How the Secret to Weight Loss May Be All in Your Head

Being present is the secret to weight loss

Being present is the secret to weight loss | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Westin Hotels & Resorts

Losing weight, especially a significant amount, is one of the biggest challenges a lot of people will face in their lives. It takes some huge lifestyle changes, in many cases, which may call for a total overhaul of dietary habits, and a huge spike in levels of physical activity. Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight, which is what makes it so difficult.

It’s a journey, not a sprint. Though a sprint here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Researchers may have stumbled upon another important element in the battle against obesity, and it’s something that few people probably expected. If you’re familiar with meditation — mindfulness meditation, in particular — this may not come as much of as surprise. But a study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, found that people who displayed a certain level of “dispositional mindfulness” were less likely to be overweight, and had lower levels of abdominal body fat.

What does “dispositional mindfulness” mean? A ScienceDaily follow-up to the study says that it is having a general sense of awareness, and paying attention to, an individual’s current thoughts and feelings. Though this isn’t the same as the meditative practice, they are somewhat similar.

The study itself came to the conclusion, by studying 394 individuals and using the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale along with the New England Family Study, that there was a link between a person’s level of “mindfulness” and their physical condition. In fact, after adjusting for certain factors like smoking and economic status, it was found that people on the lower end of the mindfulness scale were up to 34% more likely to be obese, and have more body fat concentrated in and around their abdomen.

A man meditating

A man meditating | Source: iStock

“This is everyday mindfulness,” lead author Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, told ScienceDaily. “The vast majority of these people are not meditating.”

In Loucks’s opinion, that “everyday mindfulness” is important for how people deal with their instincts — including what and how much to eat, and when or if to exercise.

“That’s where the mindfulness may come in,” he said. “Being aware of each and every moment and how that’s related to what we do and how we feel.”

While the findings are intriguing, the researchers themselves admit that there is more work to be done before establishing a definitive causal link. “Replication studies are needed to adequately establish whether low dispositional mindfulness is a risk factor for obesity and adiposity,” the study concludes.

We may have to wait a while for that, but we can still try and take a look at these findings from an ‘on the ground’ point of view. For example, if the ‘mindfulness’ being discussed here is simply being more aware and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, wouldn’t it make sense that people who are more apt to do just that would be healthier? If you were paying special attention to your physiological functions at a buffet, wouldn’t you be more likely to stop eating once your body was sending you the signals?

As opposed to, say, eating as much as you can, because the food is available? Not that everyone, or anyone, actually does this, but that could be an example of “mindfulness” in action. And it could be replicated to every meal or snack — people paying more attention to their bodies would be less likely to over eat, or eat junk food that may cause them to feel lousy later on.

But again, this is something we need more research into in order to get some more definitive answers.

a man meditating

A man meditating | Source: iStock

It’s a good idea to touch on mindfulness meditation as well, even though this study didn’t exactly dig into it. There has been a fair amount of research that has shown that regular meditation can lower stress levels and even improve cognitive function and productivity. Lots of very successful people cite it as a part of their daily routine. So there appears to be something to it.

If you’re interested, Sam Harris has a great primer to get you started.

And though you don’t need to be meditating all day every day, taking the similar principles of “mindfulness” and adopting them may help you lose weight. After all, big lifestyle changes are a key part of weight loss — and rewiring your thought patterns is a great place to start.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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