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Why can’t you keep your weight off? — The 8 Essential Rules for Weight Maintenance

29 Oct

Recidivism among dieters has prompted major revisions in treatment methodology as researchers discover the significant contributions of genetics, psychology, and environmental factors to eating behavior. More than 85% of Americans have dieted during their lifetimes, yet the majority of diets offer little flexibility to accommodate the biopsychosocial components of the dieter’s life. Weight regain is virtually inevitable under these circumstances as self-regulation and emotional management deteriorate. No longer can the traditional focus of nutrition from the calories in versus calories out approach; exercise; and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) be considered the gold standard intervention trifecta. Studies report a 98% relapse (weight regain) rate following weight loss. Approximately 50% is gained back after three years and the rest gained back after five years. While discouraging, we can learn a lot from the two percent who are successful maintainers. What do they do? How do they think? Where do they differ in regards to behavior? Research accessing the lived experiences of successful and unsuccessful maintainers offer rich details that those of us who are actively engaged in the weight loss process and preparing to embark into maintenance can begin applying.

 

1.     Be constantly vigilant: The dedication you implement during weight loss must continue during maintenance. The effort you put toward your health cannot stop once you have reached your goal weight. Ask what you are doing now that you are willing to continue with when you achieve your goal. Defensive pessimism, a concept described in the weight loss literature, explains the adoption of an approach with a foothold in reality. Successful maintainers anticipate threats that may occur, know that there will be times they struggle, and plan ahead accordingly. Any goal that is met with commitment is one we will work toward with a “no matter what” attitude. Relying on motivation for goal achievement will lead to disappointment—we will often “not feel like it” or “not want to” do something, but those who keep on keeping on understand the fleeting nature of feelings. With practice, they can more easily move past them and onto how happy and encouraged they will feel if they follow through with what they know is in their best interest. Self-determination theory classifies these types of goals as intrinsic. Weaved into the fabric of our lives, intrinsic goals parallel our core values.

 

2.     Develop a support system: Not only is support the number one factor contributing to well-being and resilience, it is a primary element in maintaining commitment to weight maintenance related behaviors. While research shows that responsibilities in other contexts, such as familial, relationship, career, etc. can create tension that can lead to goal-compromising behaviors, having a support network minimizes the negative effects of goal threats.

 

3.     Challenge your ingrained beliefs and behaviors: Most individuals who have been on and off of diets for most of their lives acknowledge the entrenched beliefs and meanings around food often created in childhood. Food as comfort, food as love, and food as a stress reliever are three of the most commonly held attachments to food. Many of us grew up hearing “clean your plate” or “you can have dessert when you finish your dinner.” Throwing away food was unacceptable. On the other hand, many are brought up in households of abundance. Food was always available and access unconnected to hunger. In essence, it was used as a pacifier when negative emotion was experienced (i.e. getting a cookie from during a time of upset). Successful maintainers become conscious of their motivations to eat and begin rewriting their narratives about food and the relationship they want to have with it.

 

4.     Self-monitor: The National Weight Control Registry is a wealth of information from over 10,000 individuals who have lost and maintained their weight for significant periods of time. Self-monitoring is one behavior you will hear them mention repeatedly as critical to their weight maintenance success. Practical aspects of monitoring include consistent weight tracking, monitoring of portions, engaging in regular exercise, and setting boundaries around eating practices. Emotional monitoring to avoid engaging in stress eating or eating for reasons unrelated to hunger include practicing awareness and management of stress, choosing more effective methods of dealing with negative

emotion, but also being flexible and compassionate with one’s self when setbacks occur.

 

5.     Adopt a growth mindset: Carol Dweck, a researcher from Stanford University, has studied the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset and its impact on goal achievement. Individuals who take steps toward their goals with a growth mindset focus on discovery and exploration and believe that through learning they can develop skills and enhanced knowledge and proficiencies. It encourages persistence and expectations of failure for the purpose of greater success. We learned to walk by falling! A fixed mindset, on the other hand, encourages one to give up easily and reduces the likelihood that grit will be extended toward mastering something new. The concept of neuroplasticity and the manner in which we can be active participants through adulthood in changing our brains should provide ample evidence and motivation to continue learning! The growth mindset spurs individuals to be on the lookout for opportunities, and expansion of one’s biases and normal ways of behaving increases gray matter in the areas that matter most too. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you! Finally, successful maintainers adopt a non-perfectionistic approach. While they may not like failure, they embrace it and give themselves permission to experience it; they allow versus avoid painful emotions and disappointment, thus positioning themselves toward greater pleasure; and they are grateful for their successes.

