According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68% of Americans are overweight, and more than a third are obese. That is a lot of people who are potentially looking for solutions to lose weight and get fitter.
While the myriad of solutions and options for this are mind-boggling, a successful weight loss program is a combination of multiple facets that need to be followed with discipline – optimal diet, cardiovascular and strength training and staying active. In addition, the invisible factors in the success of such programs are subtle – they deal with motivation, accountability, and perseverance, amongst many others.
Meditation scores heavily in subtler areas along with scientifically backed research supporting its role in the primary weight loss facets or levers. It can be the central guiding force that makes a weight loss program successful.
Let’s see how.
The key components of a weight loss program
Technically, fat loss is what we really need even though it’s commonly dubbed as “Weight loss”. Fat loss refers to the reduction in percentage of body fat, or the extent of fat tissues compared with lean body mass, that comprises of muscles and bones. Athletes generally have under 5% body fat and lean people under 10%. The goal really is to retain lean body mass or increase it’s percentage in our body while significantly slashing the body fat percentage.
This is what ensures a healthy weight loss – the loss of fat along with the retention or increase of lean body mass.
Nearly every program will include some form of diet optimization that includes controlling and managing calories, the quality of food, meal frequency, timing, portions and recently intermittent fasting that is gaining some press.
As it is often said “You are what you eat”. And vital factor to being consistent on an optimal diet is to stay alert and prevent overeating or eating the wrong foods. Meditation can dramatically increase focus, alertness and attention span. Sahaja meditation has been shown to increase activation of — and have “up-regulating” effects on — fronto-parietal attention networks (Aftanas and Golocheikine, 2001, 2002a, b, 2003)
Sahaja meditation practitioners report from years of meditation practice that they tend to become careless with their eating when they are not in balance as indicated by their subtle energy system. This means that if we have energy imbalances in our left or right energy channels, I.e., when they’re over-emotional or depressed (left energy channel imbalance) or physically and mentally exhausted (right energy channel imbalance), they tend to overeat or make poor food choices. This confirms that staying in balance using regular meditation helps develop healthy and balanced eating habits.
Avoiding Stress and Stress Eating
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone is secreted to help us determine the fight or flight response to any situation, also causes the secretion of insulin resulting fat storage in our body and weight gain.
Ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, is secreted when we are hungry and decreases when we eat. When combined with stress, the impact of ghrelin is worse and can lead to overeating, especially at the end of our day.
A study by Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues showed that not only can stress and depression annihilate our best efforts to eat healthfully, they may actually help pave the path to obesity and obesity-related diseases. The study found that stress promotes weight gain in women by altering metabolism and slowing calorie-burning (Kiecolt-Glaser et al, 2015).
Sahaja meditation acts as a stress buffer, helping you manage stress, take control of your life, and sustain robust health and self-reliance. Regular meditation activates a built-in stress management mechanism that helps you cope with stressors on an ongoing basis, enhancing long-term resilience.
The impact of good quality of sleep
Relief of stress, anxiety and depression through meditation automatically improves sleep quality. Meditation also elevates levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, which not only regulates sleep but interacts with serotonin to stabilize mood, increase positive emotions and prevent distress.
Leptin is a hormone that signals the extent of fat in our body to our brain. We feel hungrier when leptin levels are lower or when the brain isn’t registering high levels of leptin. Lack of sleep decreases leptin and ghrelin levels abnormally and thus sleep deprivation makes us hungrier.
With meditation and consequent good quality of sleep, this risk is avoided and thus meditation is a valuable aid in any weight loss program.
More specifically, a number of Sahaja practitioners, including those who are relatively new to it confirm that the foot soaking technique significantly enhances the quality of sleep.
The most important component of a weight loss program is staying active through two primary methods – cardio workouts and strength training. Staying active through other means such as walking or playing sports are other ways. Strength training, in particular, has been researched to reduce leptin levels, which is why it is so effective in a weight loss program.
Meditation boosts our ability to stay active and physically fit.
Meditation has been found to increase dopamine levels (Kjaer et al., 2002) and increase meditators’ ability to focus attention on the present moment. Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter involved in our motivational drives (reward-motivation neural circuitry) as well as in the control of movement/motor activity, including the fine motor skills and finesse required for physical fitness workouts like strength training or cardio moves or playing sports to stay fit.
Better discipline increases commitment to regular practice, which improves skills and, of course, tones muscle and overall fitness. The sharpening of attention achieved through Sahaja meditation creates an increased awareness of the need to set goals, stick to a schedule, continue to improve and complete tasks.
Meditation reduces lethargy
The ability to avoid or reduce lethargy is unique to Sahaja meditation and we had written about this a while ago. This is a definite contributor to helping you get off that cozy couch and get active.
Putting it all together – why meditation must be at the center of your weight loss program
Meditation aids and enhances your ability to keep up with multiple aspects of your program – avoiding stress, improve sleep quality, staying active and having the motivation and discipline to stick to your diet plan.
This is because it works at a deeper level and influences hormones and neurochemicals in a holistic manner at a physical, mental and emotional level. You can use meditation as the power that keeps all the aspects of your program together and you in overall balance. Extraneous factors like competing needs that take away your attention or lack of focus can be managed through meditation preserving your weight loss progress.
And Sahaja meditation has a much deeper influence – it can make you feel contented, be honest with yourself, respect your body and what nature has given you and in many other ways, all of which are valuable in a weight loss program and rarely provided by other forms of meditation.