- Meditation is an ancient practice that encompasses a variety of methods designed to calm the mind and enhance both mental and physical well-being.
- More research works on the effect of meditation on eating habits and weight loss has emerged in recent years.
- Though recent research results are mixed, some reviews suggest that meditation can positively affect eating habits and may help support weight loss in some people.
For some, the term “meditation” conjures an image of a person sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed, trying to clear their mind while silently repeating their chosen mantra or phrase. Though meditation does encompass breathing and relaxation techniques like this, today, there is a much more diverse body of meditation and mindfulness practices that can help to reduce stress and improve overall health.
Mindfulness is one arm of modern meditation interventions. Research shows that meditation that incorporates mindfulness and/or mindfulness-based eating techniques may help to improve eating behaviors and support weight loss. Importantly, the results of existing research are mixed, and some studies show that people who reap the best weight loss benefits from meditation are those with eating-related behaviors, including binge, emotional, or restrained eating.
In this article, I’ll cover what meditation is, what types of meditation exist, and what benefits you might experience from incorporating meditation into your routine. I’ll also explain how well meditation works for weight loss and whether other mindfulness techniques can help to support weight loss.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is an ancient practice rooted in Eastern traditions. The primary goals of meditation include integrating the body and mind, relaxing the mind, and improving overall well-being. For many, meditation is a regular self-care practice.
Because there are many ways to incorporate and approach meditation, it is regarded as an accessible, self-care resource. It can include breathing and relaxation techniques as well as a larger spiritual practice. In Western spaces, people may turn to meditation to help manage stress and anxiety, resolve conflicts, control impulses, and improve memory and resilience.
Surveys indicate that more and more adults in the United States are picking up meditation and mindfulness practices. One survey from 2017 shows that the number of US adults who practiced some type of meditation tripled from 2012 to 2017 to 14.2%. Meditation and mindfulness have also become popular programs in schools, workplaces, and the military, helping people reduce stress and improve their daily lives.
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Types of Meditation
There are several types of meditation used today. Some of these common types of meditation include:
- Mantra-based meditation: Mantra-based meditation (MBM) is a type of meditation that focuses on a repeated phrase or mantra. This mantra can have religious or spiritual significance but can also be a phrase outside of religious context. The intention of MBM is to use the sounds of a repeated mantra to help override mental speech and subconscious thoughts that can often impact or increase mental stress. Transcendental meditation, which focuses on the repetition of non-religious mantras, is one of the most common forms of MBM. Other forms of MBM include Benson relaxation, Jyoti meditation, clinically standardized meditation (CSM), and ACEM meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a popular type of meditation that focuses on training your focus, attention, and acceptance. Though specific techniques can vary, one of the goals of mindfulness meditation is to help you tune into the present moment. Techniques to help you tune into the present moment can include focusing on the breath, the physical sensations of the body, feelings that arise, and your immediate physical surroundings. After focusing on these sensations, mindfulness helps you to learn how to observe these qualities without judgment. In other words, mindfulness practices are aimed at helping you observe and tune into the present without reacting to any sensations or feelings that arise in the moment. Types of mindfulness practices and interventions include mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based eating. Mindfulness techniques can also be incorporated into yoga practices.
- Spiritual meditation: Spiritual meditation can encompass the techniques used in MBM or mindfulness meditation but with an integral religious or spiritual component. People who practice spiritual meditation may practice on their own or in a spiritual community.
Benefits of Meditation
The popularity of meditation and mindfulness outside of Eastern spaces has grown in recent years. As a result, there has been an increase in research on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on mental and physical health. Several studies, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses have shown that different types of meditation can lead to a wide array of benefits in some people, including:
- Reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Reducing chronic stress
- Reducing chronic pain and improving pain management
- Reducing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms
- Improving attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms
- Improving sleep quality and insomnia symptoms
- Improving overall mental health (including in people with cancer)
- Improving cardio-metabolic factors
- Supporting substance use disorder treatment
- Managing eating behaviors
It’s important to note that some research shows that meditation can have adverse effects on some people, including an increase in depression or anxiety. One review from 2020 found that about 8% of participants experienced a negative effect after practicing meditation. These findings suggest that meditation can affect people differently. Before starting meditation, it’s important to weigh its potential benefits and risks for you and your health.
Does Meditation Work for Weight Loss?
There have been several studies published in recent years examining the effects of mindfulness and meditation on managing weight and eating behaviors. Though the results of existing research is mixed, there are some things to keep in mind if you’re interested in incorporating meditation for weight loss:
- In a systematic review of 18 publications, people who incorporated mindfulness-based interventions into their lives, including meditation, lost an average of 3.5% of their initial body weight.
- The same review found that mindfulness-based interventions can be especially effective at managing certain eating behaviors, such as binge-eating.
- One randomized clinical trial from 2016 found that mindfulness-based eating and stress management practices did not increase weight loss in individuals already following a diet and exercise program but that these practices may promote long-term improvement in some aspects of metabolic health, including fasting glucose levels.
More research is needed to determine whether meditation is an effective treatment for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. However, existing research shows that in some people, meditation and other mindfulness-based practices can help to improve their relationship with food and eating as well as specific aspects of their metabolic health.
How to Use Meditation for Weight Loss
Anyone can start a meditation practice. Depending on what type of meditation you’re interested in, most people can jump-start their practice at home either with the support of a meditation app or by dedicating a particular time and space for the practice. In order to improve the likelihood that you stick with your new practice, it’s a good idea to pick a short period of time each day (for example, before breakfast or after dinner) to devote to meditation.
Whether you’re incorporating a mantra or focusing on mindfulness techniques like breathwork to bring your attention to the present moment, remember to start small, get comfortable, and be patient with the process. If you find yourself at a loss for how to get started, don’t hesitate to look for additional resources online or ask through your provider.
If you’re interested in a mindfulness-based intervention to help improve your relationship with food and eating and or to support weight loss, reach out to your healthcare provider for extra guidance.
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Other Mindfulness Techniques for Weight Loss
In addition to meditation, there are other mindfulness-based techniques that can help to improve your mental and physical health. Some of these techniques may also work to support weight loss in some people. These techniques include:
- Intuitive eating
- Acceptance-based behavior therapy
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can you lose weight by meditation?
Existing research on meditation’s impact on weight loss is mixed, but there are some studies, analyses, and meta-reviews that show that meditation may help some people to lose a modest amount of weight. In particular, mindfulness-based eating techniques can be especially helpful in improving certain eating behaviors that can lead to weight gain, including binge eating.
Can meditation reduce belly fat?
There isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that meditation can help to reduce belly fat. However, meditation can provide a wealth of other benefits, including improved mood and mental health, better quality sleep, reduced pain, improved memory and cognitive resilience, and reduced stress.