 

6.     Be structurally flexible: Successful maintainers understand how rigid food rules and depriving themselves of their favorite foods creates more cravings, more urges, and the propensity to binge. They realize that they can’t eat whatever, whenever, but they plan for indulgences in moderation. Structured flexibility gives them a sense of control without the belief that willpower will carry them through the tougher situations. They learn to ask questions of their cravings and check in with themselves to understand what might be driving their urge to eat. They practice recognition of black and white/all or nothing thinking as well as distorted thinking that propels them toward mindless or emotional eating. For example, the use of “I choose not to” versus “I can’t eat that” feels empowering and more intrinsically motivating. Being structured but flexible means having high expectations in combination with the understanding that uncertainty is inevitable and will require reflexivity and responsiveness rather than impulsivity.

 

7.    Develop a toolbox of strategies: Different contexts demand different strategies. What is effective in one situation may not be appropriate for another. But successful maintainers know that they have the choice to change their environments or change the way in which they respond to them. In some contexts, an “if__________, then____________” approach can work well. This is called an implementation intention. For example, “If Don asks me if I want some dessert, then I will say ‘no thank you’ and excuse myself.” In other contexts a more flexible, responsive approach is needed. This could mean drinking more water when a cravings is felt; pausing to really assess physiological hunger; repeating a motivational, empowering mantra; asking a question to increase awareness; and/or slowing down during a meal to fully experience satisfaction and reduce overeating. In essence, successful maintainers create rituals—new patterns of behavior that help to create lasting, meaningful change.

 

8.    Master mindfulness: Successful maintainers describe how they’ve acquired a new sense of themselves—about their bodies, about their minds, and about their lives and what is important to them. As they have practiced opening up to new experiences, objectively assessing their circumstances, and observing their behavior less judgmentally, they see their lives through new lenses. They practice being present, more compassionate, paying attention, deepening their awareness, avoiding avoidance, and intentionality. Through such practices, a successful maintainer can recognize that different identities sit down to eat sometimes – identities based on prior learning, on comparisons of self to others, and ideas about what others believe.

 

Don’t miss out on the discussion! Tell us about your emotional triggers and the biggest difficulties you’ve had as you move toward your goal of weight loss OR if you’re working on keeping it off! What bogs you down and gets in your way?

Starving, Stressed, and Stockpiling

1 Sep

We’re involved in a crisis. It’s epic. It’s huge. Just like we are.

We’re starving. Yet we’re fat. Ironic.

We’re suffering from a severe deficiency. As much as we eat, and we’re lacking nourishment.

Our bodies are deprived and I argue it’s because we’ve lost our minds. Literally.

When I hear “Kori, I’m hungry…all the time”, as a nutrition consultant, I go automatically to the structure of the diet. The nuts and bolts– what are you eating, when are you eating it, how  much are you eating when you’re eating. I’m looking at the blood sugar response they are creating based on these components of their intake. This is not a comprehensive list, of course.

The second place I go though, and the fact that I’m a therapist makes this a bit less daunting for them (or it’s the reason they’ve come to me in the first place), is straight to the heart of the matter. The heart, and what I’d argue is the center of our wisdom. What’s in there is what we’re constantly trying to feed, except the nourishment (or what we’re mistaking for nourishment) we’re giving it often leaves us feeling more empty, more deprived, and more hungry.

So we’re starving. But it’s not for lack of food. We’re starving for contentment, we’re starving for authenticity, we’re starving for connection, we’re starving for competence, we’re starving for worth, we’re starving for freedom, we’re starving for the creative capacity to be ourselves in a world that says we’re not good enough as we are, we’re starving for presence, we’re starving for attention. (By the way, as I was typing this my cat jumped on my lap and didn’t stop meowing in my face until I paid attention to him. The second I met his eyes, even without touching him, and spoke softly to him, he stopped crying, laid down, and fell asleep).

Wrapped up in this spiritual starvation (and by this I just mean the “whole” of who we are) is the stress response. When I say we’re starving for attention, I am not referring to the attention we get from others, although this is likely an unfortunate reality in our automated, digital world, which has us developing less genuine relationships with others; I’m speaking to the attention we’re giving the moments of our lives– the awareness with which we approach each situation, event, person, task, meal. The attention we put into this second, right now determines our embodiment– the essence of our being, how in tune I am to what’s occurring around me and inside of me, and how open I am to experiencing this experience. Sound a bit hokey?

