A little over a year ago, I began a daily meditation practice, and it has absolutely changed my life for the better. Not only has it brought a deeper and more consistent sense of calm and control into my life, it has also worked in a number of ways to magnify the success of my pursuit for greater health and weight loss.
Countless weight loss and health regimes do recommend using meditation as a tool in your weight loss arsenal. Still, confusion exists about WHY, and I want to help explain that both scientifically and with my own anecdotal experience!
What does meditation do for you?
The list of benefits brought on by even a single 10-minute session of meditation is huge. Each one of the following is linked to a scholarly article or scientific study on the topic. Meditation:
• Reduces blood pressure
• Decreases pain
• Boosts the immune system
• Brings relief to inflammation
• Contributes to heart health
• Decreases emotional reactivity
• Builds self control & willpower
• Increases focus and concentration
• Reduces depression
• Counteracts stress
• Can help you sleep better
• Puts you in touch with your bodily sensations
And that’s just the beginning! Research has shown that it also physically strengthens your brain and has positive effects on your relationships. Pretty great for something you can pretty much do anytime, anywhere, for free!
So what’s that got to do with weight loss?
When embarking on a weight reduction plan, almost every article out there will recommend examining and reducing your stress levels and getting a good night’s sleep. Part of the theory behind that is to limit the production of cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone”, also referred to as “public health enemy #1” in this article in Psychology Today!
Cortisol is something that we do need in our bodies and it is responsible for helping give us that get-up-and-go feeling in the morning, but TOO much brought on stress can have not-so-helpful effects. It can affect memory, reduce your immune response, and jack up your blood pressure as it triggers your body into the “fight or flight” response.
These days, life generally does not often put us in the path of the kind of threats our fight-or-flight response evolved for. (I have yet to see a single saber-tooth tiger in San Francisco, can you believe it?) Our survival instinct has been honed yet again to be triggered by such mundane things as running late for work, an extra long line at the grocery store, even too much caffeine and the possibly-ensuing bout of insomnia.
Whatever causes your stress, your cortisol and its partner epinephrine’s repeated calls to action can leave you depleted of the tools you need to achieve your goal, AND possibly help pack on some additional poundage. Meditation can help fix that. Even just a few deep breaths “engages the Vagus nerve which triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol.”
Ummm, okay. That’s cool. What’s it got to do with weight loss again?
So I am writing from the perspective of a gal who tried just about every method out there for weight loss, while living a very high stress lifestyle. Self-employed, perfectionist, always in a time crunch, definite road-rager (meaning, I swear frequently in my car, not anything truly vengeful or violent btw…), wearing the smiling mask of a service industry professional while slaying dragons and absorbing the emotions and anxiety of my clients. I think I was actually FUELED by cortisol and adrenaline, and my weight continued to climb no matter what I tried.
One of my former employees suggested I “just relax”, and my inner response was “WHO HAS TIME TO RELAX?!?”. And so I kept plugging away with fruitless actions, while what my body really craved was inaction. My life continued this way for a few more years, until both I and my adrenals were just so exhausted, we almost couldn’t take it anymore.
And then, I met The Presence Process by Michael Brown. (Thank you, Eileen!) Coincidentally, I had decided to start eating Keto a week before AND was easing back into work after a month of relaxation with my family in Rhode Island. The combination of the calm starting state that left my body prepared to “let go” and the daily reinforcement of calmness proved to be a wondrous combination.
After one month of fairly “Lazy Keto”, which is the method I advocate for the first month of starting a Keto program and which I will cover in my next blog post, I was down 14 pounds (~6.4 kgs)! I was seeing a number on my scale that I hadn’t seen in ages. As if that wasn’t reassuring enough, I also felt more in control of my life, emotions, hunger, cravings, and concentration than ever before. While the lifting of brain fog and reduction in hunger are common side effects of the diet itself, I believe the rest had more to do with my twice-daily 15-minute meditation sessions.
Nine ways meditation has shaped MY life in the past year
Now that I have been practicing daily meditation for over a year, I can identify specific ways that it has helped me on my journey.
1. My automatic response to a stressful situation is no longer to reach for food, but to take deep breaths and/or a mini one-or-two-minute meditation break. I love that I have been able to so drastically change my methods for self-soothing!
2. I have a much more communicative relationship with my own body. My ability to identify sources of pain, inflammation, and water retention has been super-honed, and it is much easier for me to identify helpful remedies, as well.
3. I generally notice how my body reacts to different types of foods within minutes instead of wondering where any sort of extra energy or malaise comes from hours later.
4. My car rides are no longer fraught with stress or anger because my tolerance for minor annoyances has risen dramatically. In other words, I have tamed my cortisol response!
5. My relationships in real life are more joyful and full of love because I enjoy the shared moments as they are in the present.
6. Life is happier. I am kinder and gentler with myself and I am much less likely to compare myself to others. It’s a huge relief to be on my OWN journey instead of trying to recreate somebody else’s!
7. I worry less about the future and spend a lot less time dwelling on the past, instead focusing on and reveling on my life right now. This is unbelievably helpful in reducing anxiety.
