Can Mindfulness Help With Weight Loss?

Nutrition, obesity, and all the issues they bring with them are big bugbears for modern societies. Our diets are worse than ever, and our physical health is suffering as a consequence. Parallelling this is a weight loss industry which has been accused of doing more to feather its own nest than to address the very serious issues at the heart of our weight problems (and our equally problematic attitudes to weight). A great many of us would earnestly love to lose weight and/or reach a place of acceptance with our bodies, but the commercial options open to us don’t always hold water, and willpower alone is often insufficient. So what is one to do? Well, mindfulness may just have the answer.

Mindful Eating

Let’s start with the basics. Eating ‘mindfully’ at a single stroke eliminates a lot of the ‘mindless’ eating and drinking that we do. A great many of us consume far more calories and unhealthy foodstuffs than we think we do – largely because, a lot of the time, we’re nibbling away without thinking. Eating mindfully involves concentrating fully on what we’re doing. In practice, this makes you less likely to fill up on empty calories, helps you to feel fuller with less (because your mind is engaged in the eating process as well as just your body), and gives you an insight into where your eating habits may have got out of hand in the past. Furthermore, if you are living ‘mindfully’, you will notice more when cravings arise, and be able to contextualise them – whereas before you would simply have given in without ever acknowledging the circumstances surrounding the cravings. Identifying cravings and their triggers in this way is an excellent first step to building up a resistance to them.

Eating And Stress

Then there’s the emotional side of things. Many people have a problem with what’s termed ‘emotional eating’. This is something which the Western method of using treat foods as a reward does not help with at all. The West has something of a pathological relationship with food, and emotional eating is just one result of this relationship. Essentially, emotional eaters ‘self medicate’ with foods – typically fatty, sugary junk foods. Some use food as both solace and reward – consuming comfort foods when they’re stressed or down, and rewarding themselves with unhealthy treats when they feel that they deserve it. The upshot of this is, often, weight gain and health problems. Mindfulness can help here by giving us the means to regulate our own emotions in a healthier manner. Mindfulness is excellent for beating stress and anxieties, for helping to combat depression, and for helping us to work through and manage our emotional issues rather than simply masking them with comfort food. 

Mindfulness And Self-Image

On the subject of self-recrimination, it is also worth noting that mindfulness can vastly improve the self-image of practitioners. Many people develop a harmful obsession with losing weight due to the Western world’s curious fixation on thinness as a social ideal. However, while obesity can indeed cause health issues, the reality is that one can remain perfectly healthy at weights very much higher than that which society considers attractive. Eating disorders are currently at an all time high – something which many blame for society’s unrealistic insistence upon thinness for beauty. For many people, developing a more positive self image may be better than losing weight – losing weight being a goalpost which can be moved to dangerous extremes by the anxious, and those with eating disorders. Self love,and body positivity, however, eradicates the need for harmful weight loss obsessions. Furthermore, self love and a positive body image are in and of themselves excellent for mental health – win win!

Anne Seymour