Most of us have heard of people around us, or in the media, speaking about the benefits of meditation – but what really is the scientific basis for those claims? More importantly, will meditation help you lose weight? Is it really worth our time to dedicate ten or twenty minutes daily to this practice? Or would we be better served to simply exercise more, or to just try to build in more ‘downtime’?
My own personal experience of meditation is that I’ve been very much drawn to it over the past two years, and I’ve been recommending it to Motivation clients, particularly those who are stressed, anxious or just simply overwhelmed.
I’ve dipped in and out of my own meditation, tending to use it only when I’m experiencing uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety, stress, frustration or even anger. But I’ve become aware from researching the topic that really meditation works best when used proactively, rather than reactively. In other words, practising it daily will build a sort of resistance, or an awareness, that becomes very effective in managing difficult emotions. It is doing it daily that seems to make the difference.
Anecdotally, if you speak to anyone who regularly meditates, they will say that they feel calmer in general. There is that discipline that is required to practise it daily; this itself appears to get easier the more you do.
My own private inspiration for daily meditation is my 12 year old son. He discovered meditation at school, and he had heard me discuss it with my friends and husband many times. But he is so inspiring as he doesn’t just talk about meditation, he actually does it! I am often guilty of talking about it, while he is upstairs on a mat actually practising! I have finally started to follow his lead and have now meditated consistently for the past 10 days. Do I notice the difference? Definitely. I feel generally calmer and more self-aware.
So, before we get into any specific advice on how to meditate, let’s firstly look at some of the scientific basis for starting to consider a regular meditation programme in your life, especially those of you eager to find out will meditation help you lose weight.
1.Mindfulness meditation helps regulate mood
Over 20 randomised controlled studies have concluded that regular mindfulness meditation is highly effective at improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety in general. The practice seems to reduce the grey matter density in areas of the brain related to anxiety and stress. Meditators tend to be more aware of themselves, and therefore able to help themselves when stressed; they are less likely to become ‘stuck’ on one particular stressor and able to move forwards. Meditators see their thoughts and feelings as somehow separate from ‘them’; their real essence, and therefore their thoughts and feelings have less power over them.
2. Meditation decreases depression and anxiety
Two studies in mindfulness found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults. In another study, carried out in Belgium, 400 students who followed a regular meditation programme reported reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later (pointing to the potential long-lasting effects of regular meditation). In a research study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, subjects who were diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder were treated with regular meditation for 3 months and 90 per cent of those patients reported that their symptoms had reduced substantially. Interestingly, those changes maintained at follow-up a number of months later.
Another study, carried out at the University of California, discovered that meditation decreased the hallmark inclinations of depression and low mood/low self-esteem, including ruminative thinking and dysfunctional beliefs. Yet another study shows that mindfulness can be as effective at treating depression as anti-depressants (similar results have been demonstrated with regular exercise). However, it should be stated that no individual should ever reduce or stop their medication for depression without prior consultation with their doctor.
3. Meditation helps to sharpen the brain and could make you happier!
Research shows that meditation could offset the loss of cognitive ability as we age. Rresults from recent research published in the journal, Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, states that just 30 minutes of daily meditation reduces the risk of heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s and premature death. Also a group of Harvard neuroscientists ran a study where 16 subjects engaged in an 8-week mindfulness course, using guided meditations (eg. Lying down and listening to a relaxation cd) AND integration of mindfulness into everyday activities (eg. Being more ‘present’ and aware as you do mundane, everyday tasks such as washing up or having a shower – being ‘in the moment’, rather than always distracted and rushing, as many of us tend to do). At the end of the eight weeks, MRI brain scans of the subjects showed an increase in the grey matter of the brain (involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self and having perspective – all crucial areas for strong mental health).
Other studies show that meditation can help improve your focus, especially on repetitive and boring tasks. In the long-term, regular meditators also have larger hippocampal (the hippocampus plays a crucial role in memory) and frontal volumes of grey matter in their brains.
