Last week I wrote a post my Facebook Page and it went viral. I wrote: If there was a pill that was FREE, had NO negative side effects, AND was PROVEN to reduce stress and boost happiness, would you take it? What if you had to sit still for 10 minutes to ingest it?
Can you guess what the “pill” is? I suppose the photo gives it away, but—it’s meditation.
And you know what I didn’t even include among its benefits? Weight loss! It will also help you lose weight! If I had mentioned that, the post would REALLY have gone viral, right?
Here’s what I want you to know: Under stressful conditions the body produces large amounts of cortisol and other hormones that literally block insulin receptors. And when your body performs this little chemistry experiment, guess what happens? It stores calories as fat instead of using them for energy.
The inability to relieve stress creates the inability to lose weight!
I have many clients who maintain low calorie diets and work out at the gym consistently, but they still struggle with their weight. When you look at their life as a whole you can see they’re juggling a million to-do’s from work to family, so you can imagine that they’re stressed out, marinating themselves in high levels of cortisol.
If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know I look at any circumstance or condition as a “symptom” for an underlying need, usually a thought that needs to be changed in order to get relief.
Extra weight, in my opinion, is a symptom of underlying stress. Once you remove or find relief for the stress-inducing circumstance, your body will stop producing so much cortisol, and the weight will naturally come off.
The saddest thing about not addressing stress is that when women drastically restrict their calories or push themselves to do cardio every day and then don’t lose weight, they feel terrible about themselves, like there is something wrong with them.
Of course, I want you to eat a sensible diet and get daily cardio, but more than anything, I want you to stop feeling bad about yourself. And I bet that if you do feel bad about yourself, my “weight as a symptom of underlying stress” may be resonating with you.
But here’s the thing: I’ve recommended this approach to a lot of my clients. And yet again and again they will eschew the breadbasket and hop on the treadmill, and completely dismiss the need to carve out 10 minutes a day to meditate.
Really. 10 minutes. That’s all it would take. So why don’t they do it? Maybe meditation seems too difficult because they don’t know how, or they’ve tried before and they didn’t like it. Maybe this describes you.
I’ve had many clients say to me, “I can’t meditate.” A lot of people may have been exposed to approaches to meditation which felt awkward, or just overly spiritual or dogmatic, and they recoiled and rejected it.
So let’s start with the first obstacle: How do you meditate? People often make meditation sound like something only a Yogi sitting in an ashram could do. But it’s actually quite simple. You sit comfortably in a quiet place and you pay attention to your thoughts.
That’s it. You listen to your thoughts. You get the hang of what it feels like to just let your thoughts and emotions be there. All sorts of stuff may run through your head, from stuff you forgot to do to the song you heard yesterday on the radio, but rather than squelch them or obsess over them, the point of meditation is to acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to being here.
As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, once put it (in a lecture entitled “When Things Fall Apart”):
In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal—quite the opposite. We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. “This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s always with us” is really a most profound instruction. Just seeing what’s going on—that’s the teaching right there.
Now for the second obstacle of not liking it or it not working: I’ve had a lot of clients say, “I did it once, and it didn’t work.” So you must understand that meditation is not a silver bullet. It’s is not something where you say, “Okay, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to lose 2-3 pounds in the first week.” It’s more like training a puppy—and anyone who has done that knows how many setbacks that involves.
Here’s the thing: Meditation is a practice. If I sat you down in front of a piano, opened up a beautiful piece of music by Mozart and then just said, ‘Play’, you would think I was nuts, right? And if at that point you said, “I can’t,” and I started berating you for not being able to play this extraordinary piece of music, you’d think I was completely off the wall.
When it comes to meditation and mindfulness, that’s what we do to ourselves. We say, “Just pay attention to my thoughts, huh? Piece of cake.” And then, when the buzzer goes off and we realize we just spent 10 minutes obsessing over how we’re going to get the house ready for a visit from the in-laws, we’re pretty hard on ourselves.
They’re just thoughts, we think. We should just be able to sit down and, without any practice at all, let them go.
But it really is like learning an instrument. It takes a commitment over time, it takes a commitment to sit and do it every day. And as you do this, it gets easier. It gets easier to observe thoughts without getting drawn into them. It gets easier to let thoughts go and just be. It starts to become more comfortable, and the impact becomes extraordinary without our really intending it to become so.
So plan to meditate every day. Decide what will work for you. I may only meditate for 5 minutes some days—but I never meditate for more than 15 minutes. I’ve even learned to be meditative while I take care of other things, like washing dishes or folding laundry.
The important thing is to develop a daily practice of becoming aware of your thoughts. You develop awareness that you are not your thoughts. You start understanding that some of your thoughts create a lot of stress.
Read that again: Your thoughts create your stress. You probably thought, as a lot of people do, that a particular circumstance (the bills you can’t pay, the husband who said something thoughtless, the kid who is struggling in school) is what’s causing your stress. But it’s not. It’s your thoughts about that circumstance.
And by changing your thoughts about that circumstance, you can change the way you feel. You can decrease your stress. Which will decrease the levels of cortisol in your body. Which will help you lose weight. And you can do it without counting calories in (food) or calories out (exercise). How cool is that?!
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