Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have found an association between yoga and mindful eating. It turns out that people who practice yoga regularly are more mindful of what they eat and that can play a key role in long-term weight maintenance.
The study was prompted by initial findings reported four years ago by Dr. Alan Kristal, P.H., and colleagues, who found that regular yoga practice might help prevent middle age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight. At the time, the researchers suspected that the weight-loss effect had more to do with increased body awareness, specifically a sensitivity to hunger and satiety than the physical activity of yoga practice itself.
"In our earlier study, we found that middle-age people who practice yoga gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who did not. This was independent of physical activity and dietary patterns. We hypothesized that mindfulness – a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga – could affect eating behavior," said Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
The researchers found that people who ate mindfully – those were aware of why they ate and stopped eating when full – weighed less than those who ate mindlessly, who ate when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression. The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but found no association between other types of physical activity, such as walking or running, and mindful eating. They reported the findings in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
According to a report released last week by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, U.S. obesity rates went up in 28 of the 50 states; only the District of Columbia reported a reduction. The rise in obesity rates has been sharp in the last 20 years. Despite the U.S. obsession with weight control and body image, more than two-thirds of states now have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. Obesity has been linked with heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Kristal, a yoga enthusiast for the past 15 years, said that yoga cultivates mindfulness in a number of ways, such as being able to hold a challenging physical pose by observing the discomfort in a non-judgmental way, with an accepting, calm mind and focus on the breath. "This ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating more even when the food tastes good and not eating when you’re not hungry," he said. "Beyond calories and diets, mindful eating takes a more holistic approach that can empower individuals to build positive relationships with food and eating.”
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.