8. Meditation brings me the calm to stay focused on my goals, and I no longer get tempted by short-term pleasures that previously used to plague me – like french fries!
9. It has helped me become a champ at setting healthy boundaries, as I first got to practice with MYSELF by repeatedly setting aside “me time” during which I would put my phone into airplane mode and put my own needs first for once, if only for 15 minutes at a time.
It’s all about #9…
This is the biggest one, guys. I was trained from a very young age that the fulfillment of my own needs only came AFTER everybody else’s were taken care of. It is honestly part of what made me such a stellar and adaptable chef, so I no longer look at this schooling in a negative light. I do understand my past behaviors a lot better, though.
As I read the stories of other women on the weight loss path, I notice that self-sacrifice is a pretty common denominator. While we may indeed have familial or work responsibility to care for others, WE also need to be taken care of if we want to have our optimal health, bodies, and lives. Like the safety briefing when you’re flying, you need to put your OWN oxygen mask on before attempting to help someone else. I
Some may judge this view as selfish, and the folks who are used to you always saying yes (even when it inconveniences or hurts you) SURE AS HELL are NOT going to like this new behavior. You may get a lot of pushback, negative comments, and name calling. But take a minute right now to imagine an emergency scenario where a trauma has occurred to somebody you care about. Would you be able to run the distance to get help? Could you breathe through your shock to stay focused on comforting a victim?
In both of the cases where you are helping someone else, you still have to be in good shape either physically or mentally to do so. It is NOT selfish to put your own health and welfare first. Ultimately it is healthier for you and everyone around you.
This point was driven home by a recent CPR class I took, where the first rule upon approaching a victim as a first responder is to ensure that the scene is safe for you to approach. Why? Because you can’t help anybody else if you get hurt. And then two people need help instead of one!
Saying “yes” to this one healthy behavior over and over makes saying “no” to the unhealthy ones SO much easier. And that, my friends, is boundary setting at its finest!
My tips for beginners:
Identify a time of day where you can be relatively undisturbed and quiet. For me, this is first thing in the morning before most of the world wakes up. For one of my friends, it is later in the day when her children are at school.
Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. This is easier than the cross-legged on-the-floor position we often see because frankly, that can make your legs fall asleep and/or get really uncomfortable, especially if you have a lot of extra meat on your bones! Sitting in a chair with feet flat on the ground and hands gently clasped in your lap pretty much guarantees continued good circulation and at least decent posture.
Set a timer and start small. When you first begin, time may either crawl or go very fast. So you don’t have to keep checking your phone or clock, use a timer to let you know when you are done whether you set it for 5, 10, 15 minutes or more.
Silence your phone. It’s not very long to silence the beeps, bloops, dings, and rings. It wasn’t THAT long ago when cell phones both didn’t exist and weren’t the almost-omnipotent smart phones they are today. Not hearing the notifications that your post got a new like for 5 minutes or more is not going to kill you. In fact, you may start to like it!
Close your eyes. There are many meditation practices that encourage open eyes, but if you are totally new, closing your eyes is another way to minimize distractions.
Put in ear plugs or wear headphones. Again, this is just a way to minimize auditory distractions and is not necessary. If you’re doing your meditation while you have a baby sleeping nearby, of course leave your hearing unobstructed!
Focus on your breath. As you inhale through your nose (or mouth if you are congested), silently count to four, or five, or six in your head. Hold for a beat at the end, and then silently count to the same number as you exhale. Repeat this process over and over.
It is going to be more difficult than it sounds, and your mind will wander and think about things like shopping lists, what you’re going to eat next, or an article you read in some magazine last week. The thoughts are totally arbitrary, and you will not be able to stop them. The point is not to STOP your thoughts, but not to focus on them. Think ‘em! And then return to your breath and don’t let the thought get carried down the mental rabbit hole. Note – I still work on this EVERY DAY, after over a year of dedication. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it.
No matter what, just remember consistency is key. Meditation is a mental workout. And like with any workout, you only see and feel results when you do it consistently. Maybe consistency for you is 1 – 2 times per week when you start. It’s a great start! Because you started in the first place! Work up to every other day and then every day. Trust me – you will not regret it.
In this wonderful technologically advanced time, if you do not yet feel you have the power to do this on your own, there are amazing free phone apps like Calm, iSleep, and Headspace that can be used to help you meditate. YouTube and Vimeo also have COUNTLESS guided meditation tracks and videos. You can probably even buy guided meditations via iTunes.
By all means, if any of these is going to help you start meditating, use them! They are excellent options. I just want you to start in the first place.
On your mark, get set, OM!
I hope this post has helped convince you that meditation is a worthwhile practice that can totally boost all the positive results of your Keto journey! It has the power to assist virtually ANY health journey, but has definitely played a significant role in both my continuing 40+ pound loss over the last year AND my overall happiness, relationships, and well-being. I want you to have these same victories, too!
Do you have any lingering questions about meditation or experiences you want to share? Let me know in the comments!