4. Meditation could help with appetite control and willpower
Interestingly, other studies show that the hippocampus area of the brain could play an important role in appetite control, suggesting that meditation could be important in the area of weight management. This is why we at Motivation have developed a ‘body scan’ meditation on our Audio Files, by Dr Maurice Larocque. A considerable body of research has also shown that regular meditators have a thicker prefrontal cortex (PFC) – this part of the brain becomes diminished and weaker when subjected to stress but can be strengthened with regular meditation. The reason why it is important? The PFC lies at the front of the brain and manages reason, logic, problem solving, planning and memory. It is thought that the PFC plays an important role in directing our attention, developing and pursuing goals (such as getting fitter of following a weight loss plan) and controlling willpower, or inhibiting counterproductive impulses. Will meditation help with weight loss? In other words, if someone is struggling with sugar or carb addiction, or is finding it hard to reduce their dependence on alcohol, then regular meditation could help strengthen their impulses, leading to healthier decision making when it comes to their lifestyle choices. The mental discipline that tends to develop with regular meditation can help to increase self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviours. A review of 14 studies found mindfulness meditation helped participants reduce emotional and binge eating, and one other study showed that cravings were reduced in a group of 19 recovering alcoholics.
5. Meditation can help to relieve pain and boosts creativity
This is truly fascinating; one important study has shown that even little over one hour of meditation (ie. Total time of one hour), can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation. In fact, researchers have found about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in the unpleasantness of pain. In this study, meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs.
Also, research from Leiden University in the Netherlands shows that the practise of meditation has positive effects in creativity and divergent thinking. Participants who had followed a specific meditation programme performed better in creative tasks.
6. Meditation could reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
More people die from heart disease in the world than any other illness so the implication for improved outcome with regular meditation is big news. In a study published in 2012, a group of over 200 high-risk individuals were asked to take either a health education class or to take a meditation class. During the next 5 years the researchers found that the meditators had a 48 per cent reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke or early death. Read more about this study in Time Magazine.
There are other studies pointing to similar conclusions, namely lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors (in other words, subjects feeling more relaxed and less affected by stress in their lives as a result of regular meditation then impacted on their heart health). One study showed two-thirds of high blood pressure patients experiencing significant drops in blood pressure after three months of meditation, and consequently, less need for medication. This is due to the relaxing effects of meditation, which results in the formation of nitric oxide, which opens up your blood vessels. In one study measuring heart rate and respiratory rate, interestingly, subjects showed decreased rates even 8 months after the meditation training programme had ceased, demonstrating the long term benefits of meditating.
Also, meditation is related to other healthier choices being made by subjects, such as a reduction in smoking or unhealthy food choices as a result of feeling calmer and more ‘in touch’ with oneself. This is important and in the context of ‘will meditation help you lose weight,’ any healthy change in bahaviour is a positive outcome.
7. Meditation can improve empathy and foster more positive relationships
A type of meditation known as ‘loving-kindness’ meditation is where the practitioner focuses on developing a sense of care for yourself and others. This uses affirmations that empathise with others and fosters a loving attitude to others and ourselves, including self-acceptance. This is particularly beneficial for those of us who are typically ‘hard on ourselves’ and very self-critical (some of us aren’t even aware of this habit which leads to low self-esteem, anxiety and sometimes depression). This tends to happen when an individual experiences an emotion – it could be anger, sadness, anxiety or guilty – and then, on top of the difficult emotion, the individual scolds themselves for having that emotion (ie. ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this’). In this way, meditation can help to prevent emotional eating, particularly if it is practised daily…when the individual ‘allows’ unpleasant feelings or thoughts to pass through, without judgement, and practises self-care and kindness in relation to those thoughts or emotions. The result is an increase in positive emotions, increased self-esteem and improved self-awareness. Another group of studies showed that marriage conflict can be reduced and anger management improved with regular meditation – might save a fight or two!
Finally, other studies suggest that mindfulness practice could help improve sleep (duration and quality), as well as help prevent asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, in addition to helping to treat premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms! Not only this – meditation has been shows to help manage the effects of trauma, and much, much more!
So Is it Worth it?
In a nutshell, and based on the evidence above, the answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’ – spending even 10-20 minutes of time meditating each day is going to bring about multiple benefits for you. It’s also not difficult. Some people mistakenly believe that it’s too much of a commitment – but surely you can find just 10 minutes every day, no matter how busy you are.
