Weight loss fads come and go, but not everything that’s popular enough to go mainstream is just a fad. Case in point: mindfulness. While this is often associated with meditation or new age ideology, a number of research studies have determined that mindfulness has a real impact on overall wellbeing, and that improvement in mindfulness can be expressed in weight loss. That success relies on one of the core tenants of mindfulness – relieving anxiety – and mindful movement doubles down on that success.
The Link between Anxiety and Gaining Weight
At this point, the correlation of anxiety and weight gain in a significant number of people is well established, although the exact mechanism of that relationship is unclear. However, it is clear that anxiety (and to a lesser extent, stress) leads to certain behaviors that contribute to it.
- Release of ghrelin: Like cortisol, ghrelin is a hormone released as part of the instinctive fight-or-flight response, which is triggered by anxiety. (This is especially true if you’re worrying over a stressful situation.) Ghrelin is one of the hormones responsible for feeling hungry.
- Interrupting and impeding proper sleep: As we revealed in a recent post, researchers have found a link between getting less than six hours of sleep and obesity plus related factors (e.g., increased HDL). What’s more, getting the right amount of sleep aids appetite control and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
- Diminishing the desire and ability to follow through with plans: Whether it’s sticking to your diet plan or keeping up with your exercise routine, anxiety makes it incredibly difficult to remember how important your plans really are. It amplifies the sense of “having better things to do.”
- Increasing the desire to find caffeine: In moderation, a well-timed coffee or energy drink can help you push through tasks you feel too tired to concentrate on. However, between minimal sleep and the sense of exhaustion anxiety piles on to your day, it’s tempting to take in more caffeine to try and feel more awake. But the body can only process so much caffeine, and too much can be dangerous. Plus, energy drinks in particular pile on sugar. If you love coffee beverages that use cream, sugar, or added flavor components like caramel, they’ll be piling on to the number of calories consumed every day.
- Increasing the likelihood of emotional eating: Failing to follow through on your diet plan is one thing – after all, it may just mean turning to cheap, easy, and unhealthy options like fast food. However, emotional eating seeks to alleviate anxiety by binging on comfort foods, usually sweets. That’s yet another way to consume far more calories than you ought to.
What Is Mindful Movement?
Although it’s often associated with meditation, mindfulness is actually about how you direct your attention, both to the outside world and to the thoughts and feelings you experience at any given time. This allows you to notice when you’re doing something counterproductive – say, focusing on the terrible day you had at work or worrying about the bills due at the end of the month – and redirect yourself. It helps contextualize what you’re worried about and hold your focus in the moment and whatever you’re doing at the time.
In this way, mindfulness is a skill, and it takes practice. You won’t be able to spend your entire day being mindful, but spending any time being mindful will help you destress and dial back your anxiety.
Mindful movement developed because moving around in general and exercise specifically elevates mood and reduces stress and anxiety. That’s because exercise burns of cortisol while bolstering the production and utilization of serotonin. It also boosts metabolism and helps control appetite.
Mindfulness is an excellent tool for relieving anxiety and improving your weight loss efforts. As you might expect, mindful movement combines the two together for even better results. Exercise methods like yoga or Pilates work mindfulness into their regimen, but you can also add breathing exercises or walking meditation to your own exercise routine.
Achieve Better Weight-Loss Results with Mindful Movement
This is supported by a study published earlier this year in Psychology of Sports and Exercise by researchers from Penn State University. The team utilized a mobile app to regularly check in with 158 of the college’s students via a questionnaire about physical activity, stress or anxiety, and level of mindfulness. Whenever the students either more active or more mindful, the impact of anxiety was diminished over times when they weren’t. However, when they were both mindful and active, the two factors worked synergistically to produce an amplified effect, i.e., a greater decrease in anxiety.
The results for you could be huge. Using mindful movement to reduce (or even remove) anxiety from all or portions of your day will help you feel better about where you are and how successful you’ve been in your weight loss journey so far. But more than that, reducing stress and anxiety also means reducing their impact, meaning:
- You’ll have better control over your appetite, because your body won’t be producing as much ghrelin.
- You’ll sleep more soundly and more restfully, which further improves your appetite control and stabilizes your metabolism.
- You’ll successfully make and stick to your weight loss strategy, and you’ll be in a position to fully appreciate your progress so far and be encouraged by that.
- You’ll need less coffee or energy drinks thanks to your improved sleep and boosted metabolism.
- You’ll be free of the temptation to eat emotionally and leverage mindfulness and exercise to elevate your mood and process what’s going on in your life.
At the same time, mindful movement may only take you so far. Sometimes curbing weight gain isn’t enough to lead to weight loss, and even reducing anxiety may not curb your appetite. Fortunately, there are other tools to make your weight loss journey more effective, especially if you begin a medical weight loss program. Because your plan and progress are under medical supervision by expert doctors, you have the option to utilize appetite suppressing medication. Head to our appetite suppressant page to learn more about these medications and how they fit into our program.