Consider the results of a published in Gastroenterology assessing the concept of “dichotomous listening.” (Imagine being at work and trying to listen to the individual on the phone when your boss walks in and starts talking about some new ideas he’s been wanting to share with you– I know you’ve been there). In this study the subjects were given a mineral drink when in a relaxed state, and then again when exposed to the same sort of situation as the one described above. Absorption for sodium and chloride was tested for both conditions. Absorption in the small intestine occurred at a rate of 100% for the relaxed group. Care to guess the rate for the distracted group?

Zero.

Paying attention to two things at the same time resulted in 0% absorption. (Now think about what happens when you inhale your meal sitting in front of the television with your computer on your lap checking for text messages on your smart phone).

Now back to the stress response. Something similar happens when you’re in fight or flight mode. First, remember how this response came about- it was necessary and useful when we were at risk of being eaten by lions. The threats of the 21st century are far from life-altering. Well, let me rephrase. What we are perceiving as threatening in the activities of our daily lives do not necessitate the kill or be killed reaction. Second, digestion stops when we’re in stress mode. There’s a reason that the opposite mode, governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, promotes “rest and digest”, and aptly, the “feed and breed” activities. When you’re stressed out, all you can think about is sex, right? (I had to go there). Finally, the stress response prompts fat storage through an increase in cortisol production which dumps glycogen, then glucose into the blood stream, causing a subsequent release in insulin, and when insulin is released you cannot burn body fat—it prompts fat storage.

Which brings me to the stockpiling effect. Most of us appear to be living in big bodies, yet we’re not at all operating with big minds. We’re not big thinkers– curious, inquisitive, open, captivated by ourselves and others. No, instead we’re mindless automatons just doing what everyone else is or what everyone else says we should, and eating what others say is best for our bodies with no clue as to the effects. So we’re stockpiling fat and we’re stockpiling meaningless information, and we’re doing it in a less than thoughtful or aware way. Fritz Perls, an 1800’s, astute psychotherapist and father of Gestalt Therapy, said, “awareness cures.” I couldn’t agree more. Particularly when you consider what’s involved with assimilation of the food we eat.

Wrap your brains around this: the cephalic phase digestive response (CPDR) relates to the “experience” of eating– the textures, the aromas, the colors, and the satisfaction surrounding a meal. It is,  in essence, a digestive mechanism that originates from the tops of our bodies– cephalic means “of the head.” Recall the last time you were google-eyed over the brownies you saw on your friend’s Pinterest board  or when you drove by Jimmy John’s (their marketing is brilliant) and caught a whiff of their “free smells.” Catching that fresh baked bread aroma wafting through the air and you may have noticed an instant salivary response. That’s the CPDR in action! Just by noticing a food, smelling a food, and then if you actually decide to eat, and are tasting and chewing the food, your body releases increasing amounts of saliva, gastric and digestive juices, pancreatic enzymes, hormones involved in appetite, and so forth. So this is great, right? Our bodies are pretty darn efficient and know what they need to function well. Except, what if we’re not following Fritz’s advice, and we’re operating like we’re living in the Zombie apocalypse?  Oblivious, stressed out, checked out, and maxed out? And what if we’re freaked out about not losing weight quickly enough or the “right” way? And what if we’re obsessed with the Food Network and spend all of our time stockpiling recipes and drooling over pictures in magazines of meals that we “can’t eat” or “won’t fit our macros” or maybe even making them but stockpiling them for later “when we’re not dieting anymore.”

I’ll bring your full circle. Are you paying attention?

You’ve created the optimal metabolic position for fat storage outside of any caloric considerations.

Nourishment travels far beyond food. Our brains and our minds must experience pleasure through the food, by way of awareness and presence to function in a manner that says, “I’m full.” You know what it feels like when you’ve had a heart to heart with your best friend? You feel full. You feel nourished. There is no gnawing hunger ‘for more’.

We can experience the same and cure our deprivation crisis with awareness.

How’s Your Metabolism?

