At least 60% of Americans are considered overweight or obese. Sales of diet books, diet foods, and diet supplements are skyrocketing, and yet this unhealthy trend continues with little change in sight. However, there is one weight loss method which is rarely considered: meditation.
Meditation has been used for hundreds of years, for many purposes. It has been used as a tool for deepening spiritual connection, as a relaxation and stress-release technique, and as a way to increase self-awareness. It can be performed almost anywhere, at any time, and best of all: it is free. It has been well documented that meditation can help with such things as anxiety, insomnia, and pain control, and recent studies indicate that meditation can actually help with weight loss as well.
Researchers at Indiana State University conducted studies on a group of obese women, and found that once the women incorporated a regular meditation practice into their lives, episodes of binge-eating were reduced considerably. Further studies are in development, but it is clear that for someone attempting to lose weight, a few minutes a day of quiet contemplation might be just what the doctor ordered.
Meditation is as simple as sitting and breathing. There are no fancy clothes required, it is not necessary to burn incense or chant, or to contort your body into painful postures. The easiest way to begin a meditation practice is to set aside ten minutes each day to sit comfortably and breathe. (You may increase the length of your meditation over time to whatever feels right — 20 minutes, 45, or even an hour.)
The place you choose to meditate should be relatively quiet, and a safe, comfortable environment for you. Whatever posture you choose, your spine should remain straight. Lying down is not recommended, because it is too easy to fall asleep — but if you need to lean against pillows, or sit in a chair with a back, that is perfectly acceptable.
At first, just sit and focus on your breath. It is often helpful to count breaths when you initially sit to meditate, to help quiet your mind. If you find thoughts coming to you, just gently let them go, and refocus your attention on your breath. Once you have spent some time with your breath, you may want to try some visualization which will tie in with your weight loss goals.
Visualize yourself doing an activity you love. This might be something such as strolling down a sun-drenched beach, or playing tennis. Picture yourself doing this activity in the slim body you are hoping to achieve. Feel how light you are as you walk or run in this slender, fit body, and how easy it is to move. Focus on the positive feelings you have about your body in this fit condition, and notice how confident you feel. Concentrate on this visualization for the remainder of your meditation, closing with a prayer or positive affirmation if you like.
Meditation is a process, not an end goal. It may take a while to achieve deeper levels of relaxation, but it is likely that you will feel some immediate benefits. It will help your mind and body to relax, and it will help relieve anxiety and stress. Reducing stress means reducing cortisol — a chemical released in your body during stressful times. It is believed that cortisol increases cravings for high-fat, sugary foods – so it stands to reason that a reduction of excess cortisol in your body can only be a help in your struggle to lose weight.
Another meditation method for weight loss is "eating meditation". This involves paying attention to nothing but the food in your mouth as you eat. You will want to find a quiet time to eat, with no music, television, or book to distract you. Begin by picking up a small piece of food, with either your fingers or a fork. Study the food closely, observing the colors, textures, and smell. Contemplate everything that was involved in bringing this food to your table — the planting of the seed, the nourishment of the earth, the harvesting by the farmer, the drive to the market or store, etc. Really appreciate all the efforts involved on all levels. Then, take a very small taste. Keep the food in your mouth for a while, experiencing the texture and the flavor as it spreads through your mouth. Begin to slowly and thoroughly chew the food, continuing to focus on all the tastes and sensations as it slides down your throat. (Some people like to include a prayer of gratitude in eating meditation, much as you might say grace before a meal.) Spend about five minutes per meal with this meditation, and you may begin to feel a shift in your relationship with food.
In general, meditation relaxes you and helps you achieve a deeper level of awareness in your life. Through regular practice, you just might find yourself becoming more mindful of your eating habits, and be in the frame of mind to make the necessary changes to achieve a healthier, more attractive body.