As a family physician, healthy living coach, and formerly overweight person, I find myself besieged with questions about the secrets to successful weight loss. Often people want to know if the magic pill has been invented to melt the pounds away without them doing anything to change their behavior. To their disappointment, I tell them there is no effortless cure for the weight challenged; anyone telling you otherwise is selling a gimmick. However, a miracle solution for the struggle with overweight and obesity does exist for those willing to open their hearts and minds to a different approach; it is mindfulness.
The biggest challenge my overweight and obese patients face is that their minds do not live within their bodies. Some of them will admit that their awareness exits shortly after awakening each morning and hangs ensnared in the stressful details of their overstuffed schedules until they collapse in exhaustion at the end of the day. No energy remains for exercise or preparation of a nutritious meal. With consciousness floating about elsewhere, these unfortunate people are left dangerously unaware of their own basic needs. Not surprisingly, they lose contact with their normal bodily rhythms, and for this, they suffer inadequate rest, non-nutritious food, and insufficient physical activity. These poor choices result in excess weight, mood disturbances, chronic pain, and ultimately life threatening consequences.
Lost and stressed out, these people find they don’t feel well, so they do what our culture tells us will alleviate discomfort. They drug those unpleasant feelings with distractions of every kind: calorie laden food, cigarettes, alcohol, television, video games, shopping - anything to keep the awareness of pain away. With time, their magnificently designed bodies can no longer cope, and the downward spiral descends.
When your mind lives away from your body, you become ignorant of:
My prescription for these maladies of body, heart, and mind is a healthy dose of mindfulness administered as many times a day as is tolerable.
Mindfulness has served as a powerful antidote to all sorts of unhappiness and unease in my life since I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Peace Is Every Step. His teachings spoke to me when I was struggling with intolerable anxiety and depression and a very unhealthy lifestyle involving excess alcohol and food. I hoped to learn how to break free from the intense mental afflictions that characterized my life at that time; as a major bonus, I found that integrating Thay’s teachings on mindfulness into my daily routine gently revolutionized my entire outlook and lifestyle.
This daily practice of mindful awareness has transformed my perspective to one of deep abiding gratitude for my body, my consciousness, my place in the world, my fellow world inhabitants, and my planet. The healthy changes in my behavior, which resulted in a sustained 40 pounds weight loss, naturally evolved from the way I felt inside.
Mindfulness saved my life.
When you eat mindfully, you naturally begin to:
When you live in your body mindfully, you naturally begin to see what an amazing physiological masterpiece it is and let it do what it was designed to do: work, move, and play.
Obviously, the applications for Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness to the challenge of achieving a healthier weight abound. I wholeheartedly recommend the daily practice of frequently returning your awareness home to the present moment as a fundamental guiding principle when designing your healthier lifestyle. With regular mindfulness practice, words like simple, natural, joyful, inspiring, and sustainable begin to make sense.
The weight “struggle” dissolves, leaving the “journey” to unfold.
Guest blog by Melanie Lane, MD