29 Aug

This past Tuesday, Dr. Joe gave a workshop on metabolic positioning. The goal was to explain how we can set ourselves up in a healthy, physiologically sound, science-based way for maximum fat loss. He explained to our viewers and attendees how the body utilizes carbohydrates and described the 3-stage process of energy usage for sustaining the most optimal metabolic position. The concepts he covered are largely misunderstood. The on-again, off-again nature of diets has people losing and gaining “the same 2 or 3 lbs” every week and banging their heads up against the wall wondering what’s wrong with them that they can’t lose weight.

However, once an individual understands and has applied this knowledge, the body kicks into a metabolic firepower mode. It’s no longer a mystery. “OH! Now I get it!” we’ll hear. “So when I overeat I’m storing energy that my body has to  use before it will go back to burning fat again.” Yep. Great, we’ve got that down.

What happens though when this person–who admits to being an emotional eater, to really struggling with food and acknowledges that he uses food under any circumstance that stirs up uncomfortable emotion, whether it be anxiety, boredom, discouragement, anger–has no concept of his emotional metabolism and how IT can be optimally positioned?

Studies show that at the top of the list among individuals who are obese, who have weight issues and struggle with their food relationships, who have dieted over and over and over again, or who have disordered eating lack one crucial skill– the ability to metabolize their emotions. Call it what you like- emotional eating, stress eating, using food to soothe, disordered eating, binge eating. Food is not being used to nourish. No, it’s a mechanism used to numb, forget, disembody, check out, and step out of life.

Emotional metabolism involves learning about how to change your relationship with food and your understanding of its effect on your body, but more importantly, learning how to change your relationship with yourself.

In so much of my work with clients who have lost significant amounts of weight and have kept it off, the overwhelming sentiment that differentiates them from those who continue losing and gaining is the internal shift they experienced and practiced. They learned how to view their bodies in a new way, to create a home within them, and choosing to live instead of die. They chose life. With all the emotions, hurt, ups and down and all-arounds that come with it, they chose experience. They chose to respond versus react. They chose to explore rather than ignore. They chose to ask rather than attack.

In my own personal journey the turning point was a question about life: “You know you’re killing yourself, Kori?” The walk back to my dorm from Student Health is as vivid as if it occurred yesterday-  my feet felt like cement blocks, the vice around my lungs threatened to squeeze them through my throat, and I choked on my tears. It was in that moment that I chose life.

And now I choose to step up instead of out. I choose to be curious instead of catastrophic. I choose to breathe into being me instead of belittling myself. You have the same choice to make–your metabolic position depends on it.

(Check out my series on Changing Your Relationship with Food as part of my podcast program. Parts 1 & 2 are available on our website).

Don’t Kill the Messenger!

31 May

At the conclusion of my workshop earlier this week one of the participants expressed concern about the utility of a particular tool I’d recommended. I gave everyone 10 different tools to begin putting into practice that would set them on a course toward navigating the barriers we so often trip over and give permission (not often consciously) to minimize our goal persistence.

The tip, BOYCOTT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, suggests that we would do well to become more open to experiencing what life hands us, to pay attention, to slow down, and to savor.

Open to ExperienceBoycotting the zombie apocalypse means we aren’t operating in the misconstrued land of “ignorance is bliss.” No. In fact, deciding to disengage from the automatic pilot mode that so many of us move through our days with, gives us hope for a new level of authenticity and importantly, choosing goals that actually resonate with who we are.

So my workshop attendee’s concern went something like this: “Kori, I’m getting stuck in the part where you talk about letting yourself experience emotion. Like pain. I’m worried that if I let myself feel it, I’ll just wallow in it.”

She related her perceived tendency to stay steeped in emotion, as so many of us do. But not because we’re consciously making a decision to invite it in and acknowledge it… when we get overwhelmed by pain, it is more a function of believing the thoughts that we’ve constructed about the meaning of our pain. And often the thoughts are distorted and untrue.

It is our nature to feel coherent and integrated. You know when you feel uncomfortable– like something is awry. Our bodies signal us through symptoms like an increased heart rate, lack of concentration or focus, or fidgeting. Our thoughts can clue us in to how we might be experiencing a situation as well, for example, “you’ll never finish this project”, or “he’s very angry with you right now.” These thoughts give rise to feelings that manifest in our physical bodies and can cause a host of behaviors. When we’re in zombie land, we move impulsively. We react. If we can slow down when we recognize these cues, we can respond in a more coherent, integrated manner.

