If Just Saying NO Isn't Working, Trying Saying OM Instead.

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Do you have trouble just saying NO to your sweet tooth, or your Inner Couch Potato when s/he really wants to skip that exercise session you've got planned? Well, maybe NO isn't really the word you should be using.

Trying saying OM instead.

That's the advice of some psychologists who have been studying the potential benefits of meditation for people who are trying to lose weight.

A couple years ago, Jean Kristeller, PhD, a psychology professor at Indiana State University, and Ruth Quillian-Wolever, PhD, clinic director and clinical health psychologist of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine, conducted a randomized clinical trial using mindfulness meditation as an intervention for weight gain and obesity, particularly for binge-eating problems, and found that the approach was helpful. That research is described in this book chapter (link goes to a downloadable PDF).

More recently, this study found evidence of actual physical changes in the brain associated with meditation, which may help explain how it helps.

The meditation techniques used in these studies are variations on Buddhist vipassana meditation (aka mindfulness meditation), the basic goal of which is "to see things as they really are," without attaching negative or positive judgments to them. The practitioner of this form of meditation sets out to "empty" her mind of all the busy thoughts that constantly intrude and demand attention, usually by focusing on the breath or a mantra. When thoughts inevitably show up, the idea is not to resist or stop them--it's simply to notice them and allow them to go on their way without getting caught up in them emotionally, or passing judgment on them.

This is helpful because thoughts themselves are not the problem--it's usually the act of judging our own thoughts that gives them the power to distract us or affect us emotionally in problematic ways. For example, if you're trying not to have a certain thought, and one comes along, the "normal" reaction is to get upset with yourself for not being able to stop it, and then start thinking about why you have this problem or what you can do about it. This is what actually turns a simple, harmless thought into a problem, and gets us headed off on the wrong track. If, on the other hand, you simply note that you're having a thought, without thinking of this as good or bad, it will typically pass on through quickly, without getting you upset or emtionally involved, and allow you to get right back to your focus on simply observing what's going on.

Practice of this kind of meditation helps you develop the skill of observing yourself without either passing judgment, or feeling like you need to act on every thought or feeling that comes along. It helps you create a little bit of space between you and what happens to you, and between you and your own actions. Learning how to stay in this " mindful space" between the doer and the deed can be pretty crucial when it comes to healthy eating and exercise. When you can allow thoughts to come and go without getting wrapped up in them, you're much better able to get out of your negative thought patterns and habits and get into your actual here-and-now bodily experience--including your natural sensations of hunger and fullness. Laboratory research on regulation of eating shows that individuals with eating problems are generally less aware of experiences of hunger and satiety cues, including taste-specific satiety and feelings of fullness.

At the same time, the ability to notice and experience urges, impulses, thoughts and feelings without feeling compelled to push them away or act on them can free you from the need to eat emotionally in order to control or manage these experiences. You can probably imagine how much easier it might be to handle an urge to grab a piece of candy out of the office candy bowl if your first reaction is to simply notice that you're having the urge, instead of either mindlessly reaching for the candy, or immediately getting caught up in worrying whether you'll be able to resist it, wondering what's wrong with you that you can't just ignore it, or getting upset that your coworkers don't seem to care how hard it is for you to resist the little treats they bring in. Without all the mental turmoil, that urge will come and go in a few seconds--it's the turmoil your mind generates after you make the judgment that having that urge is a bad thing that actually turns it into a problem.

As always when it comes to changing the way you see things, using these meditation techniques to develop the skills discussed above will take practice over time. But according to the research, people often start seeing positive results in gaining more control over impulsive or compulsive behavior within a short time.

Personally, I've found meditation very helpful. My favorite form is "walking meditation"--usually in the form of hikes in desert hills--which really helps me quiet down all the "noise" in my mind and just focus on being where I am and how it feels to be walking there. It's a great way to nip depressive thoughts and feelings in the bud.

Do you have any experience with meditation? Has it helped you get a better handle on “mindless” eating?

