How to Use Mindfulness to Lose Weight
Learn to pay attention to the physical sensation of hunger.
Posted Jul 18, 2018
First things first. Not everyone who might be categorized as overweight needs to lose weight or can lose weight. In addition, for medical reasons, some people need to eat whenever they’re hungry. And finally, there’s no need for everyone to be thin! As for weight gain, there can be many different causes, and any significant gain (or loss) in weight should be reported to your doctor.
I’ve had my ups and downs with weight during my life—that typical experience of losing weight only to gain it back. And then starting the cycle over again.
My current challenge is that I’m on a medication for my chronic illness that has the side-effect of stimulating my appetite beyond what would be considered a reasonable amount of food per day for most people.
As a result I suddenly found myself 10 pounds heavier, and some of my clothes started to feel tight. To be honest, I mostly didn’t want that extra weight because I didn’t want to have to buy new clothes. And so, I decided to see if I could use my mindfulness skills to put a stop to my overeating.
The challenge was to figure out how to eat less even though I’m on a medication that stimulates my appetite. (And, of course, eating less could be a challenge for reasons not related to a medication; for example, it could be for emotional reasons.)
I didn’t want to try a weight-loss diet because I’ve been on many of them over the years, and they seldom work. And I can’t do weight-loss type exercises due to my illness. Despite these two considerations, I know from experience anyway that only one thing works for me when I’m trying to lose weight: eating less. I lose weight when I eat less, and I gain weight when I eat more.
This takes me to my mindfulness discovery. It’s in two steps:
1. Become mindful of the physical sensation of hunger.
In the past, feeling hungry automatically triggered for me a trip to the kitchen to get something to eat. Or, if I was working on losing weight, I’d try to force myself not to eat; this sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t but, when it worked, it made me cranky and irritable.
With this new mindful practice, instead of automatically heading for the kitchen whenever I’m hungry, I stop, take a few conscious breaths—paying attention to the physical sensation of the breath as it comes in and then goes out of my body. This puts me in touch with my body, which enables me to notice what hunger feels like physically. It’s a very definite sensation. Sometimes I’ll even speak silently to myself: “This is what hunger feels like.”
So, that’s the first step: Become aware of what hunger feels like in your body. Here’s the second step:
2. Become mindful that the physical sensation of hunger is the sensation of losing weight.
Having become familiar with what hunger feels like in my body, I then reflect on how this physical sensation of hunger—which I’d always treated as a negative, unpleasant one—is the sensation of losing weight.
Reframing the physical sensation in this way changes what I’ve always thought of as an unpleasant sensation into one that makes me feel good emotionally because it means I’m well on my way to losing weight!
If I’ve had a particularly rough day and think that a special snack will make me feel better, I go ahead and pamper myself by eating something. To me, this comes under the “be nice to yourself” maxim I wrote about in “The First Step to Take When You’re Having a Rough Day.” Almost all good rules should have an exception or two, and a rough day qualifies in my opinion.
On most days though, when I stick to these two steps, instead of going to the kitchen when I feel hungry, I’m able to enjoy the physical sensation of losing weight. And emotionally, it feels like a major accomplishment to be able to use mindfulness in this way, as opposed to being on automatic pilot and heading for food whenever I’m hungry.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, there are lots of reasons why people weigh what they do. Some people—given their body chemistry and/or genetic factors—can’t lose weight no matter how hard they try. In my opinion, that’s fine. If you can’t lose weight, love your body as it is. No “one shape fits all.”
That said, I offer my little discovery as something that just might work for you or someone you know.
And that 10 pounds I gained? I’ve taken 6 of them off.