When you think about weight loss, your mind may immediately turn to diet and exercise. But research suggests mindfulness can play a key role in managing cravings, boosting self-image, and fostering healthy eating and exercise habits. It makes sense. Slow down to breathe, tune in to your body’s sensations and emotions, and identify true hunger cues. These are all strategies that encourage people to be fully present while enjoying food. Our experts explain four ways you can use meditation for weight loss and its benefits.
You become more aware of your eating habits.
“Meditation is a great way to help you become aware of and connected to your thoughts and actions,” says Dr. Candice Seti, a clinical psychologist, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach who works with clients on lifestyle changes for weight loss and maintenance. “This is especially beneficial when it comes to eating behaviors. A lot of us eat quickly or without attention. We don’t truly appreciate or enjoy our food, nor do we appreciate our hunger or satiation levels. Mindful meditation during mealtimes can help slow our eating. [It] allows us to focus on how we are feeling during our meals. Over time, this can help us learn to acknowledge signals of satiation. So we stop eating when we are full rather than when our plate is empty. It makes eating a conscious behavior rather than an impulse and can ultimately stop overeating and binge eating.”
According to Joy Rains, author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, you can use meditation to develop awareness of how and what you eat. She suggests noticing things such as the smell and temperature of the food you’re about to eat, your frame of mind, your eating pace, and the size of each bite.
“All of these activities are components of meditation. Putting your fork down between bites to allow time to give your body signals of fullness,” says Tania Elliott, M.D., chief medical officer at EHE. “Think about each bite you take. How it smells, looks, tastes, and feels in your mouth, on your tongue, and between your teeth. This is a form of guided meditation and mindfulness. [It] helps center your awareness to the food you are eating instead of scarfing down your food to try and ‘treat’ your anxious or sad feelings.”
Meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety, which both contribute to weight gain.
David Greuner, M.D., head surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, notes that meditation is an effective method to control stress and improve mind-body connectivity. While meditation doesn’t guarantee weight loss, adds clinical psychologist Alexis Conason, Psy.D., plenty of research backs up the health benefits of meditation, particularly around stress levels and overall well-being. Dietitian Kelsey Kinney does recommend meditation for weight loss because it can improve your gut health and reduce inflammation.
This connection to stress and anxiety is twofold, Seti says. It’s related to both emotional eating and the release of certain hormones. “People under chronic stress often end up using food as a coping mechanism. Overeating or weight gain is a natural result,” she says. “Meditation is a great way to control your stress levels, so comfort eating becomes unnecessary. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol to deal with it. So your appetite increases and your body starts storing more belly fat, both of which severely thwart weight loss efforts. Meditation releases oxytocin and serotonin, which counteract the effects.”
It encourages healthier food decisions.
Stress eating is normal, to an extent. We all know the feeling of enjoying a cupcake after a long day. But there’s a big difference between eating your emotions and eating because you’re truly hungry. Food and mental health go hand in hand, Elliott says. People often eat when they are stressed, bored, sad, or depressed. Meditation techniques, such as single-tasking or staying present, help you redirect in those moments. They can even decrease binge eating and emotional eating.
“Be present to what you’re putting into your body,” says Joe Burton, founder and CEO of Whil, a digital well-being training platform for employees. “Rather than that habitual burger or pizza, you can train yourself to make better food decisions. Too many of us grab a quick meal, or worse, fast food, and run through a short lunch. Actually slowing down, making healthy choices, and then eating your meal slowly versus wolfing it down has tremendous benefits. Slowing down during meals helps the brain to recover from always-on mode. But it also helps recognize when you’re full. When the mind is present, it’s easier to avoid that second helping.”
Meditation can support your overall weight loss goals.
“Meditation gives you the opportunity to deeply consider all facets of why you overeat, why you avoid workouts, or any other issues that make you feel like you need to lose weight,” Greuner says. “When thinking about this in a peaceful, [un]stressed condition, you can determine a solution and alter your habits toward a healthier lifestyle.”
Daily meditation can improve your relationship with food, body, movement, and more, Conason says. Using visualization strategies, such as picturing your weight loss goal or imagining yourself participating in behaviors that support your health goals, can help with motivation. “Meditation certainly doesn’t provide any kind of magic in creating weight loss,” Seti notes. “But it can have a significant impact on certain aspects of our wellness and eating that do have a major impact on weight loss.”