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We’ve all been there. You go in for one bite of heavenly hash ice cream … which leads to 10 … and before you know it, you’ve polished off the entire pint. Well, meditate on this: The key to keeping binges at bay could rest in your mind. Meditation isn’t just some hippy-dippy granola thing. Neuroscientists are finding that the age-old practice has a profound effect on how we eat. Here, we’ve got six ways meditating can calm that overwhelming urge to go crazy in the kitchen.
1. Silence stress eating.
Stress makes us crave high-fat, high-sugar food — and how! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation — paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and body sensations in a non-attached way — for three days alleviates stress. Brain scans also show that with meditation, the brain’s “fight or flight” center shrinks. “Meditation gives people so many different tools to manage stress so that stress no longer leads to eating with abandon,” says Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., clinical health psychologist and research director at Duke Integrative Medicine and co-author of The Mindful Diet (Scribner, 2015).
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2. Turn off emotional eating.
When emotions run amok, eating can get out of control. Yet research published in the journal Eating Behaviors found that meditating as little as eight minutes a day for eight weeks can stop binge eating for good. “Practicing meditation increases awareness, particularly to what drives our behavior,” Wolever says. So instead of eating on autopilot, you’re more mindful of triggers and less likely to overeat.
3. Disconnect from cravings.
Meditation can curb cravings. Canadian researchers found that practicing mindfulness meditation weakened dessert cravings among self-proclaimed sugar addicts. “Meditation boosts blood flow to the frontal cortex, the CEO of the brain, so we’re able to make better food choices,” says Dr. Pam Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction (Rodale Books, 2012).
4. Stay present with your plate.
“A woman’s mind is often like a mental Cuisinart; we just let it spin completely out of control,” Peeke says. Meditation can unplug the mental whirl. Pair a quiet inner voice with mindful eating — when you focus on your food instead of your to-do list — and you’re better able to slow down and savor each bite to avoid overeating.
5. Boost the self-control center of your brain.
Meditation can literally change your brain, activating areas of your noggin that control awareness and emotional regulation and deactivating hubs linked to anxiety. One study by Harvard-associated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital showed changes in the brain after just eight weeks of meditation. “These brain changes act like a wedge between you and overeating,” Peeke says.
6. Meditation means better sleep (and less overeating).
Did you know that how much sleep you get can determine how much you eat? In one study, people who were sleep deprived ate 500 extra calories a day. Meditation not only fires up the relaxation response but also improves quality of sleep. Sweet dreams!