Losing weight: Mindfulness may help

One of the hardest parts about losing weight isn’t choosing what to eat. You know you should focus on fresh, lower-calorie foods and steer clear of sugary, fat-laden treats. Often, the real challenge is more about changing how and why you eat. One strategy that just might help is the practice of mindfulness, according to a recent review in Current Obesity Reports.

One of the main benefits of mindfulness approaches for weight loss is to help people recognize emotional eating, says mindfulness expert Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Very few of us eat solely based on hunger cues. We also eat to soothe anxiety, sadness, or irritation,” he says. That’s a recipe for mindless eating: You’re operating on automatic pilot, without paying attention to how you really feel, emotionally or physically.

Mindfulness practices help you notice these common patterns, which are similar to what happens with many types of addiction, says Dr. Siegel. Most human behaviors are based on conditioned patterns of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Those behaviors we refer to as addictions have good short-term consequences (the pleasure of eating a piece of chocolate cake) but bad long-term consequences (becoming overweight).

Self-awareness for losing weight? Notice your cravings

Addictive behaviors are prone to what addiction expert G. Alan Marlatt called the abstinence violation effect. For example, you might have a plan to eat healthfully, but then you see a chocolate cake. “You break down and eat a piece, but then feel so horrible about your lack of self-control that you feel a desperate need to self-soothe — and end up eating the rest of the cake,” says Dr. Siegel.

Once you become aware of these patterns, the next step is finding a way to cope with cravings. Simply avoiding tempting foods is difficult, because tasty treats are widely available nearly everywhere you go. Mindfulness can help you notice the craving and recognize that you can deal with the discomfort, which may be accentuated by unhappy emotions. By turning your attention to those feelings and practicing self-awareness, you can notice that the feelings come and go. “Urges and cravings comes in waves, and we can ride them out,” says Dr. Siegel.

Self-acceptance and defusion

Another aspect of mindfulness training is self-acceptance. If you do give in to a craving, forgive yourself and move on. “None of us is perfect, you don’t have to torture yourself,” says Dr. Siegel. Four of the 12 studies in the recent review article focused on acceptance-based behavior training, which relies on mindfulness strategies to identify emotions rather than avoid them.

In one small study of people with heart disease, participants were encouraged to recognize that eating healthfully and exercising is really challenging, and that pretending that it isn’t just makes it all the more distressing. Instead, they were taught a practice called defusion, in which you distance yourself from unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This helped them tolerate the distress of trying to make heart-healthy behavior changes. Participants gave high marks to the program and made positive changes in their diet and exercise habits.

Another promising strategy noted in the review includes different types of mindfulness meditation, such as an eating-focused practice in which people were taught to acknowledge their hunger levels, emotions, thoughts, motivations, and eating environment with acceptance but without judgment. The practice was most effective when combined with self-compassion, which involved repeating phrases of good will and benevolence for oneself and others.

Related Information: Lose Weight and Keep It Off


  1. Eleanor Barrett

    Much ado about nothing 😲

  2. Walter

    I’ve just started a protocol called “Eat Stop Eat” that might appeal to you. There is a book by Brad Pilon that describes the process. Basically, your body is in either the “fed state” or the “fasted state”. You fast two days a week (not consecutive) for about 24 hours. On other days, you can eat regularly, so there is no special diet that you must follow. On the fasting days, the body still expends the calories needed for maintaining your metabolism, about 2000 to 2500 cal, so you diminish your weekly caloric intake by about 4500 cal. This reduction, by itself, will help you lose weight all other things being equal.

    One additional benefit of the process is that after about 12 hours, your body switches to the “fasted state” when you’ve depleted your glycogen stores and the body begins to use fat for its source of calories. So, the calories expended in the last 12 hours of the fast mostly consume fat, which is very hard to lose with regular diets or by exercise alone. Fasting has other benefits for your body such as improving insulin and leptin resistance.

    When I started, I was concerned about lasting through a 24 hour period without eating, but I found that I didn’t really get hungry, I wasn’t really tired and I remain mentally alert. So doing may not be as difficult as you think. Of course, consult with your doctor before you start

    The book is available on Amazon and you can read some of the comments there to get more information and you can also do a Google search.

  3. Carolyn Harper

    My comment should have been addressed to Samantha Sue not Julie. Sorry

  4. Fahad Mughal

    i agree with you we cant loss weight until we our-self try to self awareness of losing weight.

  5. LNC

    I would hope that at some point this publication will stop talking about low calorie/low fat, but be precise in recommending the low carb approach, and removing highly processed foods, including trans fats and unhealthy vegetable oils, which contain too much damaging Omega 6.
    Mindfulness is helpful and I would always recommend it for a variety of issues. Savouring your food, not “scarfing” things while watching tv, etc. This will help you. But the start of the article about calories is misleading in terms of current research.

  6. Samantha Sue

    Hey Julie, this is a great article. I’ve been struggling with emotional eating my entire life, but have recently decided to do something about it and lose some weight. Learning to be aware of my habitual eating is so hard, as I realized while reading this that most of what I do is out of impulse. Definately going to try and improve on this.

    Can you or anyone recommend me a diet program too? I was thinking about using this one: https://1hourbellyblastdietreviews.blogspot.com/2018/06/1-hour-belly-blast-review.html but I wasn’t sure.

  7. Alfred

    Very true Julie im with you on this one i recently came across this site that helped me lose weight after a struggle you can check it here http://borisjohnston.com

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