The history of using mindfulness to address a variety of medical and psychological conditions dates back about 35 years. It traces its roots to Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. This method, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, has been studied extensively and has shown consistent and impressive results in treating a range of medical and psychological conditions.
Just recently, The British Journal of Psychiatry published a study that found that mindfulness-based group therapy was as successful as the standard cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating depression, anxiety, stress, and adjustment disorders. In an article published in Medscape, doctors point out that adding mindfulness as an evidence-based treatment offers people another tool in the toolkit of how they go about treating their problems without relying on psychotherapy.
When it comes to weight loss (as well as addictive behaviors), group support and counseling have a long history of success, yet mindfulness is not a formal part of the protocol.
I believe that the benefits of mindfulness can be equally successful in helping people lose weight, either in group or individual coaching. Looking at weight from a holistic perspective, it is clear that stress and other negative emotions fuel emotional eating. Thirty-five years of research says that mindfulness is an effective way to handle these emotions. And from my personal perspective, twenty-five years of study and practice have shown that mindfulness is one of the best ways to develop self-compassion, patience, and the ability to tolerate the ups and downs of life that often drive people to seek comfort in food.
Just the other day, I had a particularly stressful day. One of those days where it seems like all the stressors in life got in line and started knocking at my door. That night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I had a hard time unwinding despite running 2 miles on the treadmill and doing mindful breathing practice.
I thought: “If I was still prone to seeking comfort in food, now would be when I would do just that. But instead I am stuck sitting here with these negative feelings, worries, etc. Lucky me!” However, I simply did not have the impulse to numb myself with food. Years and years of practice have gotten me used to riding the waves of emotion like a surfer, and of knowing that food is not going to truly make me feel better. Of knowing that “this will pass” even while in the midst of the unpleasant “this.”
And in fact, it did pass relatively quickly. About twenty minutes of feeling stressed trailed off into a decent night of sleep. And the next day was a new day. This is the fruit of a regular mindfulness-practice, and this is why I feel so strongly that the skill of mindfulness, if practiced regularly, can be a powerful tool in the weight loss toolkit.