Another benefit is that you can do it anywhere, and it’s free – so the barriers are less than some other health behaviours. Also, the research confirms for us that those millions of people who are practising regular meditation are definitely onto something! As well as helping to keep you physically and mentally healthier, regular meditation can also make you more effective by improving your performance in almost any task, physical or mental.
Will meditation help you lose weight, yes!
In order to experience the benefits, meditation needs to be practised consistently (that means daily!). For some inspiration on creating the new habit of meditation, try apps like Headspace or Buddify, which make it easy to meditation ‘on the go’ and to fit it into daily life via your phone, when you’re waiting for an appointment or on a break. Also check out this blog post for those new to meditation.
A Brilliant Tool for Mental Health
We all have what are known as ‘distorted thoughts’ – negative thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, worst case scenario thinking, over personalisation (ie. paranoia) etc… In the mid 1950s the psychologist Albert Ellis introduced us to the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This practice helps us to ‘clean up’ some of our distorted thoughts (basically, by introducing a more rational or kinder perspective which, in turn, brings about more positive emotions). This can be practised using the ABCD method, described by Dr Larocque in the book that is presented to clients at their first meeting with Motivation.
Mental Weight is a concept unique to the Motivation programme and is based on the principle that diet alone produces only short-term results – “like taking an aspirin for toothache,” according to Dr. Larocque.
Mental Weight is the weight you’re certain to reach if you continue with your current (negative) eating habits and (negative) behaviour. Regularly completing the mental weight questionnaire will also help you to identify some negative attitudes – then you can apply the ABCD principles by discussing it with your weight loss advisor.
But, if CBT was introduced in the 1950s, we could say that meditation was introduced to the masses 50 years later. So now we have two different tools that can be used side by side to enhance our mental health. By introducing more regular meditation in addition to applying the principles of CBT as described above, individuals can, firstly, minimise the incidences when their thoughts become distorted and need to be challenged and, if they still do occur, then those thoughts can be challenged internally to bring about more positive mental health. Regular meditation could almost be viewed as similar to dental hygiene – you could call it your ‘mental hygiene’ – in that it helps to prevent the judgement or negative thinking that so often takes place with high emotions.
Meditation encourages you to accept your feelings and thoughts and to let them pass, without judgement, so they are less likely to affect you negatively. It allows you to steer your thoughts and feelings towards a more constructive pattern, one that will encourage more positive and optimistic thought patterns.
Myths of Meditation
* You have to sit in a lotus position – not necessary! You can sit, lie down or even stand to meditate if you want!
* You must do it for an hour a day – no, even small doses can work wonders.
* You have to have an empty mind – not necessary. Instead, you can just let thoughts ‘float through’ your brain, without judgement. Don’t fight them, let them pass.
‘Excuses’ for Not Meditating
We all have the best excuses, but maybe it’s time to start challenging them!
- I can’t clear my mind – it takes practice; don’t worry about how you feel during meditation, notice how you feel after and for the rest of the day.
- I can’t sit still – that’s okay, just try to sit comfortably, and if you feel like fidgeting then that’s okay too.
- I get anxious when I try to meditate – that’s probably because feelings surface that you might be trying to suppress. Sit with them. It gets easier.
- I hate sitting still – that’s fine. Then walk while meditating and stick your earphones in or try simple breathing exercises. Just give yourself time ‘being’ without feeling the constant need to be ‘doing’.
- I tried it and I didn’t like it – that’s probably because you just didn’t find the right one for you. There’s so many different types of meditation to choose from. Try again.
- I don’t have time – if you have the time to read this article, then you have time to meditate! Think of all that time everyday that you waste on social media. Try to fit in just 10 minutes a day to start with. It will give you such a boost that you will probably find you want to continue.
If you are on the Motivation website you are probably looking for guidance on weight loss. So, the key question from this feature is, will meditation help you lose weight? The resounding answer is an overwhelming yes.
Thank for taking the time to read ‘Will meditation help you lose weight?’ This is a great quote to finish this feature with:
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”