Meditate to Lose Weight

Everyone knows that if you eat too much for a sustained period, you will gain more weight than you want and need. We all know that if you eat less than normal, you will lose weight until there is a balance between what you eat and what you weigh. More in than out equals weight gain. Less in than out equals weight loss. Same in and out equals weight maintenance.

If everyone knows that managing weight is about balancing the in-and-out food energy equation, why is it still so hard for so many people to maintain their target weight?

Exquisite Balance

The answer to that question ultimately lies in one of the most fundamental challenges known to man: the understanding and practical implementation of balance. Balance. Balance is hard. Balance is what keeps astrophysicists up at night, trying to figure out how the different forces of energy in the universe do not obliterate each other and shrink Everything into the size of Nothing. Balance is what global geopolitical government advisors fret over as they measure and predict the outcomes of wars, elections, demographic trends and foreign trade flows. Balance is what drives the decision to crack into the crème brulee after a medium rare Steak and Shiraz. Just a bit of crunchy sweet silkiness to balance out the blood and tannin aftertaste.

The really frustrating thing about balance is that it is super-simple to understand in theory, but super-hard to practice in reality. In theory, juggling is easy: throw two or three balls up with your right hand, catch them with your left and repeat in sequence, taking care to balance your hand movements with the balls’ arc. In practice, it is so hard that people pay money to see other people do it on street corners. In theory, managing national inflation is easy: increase interest rates when inflation goes up, reduce interest rates when inflation goes down. In practice, a whole room-full of prize-winning economists working night and day with terabytes of data cannot not get it right.

To make matters worse, competence in balance is domain-specific, so the best jugglers do not make the best central bankers and vice-versa. You might be able to detect and exploit the slightest market imbalance on the ASX in your professional investment analyst role, yet be unable to balance your calorie intake with your lifestyle.

Live in the Moment

So how can we become better at balancing our diets? One powerful way to appreciate and execute balance in our lives is through mindfulness meditation. Mindful meditation is all about “living in the moment”. When you practice mindful meditation, you stop thinking about the past and the future, and you stop trying to analyse things around you. When you are on the train during your morning commute, you are there on the train in mind as well as body. You are not thinking about your daughter’s ballet performance from the prior evening, or the mid-morning project meeting at work, or pondering the reason why the person sitting next to you is wearing a heavy greatcoat in 30-degree weather.

The moment is where you are right now. The moment is where you spend all of the time in your life

Changing the Shape of your Brain

Mindful meditation has been shown to physically alter the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness, memory and compassion. Physically alter – that means change the shape of. That’s right, meditation changes the shapes of the internal structures in your brain. Your brain actually changes. This is not in some intangible, metaphorical or spiritual sense of difference. The pieces in your brain fit together differently after you practice meditation for a while.

Question: if your brain structures change, are you still the same person? Don’t laugh the question away, it is a real conundrum. There have been a great many documented cases of people whose personalities became almost unrecognisable after they survived brain structural changes. There was a period in the 1940s to 1950s when lobotomy procedures were a popular form of treatment for mental disorders in the United States and Europe. Well over 20,000 people had the procedure carried out, whereby the connections to and from their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that houses personality) were physically disrupted. If you know anything about the history of lobotomies, you will understand the powerful effects on personality and impulse control that brain structure has. The people who survived lobotomies became entirely different (personality-wise) to the people they were before the procedure.

Why are we talking about lobotomies and mindful meditation in the same breath? It is not because mindful meditation is like having a lobotomy, but the fact that changing brain structure can change personality is evidenced by lobotomies and other cases of brain trauma. The changes to brain structure caused by meditation are nothing like the changes to brain structure caused by lobotomy in intensity and effect, but they are nevertheless both changes to the brain structure. Both lobotomies and meditation work to change one’s personality and impulses.

Becoming Balanced

So, what changes does mindful meditation have on one’s personality? In a word: balance. People who practice mindful meditation find that their way of looking at their lives and their reactions to the world around them becomes more balanced. The increased balance brings a measurable decrease in stress and worry. Sleeping becomes much easier and restful. Hormonal balance is achieved without supplementation and natural body rhythms align with the day-night cycle.

When all of those good things happen, guess what happens to eating patterns? That’s right, they become balanced. It becomes much easier to forego the mid-morning latte. The thought of eating the last third of lunchtime lasagne becomes distasteful because your stomach is signalling satiety to your receptive brain. Preparing the slow-cooked evening meal becomes a pleasure to be anticipated, rather than something you try to avoid by ordering a pizza delivery with the extra cola and garlic bread and side of churros. These healthy eating habits are soon felt in your middle when jeans start to slip off and shirts become blousy and you must go shopping for a new wardrobe.

Okay, so mindful meditation might help. How can one get into it? Here are five starters to get you going. If you can try some of these and you find that they help, then you can delve deeper and do your own research into living the mindful life:

  1. Do not get out of bed in alarm. If your alarm or kids or cockatoo wakes you up each morning so that you leap out of bed, heart pounding, then you are getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Choose an alarm that wakes you gently, with the sound of gentle chimes or flute music. Move slowly and calmly as you get out of bed.
  2.  Every morning before you do anything else, look at something natural for a few minutes. A tree, a waterfall, a lawn, a cloud. Nature is fractal, so let your mind dwell on how small things make big things and bigger things.
  3. Try not to multi-task. Eat breakfast before you watch TV or read emails. Don’t eat when you watch TV. Don’t watch TV when you read emails. Concentrate on one thing at a time. If something disturbs you whilst you are doing something else, do not ignore the interruption. Deal with it until it is done before returning to the thing you were doing. Concentration is the basis of meditation.
  4.  Look at what is actually going on, when it is happening. Pretend that you are watching your home sports team in a crowded stadium and its a nail-biter. Nothing else matters except what is happening on the pitch right now. Two minutes ago when the other team scored to take the lead does not matter. Two days from now when your team parades the trophy down main street does not matter. What matters is what is happening right at that moment because the moment determines the past and the future. The past because it won’t matter that the other team scored if your team does well in this moment and wins the game. The future because the parade won’t matter if it does not happen because your team does not do well in this moment. You know this truth about the moment, so all of your attention is on the moment and nothing else. If you are driving to work and the traffic report comes on the radio to let you know about bad delays ahead, the enjoyment of your commute has been badly eroded. Bad traffic or not, your expectation has been negatively charged. You expect trouble, so you try to think of ways to avoid it. You ruminate on why you did not leave earlier, perhaps you start to blame somebody else for taking up your time earlier in the day. When some other frustrated driver cuts in front of you, stress levels increase and you stew all the way to the office. Meanwhile, you are still driving your car along the same road, taking the same amount of time as you would have done if you had not let the traffic report affect you. When you are driving, just drive. Take the time to feel the engine’s vibration through the steering wheel. Think about the small stones that make the road and how they came from deep within the earth when liquid magma became lava from a volcano then cooled to give you something smooth to ride on.
  5. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Compassion for others makes one self-aware and self-secure. When you can see and understand the pressures of work deadlines and family trouble in the lines of your work colleague’s face, you will see and understand your own problems more clearly. When you sense the desperation and frustration in the tone of the CEO’s latest memo to all staff, and realise that she is fighting battles of her own even as you fight yours, you will realise that we are all in the same boat even if not all of us understand it. Help those around you if you can, without being condescending or pitying. Everyone needs help, and everyone needs to help.

If these five things do not sound like meditation, that is because meditation is not just about sitting on a mountaintop in the lotus position. It is a lifestyle habit that takes practice and dedication. Just like watching what you eat and exercising to maintain a healthy weight.

you're currently offline

0