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thanks Report
sometimes, i am able to say no. Other times, i'm like...rats! Report
I've also found a lot of help with meditation. I have short meditation sessions. I just wrote about it today. https:// www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_j
Vipassana meditation focuses on remembering that everything arises and then passes away so the craving for sweets are one of those things and it has helped me in the three years that I learned the meditation technique Report
I have learned to say no, SparkFriends and feel better because of it. Report
The link to the chapter .pdf doesn't work. Good article. Report
I decided to give meditation a try to help me sleep as the thoughts in my head would be what kept me up and it has helped. I didn't think to try it for helping with cravings are getting me to exercise when I don't feel like it. I'll give it a try. Report
I guess I'm fortunate in that sweets don't appeal to me as much as they once did. I try meditating when I go for my daily walks and set aside 10 minutes in the morning to start my day. Can't say I've achieved true clarity of mind but I'm getting better at calming my thoughts and focusing. Enjoyed your blog and the tips. Report
Thanks for the article and the photo, too! I often feel like I am way off balance and don't know what to do about it. I also feel anxious often. Thanks for the suggestion to try this, hopefully it will also help with weight loss! Report
I've been meditating on and off since I was 10 when I found my way back to it by reading LOTS of books. Which for me is a kind of mindfulness in and of itself. Can't say it's helped with my weight, but it has helped me save my own life a time or two. Meditation rocks! Report
I like to use my walking time as a time to talk to God. Report
I've been taking yoga classes off and on for 15 years and always appreciated the way I could walk in feeling completely frazzled, and walk out feeling calm and centered. But it wasn't until recently that I got into actual meditation, on the recommendation of a counselor who thought it would help me control my anxiety. At work I listen to guided meditations from Health Journeys, and I am currently reading "The Mindful Path Through Worry and Rumination" by Sameet Kumar, PH.D. Both highly recommended. I haven't really applied mindfulness techniques to my emotional eating issues, but this gives me another reason to do so! Report
I need to try this more with my child who is anxious. I think that distance it creates really works, at least for me. Report
Mindful eating has been the greatest help to me in my journey to a healthy weight. Mindfulness in general helps me with everything! Report
Great blog post! I couldn't help but be struck how, initially, the photo of the birds in flight looked like a smile, :) Report
I wonder if this will help me FINALLY get to sleep... little mind wants to be bus, busy, busy tonight! Report
I have been practicing yoga for about 15 or more years, really enables me to listen to my body and let my emotions express themselves.
I have had the good fortune to attend a session at Duke Integrative Medicine - it you have an opportunity to take a "class", I'd encourage anyone to try it. Report
Doesn't do a thing for me, in fact, it makes me begin to giggle and laugh, then, I notice I have too many things to do, why am I sitting here wasting time?? Report
Afraid my daughter is the meditator in our family...she goes to a Zen temple in Atlanta to do so. I have my quiet time in the morning, which serves the same purpose for me. right after I feed my cats & have a llght breakfast, I sit down & say my Liturgy of the Hours, or as Catholics sometimes say, my "daily office." If I don't have my prayers, the day doesn't go as well. Report
I've downloaded that pdf to read later tonite at home. I think I'll try the meditation technique-perhaps it will help me resist my binges, and it surely can't hurt anything! Report
I just love this, printed off...reminds me of what Ekhart Tolle (sp?) teaches in The Power of Now. The Buddhist "Meditation of Loving Kindness" is awesome too -- really works (think I'm due for some more:) Report
great article accompanied by a great picture! Report
I'll have to try this. I sometimes get anxiety, and I think that if I realize I'm having these anxious thoughts then the attack will pass more quickly, than if I try to talk myself out of it. Thanks for the information! Report
Enjoyed this post! The benefits of meditation and yoga are huge in my life. I've let both slip these past few months.. I can really tell the difference! Report
As a Buddhist, meditation is a pretty fundamental part of my daily life. When I don't meditate, I am more easily anxious and depressed. When I sit, I find myself able to extend compassion toward myself in a way I normally do not. It's hard to explain but when I can find that compassion for myself, I feel more connected to everyone else, less inwardly focused and more expansive and peaceful. Thank you for this article. Report
i started meditiating last year and find it makes a difference in how i feel physically as well as mentally..i put on relaxing, "feel-good" music (usually, music from my mother's era, the 1940's), light a candle, sit in a comfortable chair, set a timer for 15 minutes and totally clear my mind..i feel invigorated & alert afterwards. Report
i started meditiating last year and find it makes a difference in how i feel physically as well as mentally..i put on relaxing, "feel-good" music (usually, music from my mother's era, the 1940's), light a candle, sit in a comfortable chair, set a timer for 15 minutes and totally clear my mind..i feel invigorated & alert afterwards. Report
EXCELLENT ARTICLE-one of the best I've found in a long time. Thank you so much for the information!!!!!!! Report
I've just started taking yoga where we practice some of this. Never thought of applying it to emotional eating. Can't wait to see what happens! Report
OM = Oriental Meditation
:) Report
I always feel better after a bit of meditation. A few moments of relaxation and chanting "OM GANESHA" helps remove my obstacles.

