Many things within the realm of mental health and psychology are typically outside of a health and fitness professional’s scope of practice. However, as a personal trainer, you’re aware the mind and body are very closely interconnected. So, having a strong understanding of mindfulness is essential for a fitness professional.
The term “mindfulness” is used frequently today regarding mental health and stress reduction. But the truth is mindfulness has shown that it provides the body and mind with various health and wellness benefits.
Clients that implement mindfulness into their lives will likely experience many benefits. But what about weight loss—Can mindfulness support a client’s weight loss? We dug into some of the science! So, if you’re a fitness professional, keep reading. We’ll explore what mindfulness is, some of the health benefits of being mindful, and how your clients can use it to support their weight loss.
The human mind is full of various racing thoughts throughout the day. Oftentimes, those thoughts consist of analyzing past conversations or scenarios or stressing about something in the future. Many people end up spending the majority of their lives in one or both of these two states (i.e., past or future) instead of living in the present moment.
The term “mindfulness” is associated with remaining in the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness allows an individual to build a conscious awareness of what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, and how they’re feeling right now.
It’s believed that a lot of the choices people make throughout the day are somewhat unconscious. Humans follow routines, habits, and systems without giving them much thought. In addition, sometimes people do things simply to escape or mask other emotions. Mindfulness can help people tune into more conscious thought and get to the root of their actions or emotions.
People who practice mindfulness can experience a plethora of benefits. Research shows mindfulness can:
Improve mental health
Reduce emotional reactivity
Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
Improve focus and attention
Support positive social skills
Improve self-regulation (1)(2)(3)
And mindfulness can even support weight loss (4)
One of the most important components of weight loss is caloric intake compared to caloric output. Although other factors can play a role in an individual’s weight (i.e., hormones or disease), the body requires a caloric deficit to lose weight.
One of the challenges with achieving a caloric deficit for weight loss is rooted in an individual’s eating habits. Many people eat mindlessly. Some common examples of this are eating fast meals in between meetings, consuming prepackaged foods cause it “easier,” eating simply because there’s food (i.e., not eating because of hunger), or almost unknowingly binge eating an entire bag of chips while being too tuned into a tv show. Unfortunately, these are common eating behaviors for many Americans.
In addition, emotional eating, binge eating, and other unwanted eating behaviors have hindered many people’s ability to identify their body’s hunger cues. Instead of listening to what their body truly needs (i.e., a food craving or actual physical hunger) eating has become an emotional suppressant, a way to pass time or a social experience. All of these eating habits can contribute to overeating and weight gain.
Being mindful takes practice. But with a consistent commitment to the present moment an individual can begin to immerse themselves in what they are doing, identify negative habits, patterns, or thoughts, and work toward making the appropriate changes. The awareness that comes with the practice of mindfulness can be the catalyst people need to identify and modify the behaviors holding them back from living and feeling the way they want.
Clients who practice meditation and mindfulness techniques can learn to listen to their body’s hunger cues, find other strategies to manage their emotions or stress, reduce mindless eating, and improve their food choices.
One of the most common practices for improving mindfulness is meditation. However, sometimes the word “meditation” is off-putting to clients. Their perception of meditation may include cross-legged sitting, closed eyes, remaining in silence, and trying to quiet the mind for significant periods of time. There are various meditation techniques, but meditation can be as simple as taking the time to connect with and pay attention to the inhale and exhale of the breath—which brings the client’s attention to the present moment.
Commitment to a meditation practice can produce positive changes in the brain (5) and can provide several unique benefits. Although it’s important to note again that most components of mental health are outside of the scope of practice for a personal trainer. So, it’s crucial to have the appropriate mental health professional you can refer clients to.
As a fitness professional, you can share credible resources and information regarding meditation and even incorporate it into workouts. For example, yoga is a form of meditation. But some unwanted eating patterns or unhealthy habits can be forms of an eating disorder (e.g., binge eating disorder or emotional eating) or trauma suppression which are outside the scope of practice of a personal trainer.
When a client has the resources to better manage their stress, understand their habits and emotions, think clearly, and relieve their symptoms of anxiety and depression they have a better foundation for committing to mindful eating strategies. And eating mindfully can in turn help clients make healthier choices and lose weight.
A client learning to listen to their body is an important component of any weight loss program. However, listening, understanding, and applying what the body needs is a challenge, even for fitness professionals. Here are a few ways your clients can incorporate a mindful eating practice:
Slow down when eating and truly pay attention to each bite of food.
Before eating, do a body scan to determine if the need for food is truly hunger or if the desire to eat is rooted in something else (e.g., boredom, sadness, stress).
Don’t multitask when eating.
Consciously pay attention to all senses when eating (i.e., take in the fragrant smells, flavors, and textures of each food).
Notice how eating different foods make you feel.
Identify which foods don’t make you feel good after eating and consider replacing or minimizing them.
Drink water before eating to determine if hunger cues are thirst cues.
Appreciate and show gratitude for each piece of food before eating (i.e., consider all the work, people, and processes that went into bringing the food to your table).
Eat when you are truly hungry and not necessarily when it’s time to eat.
Focus less on weight loss and more on foods that will nourish your body.
Refrain from eating everything on your plate if you’re no longer hungry.
Pay attention to scenarios that might encourage eating in excess (e.g., eating at buffets, restaurants, or parties).
Notice when certain commercials, smells, or experiences trigger a desire to eat whether you’re hungry or not.
It’s also important to remember that mindful eating practices will take time to become habits and result in weight loss. So, clients should be encouraged to be patient and stay consistent.
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Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011; 31(6):1041-56.
Schreiner, I., & Malcolm, J.The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation: Changes in Emotional States of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. Behaviour Change .2008; 25(3): 156-168.
Cardinal, H. Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Schools. BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education. 2020; 12(1):14-16
Olson KL, Emery CF. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychosom Med. 2015; 77(1):59-67.
Kieran C.R. Fox, Savannah Nijeboer, Matthew L. Dixon, James L. Floman, Melissa Ellamil, Samuel P. Rumak, Peter Sedlmeier, Kalina Christoff. Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2014; 43: 48-73.
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