Yoga’s Mind Body Approach to Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Have you ever tried to lose weight either to find that the weight won’t shift or you regain the pounds?
You are not alone - traditional weight loss methods may work in the short term but research shows that about 95% of dieters will regain the weight they lose in 1-5 years.
There are a number of reasons why dieting doesn’t work:
1. Dieting causes biological changes that sabotage our attempts to lose weight (I know, how unfair!) for example:
Our body experiences dieting as a stressor. When we are under stress our body produces high levels of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). These hormones cause our body to slow down the rate at which we burn calories with any left over calories getting stored as fat. Our body responds in this way because it perceives our reduced calorie intake as a threat to our survival and tries to keep us alive and as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, this response was more appropriate in times where food was in short supply rather than in our modern times where food is plentiful for most.
Dieting also causes neurological changes which make food harder to resist. When you are dieting your brain becomes overly responsive to food, making it look more appetizing and tempting. So the thing you're trying to resist becomes harder to resist.
2. Diets usually involve external changes to our calorie intake (what to eat and what not to eat) and do not address what is causing us to overeat in the first place. Most of us can change our eating habits for a period of time but most often long-lasting change cannot be achieved without exploring the deep rooted beliefs, patterns and behaviors driving our food choices and eating habits.
3. Dieting can create an unhealthy relationship with our bodies/body image. We can be critical of ourselves when we are not ‘successful’ in losing weight on the scale and/or conforming to an externally determined idea of beauty. This lack of compassion and love for ourselves disturbs our peace of mind and means that we are more likely to fall prey to the temptations of overeating and so the cycle continues.
4. Eating can be a source of pleasure and connection with our loved ones and restrictive diets can take all the pleasure out of eating.
How can yoga help?
1. It can help us to explore the emotional reasons we eat.
Yoga teaches us to become aware of what we are experiencing on all levels of our being. Developing this ‘witness consciousness’ is the first step to sustainable change. By becoming aware of our patterns, without judging ourselves, we start to lessen their hold on us.
2. By transforming our responses to emotional eating.
Once we are aware of the reasons and patterns behind our eating, yoga gives us tools to begin to transform these patterns into healthier ways of being. We can experiment with interrupting the unhealthy pattern in small manageable ways, allowing us to make changes without causing resistance (a stressor) and trigger the potentially weight gaining stress hormones. From here we can then use the yogic technique of ‘practicing the opposite’ to cultivate healthier responses/behaviors.
3. By reducing our stress hormones
Given the connection of weight gain and stress described above, yoga helps us achieve/maintain a healthy weight by giving us techniques to reduce our stress.
4. Building a healthier relationship with food.
Learning to listen to what our bodies need, eating healthy foods and enjoying them, allows us to lose the ‘diet mindset’ of deprivation. This healthier perspective supports our biology and psychology and generates the ideal conditions for reaching our natural weight.
5. Moving our bodies
In addition to burning calories, yoga poses and breathing exercises help in the release of toxins and promote the optimal working of our digestive systems.
6. Improving our self-image
Yoga helps us to learn to love and accept ourselves in the present moment, not conditional on how we look or what we weigh. Ironically learning to accept ourselves and love ourselves unconditionally creates the conditions where weight loss may happen naturally, due to the reduction of internal resistance and stress.
If you would like to explore how yoga’s mind body techniques can help you lose weight in a healthy way, join our six week “Yoga for Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight” series. There will be no weigh-ins or calorie counting. As always at YogaLife, our approach is supportive, accepting and non-judgmental. Everyone is welcome, whatever their experience.
Alice Bentley has been practicing yoga for 15 years, seriously since her pregnancy with her first child in 2004. On her move to the US from England in 2010 she joined the YogaLife Institute teacher training 200 hour program, with the idea that she wanted "to get better at yoga", what she experienced was life changing and has helped her manage a big transition into a new country and cope with her stressors more effectively. "Yoga helps me be a better mother, wife, daughter and friend, it is my stabilizing force and makes me a nicer person!" Since then she has completed her 200 hour training, 300 hour comprehensive yoga therapy training and 500 hour teacher training and enjoys sharing yoga's transformative power with others. She is passionate about how yoga can help women during pregnancy and motherhood and how yoga can promote healthy weight loss.