It’s not our nature to tend toward wallowing and staying in the center of discomfort- we want to feel like we’re well oiled and calibrated. The body strives toward equilibrium as well. However, if, for instance, my workshop participant grew up in an environment where by staying emotionally engaged and emotionally intense she received attention and nurturing, perhaps her concern is valid. There were positive consequences for her to remain in the emotionally volatile place, despite its being uncomfortable and disintegrating.  Now, in her adult life, such behavior is likely not so effective. She gets to learn a new way of being with her emotion, and still “using it”, but in a different manner.

The pain is the messenger. When we try to push it away versus inviting it in and acknowledging it, we in essence, tell ourselves that we’re unimportant and that our bodies are misguided and we can’t trust them. I read this equation that is helpful to remember: Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Listen and LearnIf we resist the pain, we kill the messenger…and the message. And the messenger can be delivering some astoundingly revelatory and insightful information to us….if we’re willing to listen.

We don’t have to wish for pain or not-so-comfortable experiences. What I am implying is that through the adoption of a more open nature and a boycotting of the zombie apocalypse, you will experience a wealth of benefits including: greater emotional regulation and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances; higher thresholds for experiencing threats or stress; viewing all experiences as opportunities for growth and learning; fewer inclinations toward awareness distracting activities like television, video games, or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating; and the adoption of goals that are not only personally meaningful and relevant, but the ability to pursue them with persistence.

So don’t kill the messenger. The messenger is your friend. And as Carl Rogers once said, “All the facts are friendly” (1961).

D to the I to an E to a T!

27 May

In an effort to expand my limited ‘home-girl’ vocabulary (recall my recent post regarding “hot mess” and “do me a solid”) I’m starting this post with a WHOOP WHOOP, Give me a D to the I to an E to a T! Are we square? (I’m trying- be patient with me please).

Maybe that’s enough for a day…or a lifetime.

You get what it spells though.

Here’s the dealio: I’m giving you, on this Memorial Day, a bit of motivation to get off your butt and get moving. It doesn’t have to be exercise for your body, although that’s icing on the…”ahem….cake”. This exercise is specifically for your brain. I’m offering you a new take on “diet” that does not involve bacon tetris (urban dictionary is awesome).

D: De-fuse to lose

What does this mean? It means get a grip. A loose one. When people diet they tend to white-knuckle it. They hang on for dear life. “Dear God, protect me from the foods that most tempt me. Help me to stay away from what I most love. Give me the grace to turn down what gives me the most pleasure.” Give me a break! All of these statements not only embody a mistake in thinking that the foods you love have to be avoided in order to succeed, but also a FUSION based on emotion and an instant aversion to even want to embark on what could be looked at as a journey to better health.

By fusion I mean a lack of perspective-taking and an overly judgmental identification with the goal. DE-fusion means shifting out of negative, rigid, and absorbed by emotion that has you pinned down and feeling caged, to a useful, open, and flexible approach to your health goals.

And this brings me to the next step. Maybe you don’t even know what your goals are!

I: Identify your Goals

Okay, this may sound like a no-brainer. If you’re dieting the goal is to lose weight. Duh! (Okay, I think that’s a little old school, maybe 8th grade vocab– deal with it). But not so fast. There are few important factors to consider here: 1) While in the beginning, if you’re just setting out on your weight loss endeavor, focusing on the OUTCOME (losing weight) may be healthy, and even effective to increase your motivation. However, as you get into the planning (and research bears that this piece is in fact a mediating factor in the ability to meet a goal successfully– perhaps not surprising again, but it’s amazing how many individuals I work with don’t consider it until later in the game), it’s imperative that you consider focusing on the PROCESS. Each element of dieting can have its own specific goals  that you’re paying attention to, and these are the steps that will get you closer to the ultimate outcome.But if you aren’t intentionally monitoring the small steps in front of you, you’ll trip over them every time.

When identifying your goals, be sure to assess your motivations for them as well. Are they  extrinsic or intrinsic? Theories regarding self-determination used to classify motivation in a pretty black and white manner. We now know that there are many variables at play. With extrinsic motivation (what we usually think of as driven by external factors– we do it, in essence, to avoid contingencies or negative consequences (in this situation, “I’m dieting because my doctor told me to)–we know there are multiple levels. If you’re interested in a brief synopsis, refer to my podcast. But there is a continuum of integration of a goal such that you could be motivated initially by something outside of yourself, but move toward your behavior (i.e. scanning food labels, choosing healthy items when you go out to eat, limiting your intake of empty calories, exercising regularly, you  name it) being assessed as valuable at a core level, because you enjoy it, and you find it satisfying. At this end of the continuum, it is intrinsic and valued for the behavior itself.

