If you are unhappy with your weight, you might be thinking you need to correct it with diet and exercise. Weight and body shape are influenced not only by physical health, but by mental health too. Our brains and bodies work together, such that challenges in one affect the other. These outcomes interact, sometimes in a way that cycles and grows into bigger problems.
Psychological research studies show the mind-body connection can actually be harnessed to help address weight problems. A recent study from Rogers and colleagues, published in the Obesity Reviews Journal, indicated that Mindfulness based treatment helped to improve eating behaviors, weight, and physical health.
Keep reading to learn more about the mind-body connection, how it may be affecting your weight or body size, and how you can use Mindfulness techniques to help:
How does my mind affect my body?
Thoughts, feelings and beliefs can have an effect on the physiology of our body, affecting our hormones, metabolism, immune system, cardiovascular system and brain function. Consider the example of struggling with anxiety or stress. During stress, our bodies gear us up to handle trouble. When that trouble is not easily resolvable (such as when we worry or are always on-the-go) our bodies just stay geared up or locked in the fight or flight response. Research has shown that stress, especially prolonged stress can have negative effects on the body and brain.
Eventually our bodies become exhausted and certain body systems can get off-balance. For example, cortisol can spike and eventually become depleted. The brain systems that regulate hunger and weight can also be thrown off.
How does my body affect my mind?
Physical health issues can also have an impact on our brain function and our mind. Following the example above, consider yourself or someone else having prolonged stress, feeling exhausted, and eventually experiencing weight problems. Those weight problems can set off a domino effect of other body-based problems through inflammation, disruption of the microbiome and hormonal changes. In turn, research shows that our body chemistry and our brain chemistry gets altered and we can start to feel depressed.
Sure, we may also feel down or depressed because we are unhappy with our body shape and size. We can start to struggle with body image. That might make us less comfortable with activities we once enjoyed. It might affect our interactions with others, including romantic relationships. In turn, this can lead to a whole host of other mental health problems.
This sound pretty dismal, is there hope?
Luckily, there are many solutions that can help you to address both the physical and emotional aspects of weight-related problems. Research has found that people who feel constantly stressed can benefit from increasing their Mindfulness skills. You may now be wondering what mindfulness is. If you have ever found yourself moving through life with little awareness of what is happening around you…that is not mindfulness.
Humans do have this amazing capacity to live in two places at once—operating in the real world, while also residing in their thoughts and minds. This is helpful in some situations and it can make us efficient, but it can also increase stress. If you are never in the moment, always living in your head with worries and ruminations, then you are missing out on life.
Mindfulness skills help you get out of your head and into the present moment. When it comes to weight problems, this can help you in multiple ways. For starters, as you learn to better notice and observe the real-life moments you are in, you will become more occupied with life. You will be living rather than just thinking. Being mentally present will reduce your stress level.
This sounds great, but how do I get Mindful?
There is one mindfulness skill you can try anyplace, anytime. Using the skill of Observing, you can take a few minutes to notice what is around you. You might observe the space you are in with your senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling). If you spend a few minutes just observing, you might notice that there is a lot going on outside of your own mind.
You can also try techniques such as Deep Breathing and Meditation. These techniques take a little more time and you will probably want to do them in a quiet, calm place. Deep Breathing is easy because you already know how to breathe. With Deep Breathing, you are slowing down, and putting your mind on Observing your breathing. Most people find this calming.
But how specifically, does Mindfulness help with Weight?
So, as we have established, since stress can increase weight, a reduced stress level is going to help with your weight problems. There is also another benefit from mindfulness that will help. Think about how often you eat without really experiencing your food. Sure, you are consuming and digesting, but you do not really feel satisfied. So, you eat more, just hoping for satisfaction.
To help your weight problems, you can apply Mindfulness skills to eating and mealtime. Slow down and notice your food before consuming it. Notice its colors, textures, smells, and tastes. As you focus on mealtime, at mealtime, rather than multi-tasking or with worries on your mind, you will more enjoy your food, you will feel more satiated and likely, you will find you eat less.
You can also use Observation to pay attention to your body’s cues, noticing when you are hungry and letting that be a guide towards eating. You can also notice what sort of hunger you are feeling. You can better discern if your hunger is associated with boredom or feelings you want to cover versus genuine hunger, driven by body needs.
Will Mindfulness really help my weight?
Yes, multiple scientific studies indicate that Mindfulness can really help. Studies show that these sorts of Mindfulness interventions do help to improve eating behaviors, eating attitudes, and body weight. Outcomes were even better enhanced by combining Mindfulness techniques with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Known as ACT for short, this is a big theory, but in this case, it means accepting when things do not go quite as planned, and just committing to getting back on track. This is a big attitude shift away from those days where one diet mistake results in unhealthy eating for the rest of the day or possibly a food binge. It lets us make minor missteps without having them snowball.
The attitude of ACT also allows us to practice self-compassion. Research shows that when using mindfulness to manage weight problems, it is helpful to be gentle with ourselves, such as acknowledging that everyone has missteps, it is okay, and we can get back on track. This is better than mentally beating ourselves up, which would just get us stuck back up in our minds.
The Final Bite
So, we have established that Mindfulness can help people with their weight problems. We have also learned a few Mindfulness techniques to try out that might help reduce stress and make mealtimes more meaningful. You can try these out as part of your self-care regimen. You can also consult with your mental health care provider to help you best apply these skills.