 194 obese participants to a weight loss program with or without meditation training. The group that received meditation training demonstrated greater improvement in mindful eating compared to the group without meditation. Even after the program ended, the meditation group maintained their reduced intake of sweets, while the other group’s consumption of sugary foods significantly increased. Furthermore, fasting glucose levels increased in the non-meditation group but remained stable in the meditation group for at least six months after the program’s conclusion.
  2. Helps Control Binge and Emotional Eating
    Binge-eating disorder, characterized by consuming large amounts of food uncontrollably, poses serious health risks. Negative emotions often drive individuals to turn to food for solace. Meditation serves as an effective tool in managing binge and emotional eating behaviors. A systematic review of 14 studies found that mindfulness meditation interventions effectively reduced both binge eating and emotional eating tendencies, thus positively impacting weight management.
  3. Improves Sleep Quality
    Meditation can improve sleep quality, leading to reduced inflammation and improved metabolic function that supports weight loss efforts. A study conducted in 2021 involved 125 overweight or obese adults participating in a one-year weight loss intervention program. The study examined various aspects of sleep health, including sleep regularity, satisfaction, duration, and daytime alertness. Results showed a correlation between better sleep health and greater weight and fat loss. Participants who experienced higher sleep satisfaction, earlier midpoint sleep, and better sleep efficiency achieved more significant weight and/or fat loss.
    Another study focusing on American ethnic minorities found that insufficient sleep duration of five hours or less per night correlated with increased body mass index and fat tissue in participants under 40. Sleep deprivation affects the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play crucial roles in appetite regulation. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone,” signals our brain when we’re hungry, influencing our calorie intake. Lack of sleep can increase ghrelin levels, leading to heightened hunger sensations.
    On the other hand, leptin, produced by our body’s fat cells, signals the brain when we’re full, reducing our appetite. Insufficient sleep disrupts the balance of these hormones, causing decreased leptin levels and increased feelings of hunger.
    Meditation can contribute to better sleep quality, resulting in reduced ghrelin levels and increased leptin levels. By helping us sleep longer and more soundly, meditation can decrease hunger sensations, curb calorie intake, and facilitate weight loss.
  4. Helps Sustain Motivation for Weight Loss
    Meditation promotes a relaxed state and boosts the production of calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Serotonin, known as the “calming chemical,” influences mood and cognition, while GABA has an inhibitory effect, inducing a state of calm in the body.
    During meditation, levels of serotonin and GABA increase, helping individuals maintain motivation in their weight loss journey. Starting a weight loss program often comes with high levels of motivation, but this enthusiasm can wane over time, leading to abandonment of the plan. Through the production of serotonin and GABA, meditation supports sustained motivation, enabling individuals to stay focused and achieve concrete weight loss results.
  5. Reduces Stress Hormones Associated with Weight Gain
    Stress hormones can have a significant impact on weight. Cortisol, released in response to stress, can increase appetite and contribute to weight gain. Meditation has been shown to decrease serum cortisol levels, effectively mitigating its potential effects on weight.
    Epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters that elevate blood sugar levels and heart rate. When blood sugar levels drop, hunger cravings may arise, leading to food consumption. Additionally, elevated blood sugar levels trigger increased insulin secretion, which promotes fat storage. Regular meditation has been associated with lower levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, suggesting a potential link between meditation and improved weight management.
    By reducing stress hormone levels, meditation aids in weight management and creates a more balanced internal environment.

Combining meditation with diet and exercise for optimal results

When combined with a balanced diet and regular physical exercise, meditation can enhance weight loss efforts and help maintain long-term results.

In an Iranian study, 60 obese individuals were divided into four groups: one on a diet, one receiving meditation training, one combining meditation with a diet, and one with no dietary or meditation regimen. The group that combined meditation with a diet achieved the most significant weight loss success, followed by the meditation-only group.

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