E: Engage: Change your Environment or Change your Approach to it

You’ve got a couple different ways of managing your goals and the “barriers” that can present themselves along your path. You can respond, and this embodies a more flexible, adaptive, open, and connected way of navigating your world. Or you can react. You can choose to be impulsive, unaware, non-intentional, and operating on automatic pilot, letting the world run you, and likely becoming dissatisfied with your lack of control. It’s not fun to trip over yourself over and over again. So you can recognize that you have a choice in the matter. You can decide that whatever is in your way can be modified (i.e. your unsupportive partner may just be able to adopt a healthier eating pattern along with you) or you can change the way you approach it (i.e. recognizing that your goal is yours; your partner as the right to eat however he/she wants to).

T: Track Your Thoughts

Try it. Just like you’re writing your food down, start writing your thoughts down. The way you think guides your actions by way of how you feel, and I’m betting that sequence of events is often lost on you. Human nature is to avoid harm, attach to others, and approach rewards. We DO and often forget that it’s our thoughts that guide the movement toward these acts. Our thoughts lie to us and often take on a voice that doesn’t represent what we want to live or how we want to live. They are distorted, black and white, assumptive, and often very mean, lacking compassion, and just plain irrational. I challenge you to start noticing yours.

Now go forth and become weight loss wizards! Tune in tomorrow to my live, STREAMED workshop on 5:30pm CST from The Diet Doc’s home page- the topic: From Diet Disaster to Weight Loss Wizard: Your Top 10 Tools for Banishing Barriers

STOP!!

27 Feb

Stop the MadnessNeed a simple strategy to become more aware RIGHT NOW?

If you struggle with road rage (I often find my ugliest self comes out on the road- what is up with people who pull out without looking?!); feeling like your brain is going to jump out of your skull with racing thoughts; never feeling like you can get ahead with your 10-mile long to-do list; and irritated at the slightest of situations, try this:

When you recognize you’re acting like a crazed person or you notice you’re trying to avoid what’s right in front of you (distracted, eating when you aren’t hungry, for example):

Say to yourself STOP
S: stop and recognize where you’re at and what you’re doing
T: Take a breath…two…even three, big deep ones
O: Observe what’s happening for you in the moment (IN YOUR BODY)…is there tension?  Where?
P: Practice responding in a way that’s congruent and matches your goals.

Your breathing is always with you. Use it to your advantage. Tune into how one big, deep breath changes your physiology and how the tension dissipates. When you are better able to be with your breath, you are more internally aware.

Try doing this a few times a day.

Fit and Focused—Mindfulness Matters

29 Jan

Mindfulness CartoonIf you haven’t yet checked out our new magazine, Alpha–The Evolution of Fitness, I’d snatch it up quickly. Don’t miss a single day that could be used to start creating your best life with cutting edge nutrition, fitness, mindset, and sport information!

In our last issue you were introduced to one of our contributing writers with a photo of him sitting upright yet relaxed in a cross-legged position, his supinated palms resting purposefully on his knees, the thumb and forefingers married intently.  The caption humorously poked fun at his Zen-like posture and its usefulness in capturing the attention of beautiful women. Guys, if you read it and gave it a try, we’d like to hear from you–we may be onto a novel way of match-making! If you haven’t assumed the sitting meditation pose, there are far more reasons than the possibility of discovering your true love. How about finding your truest life?

Those of you who know me are aware of my penchant for everything mindfulness-related. My audio courses and teleconferences teach it; my mental edge program (which, by the way, is not just for competitors) utilizes its principles for the development of optimal emotional intelligence; and while you won’t find me popping a squat in the middle of my office floor at The Diet Doc, you will find me screaming at Joe from below his loft, “You better not be eating and typing at the same time!!” I’m not obsessed, but I am excited. I’ve felt the benefits of mindfulness in my own life and I can tell you it has changed my perception of who and how I am, of what is important, and how I relate to others.  I’m happier, I’m more self-accepting, I’m more successful, I’m less negative, and I can more easily roll with the punches. I’ve never felt healthier. But don’t take it from me. I’m just some wacky, single, mid-30’s cat lady (you’ll understand when you read the magazine)! Read on to learn how mindfulness could make the difference in your life too.