Closer and closer and closer and closer! Report
Great blog!! I use HOM myself! ( great pic too..lol) Report
I haven't tried meditation, but am willing to try mindless & emotional eating has always been a problem for me. Report
I remember: Before enlightenment carry water. AFTER enlightenment carry water. Report
Meditation is a long practiced Eastern tradition that is finally making it's way into the West! I am a practicing Hebrew Christian, but have found that incorporating meditation (or "centering prayer", as we call it) not only keeps me grounded and centered in my decisions, but also opens me to hear the voice and wisdom of God more clearly...for what it's worth! Shalom! Report
I just love meditation, and this is the kind I started practicing a little less than a year ago. The article really makes me think about how I can apply my practice to mindful eating. Report
I started meditating 45 years ago when I was a teenager. It has been a wonderful resource in good times and in bad when a calm centre was required. Report
Mindfulness meditation is my number one way of dealing with emotional eating. I have learned that I often eat to try to make myself feel better. Food was a way to make a negative emotion go away. My Buddhist meditation teachers explain that through meditation, I can learn to sit with my negative emotions. I don't have to eat or do anything else to make them go away. I am learning to make peace with them.

When I'm not hungry but I begin to feel that overwhelming urge to eat, I realize that I'm probably acting out of habit and there's a negative emotion simmering somewhere under the surface. I stop and focus on my breath using a poem from Thich Nhat Hanh to focus my breath. I hope you will enjoy it, too. (For each pair of words, focus on the first word while breathing in and second word while breathing out. Don't worry about how long or deep the breath is. Breath naturally. The poem covers four full breaths, but you can repeat it as many times as you like until you feel more focused.)

In; Out
Deep; Slow
Calm; Ease
Relax; Release

makes your mind go wow . should try to do that . trying to balance my life and actions . thoughts are a good start . thank you . Report
makes your mind go wow . should try to do that . trying to balance my life and actions . thoughts are a good start . thank you . Report
This is something that I have been trying to incorporate into my wellness plan for about 10 months. It started with me seeing a counselor, which led me to a great yoga instructor, which led me to mind mindfulness meditation. My life has been out of kilter for the last 8 months (on the road for work four days a week). I have my yoga mat, my meditation music and I end up going to the pool area at the hotel when it is empty to practice at least one day a week. The other night I was in the hotel room, I became very anxious. I checked my heart rate which was at 89 bpm (all I was doing was sitting at the desk). I began my meditation and within 10 minutes my heart rate was down to 65 bpm. The anxiety was gone and beleive it or not, I slept like a baby that night! I am a believer! Report
Been wanting to learning mediation....with a type A personality my mind wonders 24/7....however while reading your article I realize that is what helped me quit smoking 18 yrs. ago and urges afterwards. Now to apply to food! Report
meditation provides such relief and release..
I am curious though - was the goose (I think they are geese)-formed smiley face intentional??? Report
I need this, to feel more in tune with myself. Great article. Report
good article Report
Wonderful article! I'm reading other things on mindfulness meditation and it is very appealing - and helpful. Report
Love this. Thanks! Report
Interesting Report