Mindfulness for Weight Loss
by Christopher Joseph
Obesity rates over the last 25 years have quadrupled, and a survey published in 2012 found that just over a quarter of all adults (26%) in England are obese. A further 41% of men and 33% of women are classed as overweight. In Wales, a recent report has found that 1 in 4 children are obese by the age of 11, and there are estimates that by 2050 over half of the UK population will be obese. Type 2 diabetes, which is just one of the associated problems with obesity, already costs the NHS an estimated £9 billion a year, which is about 10% of the NHS budget.
The current approach to weight loss is primarily diet-based, and all diets are fundamentally based on the principal of restricted food intake in line with some formulated plan. Diets are very seductive for two reasons. Firstly, they provide guidance on what to eat and often when to eat it. As such they take the onus and responsibility off us from actually listening and responding to what our body needs when it needs it. Secondly, diets have the illusion of working – at least in the short term. However, since by their very nature they require control, will power and over-riding the natural signals that our body’s sending us they are unsustainable in the long term. Not only do diets not work in the long term, many people become entrained in the diet trap, which is detrimental to the health of our body and the health of our mind in respect to the way we view our body.
The diet trap is described thoroughly by Jason Vale in his book “Slim for Life: Freedom from the diet trap”. In essence it’s instigated when we decide to go on the latest diet for whatever reason, be it an unhappiness with the way we look, the way we feel, or pressure from someone else. We force ourselves using ‘will power’ to follow the prescribed plan, we stop listening to our body signals (that are shouting hunger), become irritable, miserable and uncomfortable around food.
Due to the often severe reduction in food intake our body goes into survival mode and as a result our metabolic rate (rate at which we burn food) drops! After a period of time we are unable to continue to override the messages from our body, which we label as our ‘will power’ running out! We then ‘drop’ the diet and overeat to compensate for the ‘diet stress’ we have put ourselves through. Since our body is still in ‘starvation mode’ it’s unsure when and where the next meal is coming from so it grabs everything it can! – i.e. it stores fat far more readily in preparation for the lean times it thinks are soon coming again.
As a result of this process, over time, we end up heavier than when we started the diet!… so, what do we do?… yes, that’s right!… we go on another diet and go back to the start!… and, so the physically and emotionally painful compounding effect of the ‘yo-yo’ diet cycle continues.
So, what is the alternative? What is the mindful approach?
The mindful alternative to the diet trap is to learn to trust yourself again to eat what you need, when you need it.
But how do we do this when we have been spending years turning away and trying to disconnect from our body either because we dislike the way it looks and feels, or because it’s screaming hunger at us when we’re starving ourselves on the latest diet?
The answer is through establishing a mindfulness practice which is focused on connection (or reconnection):
- Connecting with food and the enjoyment of eating it.
- Connecting with our body and the enjoyment of moving it.
- Connecting with ourselves and others and the enjoyment of feeling that we have a part to play in this world.
These three vitally important areas of connection can be achieved through mindful eating, body scan meditations, mindful movement and kindness practices towards ourselves and others.
The net result of practicing these three areas of connection is that we become far more in tune with our food, our body, ourselves and our lives. As such we are far better placed to make better choices around what we eat, how much we eat and when we eat it. Losing weight, feeling healthier and becoming more energised are simply ‘side-effects’ of this connection process! – Very positive side-effects nonetheless!
As you’ve hopefully realised by now, this process of mindful connection, or reconnection, is a practice. We are talking about replacing potentially years of habitual tendencies to disconnect, either consciously or unconsciously, with our eating, our body, ourselves and sometimes other people and even the world. As such this requires an element of education, of training and of course practice.