Mindfulness meditation, while it has been around for thousands of years, has been garnering tremendous interest among fitness, health, and medical communities of late. Described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMass, as a compassionate, non-judgmental focus on present-moment experience, mindfulness meditation is among the top six most recommended therapies of complementary and alternative medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in 2006 slightly over 9% of Americans engaged in meditation. That same year almost a million children meditated. School districts across the country are now teaching mindfulness to children in the classrooms, and governor Tim Ryan of Ohio has written a book about how mindfulness has changed his life. He is using his knowledge and experience with the practice, as well as the research behind it to develop the curriculums that many school in his state are implementing.

Mindfulness - You Can't Do it WrongIf you believe meditation in its various forms, and mindfulness in general, is just a rather fruity way of achieving some sort of transcendental spacing out, think again. It is being used  by millions to achieve optimal wellness; to cope with anxiety and stress; to manage emotional pain; to decrease the debilitating effects of depression, insomnia, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; and to manage the psychological effects and treatment of disordered eating and substance abuse, just to name a few. The children who practice it are more emotionally aware, concentrate better in class, and exhibit greater resilience in the face of setbacks. Spacing out has no place in mindfulness—it is all about tuning in.

Fitness influences more than just the muscles beneath your skin that aid in the movement of your skeleton and impact your adiposity, strength, stamina, and flexibility of the shape that is uniquely you. Like the benefits listed above, exercise confers numerous health-related advantages, lowering our risk of many diseases and extending our longevity and quality of life. Consider that for every five points that an individual moves past the 30 point BMI, he/she loses 4% of the gray matter of the brain. That muscle beneath the skull, the one that actually gives us the ability to achieve the balance and proprioceptive skills necessary to lift the dumbbells over our heads, is significantly impacted by our focus on health. But without an intentional and direct emphasis on it, we’re choosing a lack of attention on half of the health equation.

A study published in Neuroimaging revealed that mindfulness increases regional gray matter with 8 weeks of practice and the benefits extend beyond formal practice time. Changes occurred most noticeably in the areas of the brain critical in emotional reactions, learning, memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress (Lazar, et al., 2011). (Those of you who struggle with will-power, poor body image, self-control, and related behaviors, I’d listen up). Sorry folks, the most common reason most people use for avoiding adoption of a fitness routine– “I don’t have time”– just won’t fly here. It’s not a valid excuse when it comes to exercise and nutrition, and I feel the same about it in this situation. All of us can say we don’t have the time. We make it for the things that we’ve deemed important. What’s the point of having a healthy body if you don’t have the mental capacity to appreciate it?

Mindful EatingThose of you who set goals for 2013 to lose weight, exercise more, eat more healthfully, or any combination of the three, and  you’re still plugging away, congratulations. Don’t stop. At any time you may stumble, encounter a setback, or feel less than thrilled with your progress, but these are expectable. If you want to ride the roller coaster of life’s ups and downs more resiliently, however, consider the effects of mindfulness on decision  making. A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2011 found that mindfulness practitioners as compared to those who do not engage in mindfulness, use different parts of the brain for decision-making (Kirk, 2011). Rather than impulsive and emotional reactions, the mindful individuals exhibited greater rationality and objectivity. Other research indicates that one of the most crucial components in successful weight loss and weight loss maintenance is behavioral flexibility. That means you have to be able to step out of your black and white, I-have-to-have-it-this-way-or-it’ll-all-fall-apart mindset, and be able to respond versus react.

Okay, if I’ve not convinced you yet, here are five more compelling reasons to begin incorporating mindfulness into your fitness routine.

  1. Mindfulness enhances immune response through increased antibody production.
  2. Attention, anxiety, memory and mood (say that five times fast!) are each impacted positively with mindfulness practice. Just 4 days of practice is all that’s necessary to increase focused attention, working memory and cognition.
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms decreased by 50% with 10 weeks of mindfulness training in a study published in 2010.
  4. Long-term mindfulness practices results in greater brain volume, less atrophy with aging as compared to individuals who do not engage in mindfulness, and strong neural connections.
  5. Binge eating was shown to decrease by 75% in a study conducted at Duke University with use of a mindfulness program.

The evidence is there. Will you put it into practice?

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