Losing Weight the Mindful Way

I thought I’d won the battle once and for all. After consuming no more than 1,300 calories a day and working out six days a week (three of them at a very intense boot camp) the summer before last, I’d lost just over 20 pounds. Once I’d lost all the weight I wanted to lose, I planned to increase my caloric intake by a few hundred calories (for maintenance), adhere to my fitness regimen, and enjoy my slender physique for years to come.

Not quite. By the following summer, I’d gained back most of the weight I’d worked so hard to lose. Tired of the drudgery, I’d stopped going to boot camp—which meant I wasn’t getting weighed every other day anymore. And without having to be accountable to a trainer and a scale, I stopped being vigilant about counting calories. Over time, I began eating sweets here and there, and, well, you know the rest.

It frustrates me that I find myself in this position again, but it’s not surprising. The truth is that I cannot spend my life counting the calories in every morsel of food I put in my mouth. It makes socializing far too complicated. What’s more, I hated boot camp. I liked how I looked and felt as a result of it, but I’m not going to spend my life working out in such an intense and militaristic fashion. I’ve yet to find a form of exercise I really enjoy.

If I’m ever going to lose 10 or 15 or 20 pounds and keep them off, I have to find a lifelong way of eating and working out. My problem is that—as with every other time I’ve lost weight—the lifestyle changes I’ve made just aren’t sustainable.

And yet sustainable lifestyle change is exactly what this study is touting when it comes to weight loss. Two groups of adults at risk for diabetes participated in a trial on lifestyle interventions. The control group received advice on healthy eating and exercising from a dietician four times over a period of three years, while the intervention group consulted with a dietician about healthy eating and exercise 15 times over three years. That group was also given pedometers and invited to group meetings that included exercise.

At the end of three years, the intervention group had not only lost more weight than the control group, but had sustained its weight loss through the end of the trial, which suggests that people lose more weight and keep it off when they create sustainable lifestyle change through an intervention plan as opposed to receiving general advice on healthy living.

The findings are of no surprise to Aruni Nan Futuronsky, faculty member for The Kripalu Approach to Diet: An Integrative Weight-Loss Program. “Lifestyle is the problem and lifestyle is the solution,” Aruni says. “Without addressing it, change isn’t sustainable.”

Aruni says diets focus on behavior modification, but they don’t address what causes someone to overeat, for example. “It’s essential to look at the deeper imbalance in your lifestyle,” she explains. “What are you really hungry for? This is the question that’s life-changing for many of our guests. Addressing this while looking at issues of nutrition, movement, and stress reduction is a powerful avenue for transformation.”

Eating less and exercising more is part of the solution, and it helps to have the support of an expert, and a community that can help you stay on track. But Aruni says there’s more to it than that.

“Just slipping into action mode is not enough,” Aruni notes. “Mindfulness working alongside right action creates sustainable change. You have to be where you are for change to happen. It’s essential on this journey.”

Portland Helmich is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

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