I had tried everything from kickboxing to kale. Yet,the ‘mission’ to lose weight was becoming more and more strenuous by the day. I was obsessed with counting calories, depriving myself of favorite foods, and straining myself with high intensity, extreme workouts.
Despite all the efforts, I would feel back to square one when I would fall prey to emotional eating and the temptation of comfort food.
It had become a vicious circle of extreme discipline and extreme indulgence. I realized that I was becoming stuck in these extremes because I was making weight loss all about my body rather than me - as a whole. I had to factor in the emotional, mental, and even the spiritual aspects of me to make my weight-loss a ‘journey’ rather than a ‘goal’. The best way to lose weight was this: this, I incorporated a holistic 360 approach which dealt not just towards ‘weight loss’ but towards a better me - physically, mentally and emotionally. I took inspiration from yogis from five thousand years ago and adopted a five-point plan:
Weight-Loss Tip #1: Eat Holistically with Ayurveda
Ayurveda in Sanskrit means the ‘Science of Life’ and is not, as most people believe, just a way of alternative medicine. Rather, Ayurveda is a way of living and aligning the body with nature for the utmost health - physically, mentally and emotionally.
Ayurveda looks at an individual as a certain constitution or ‘body type’ per the four elements: water, fire, earth and air. Each constitution takes into account body physique and features, metabolism rates, and emotional and thought patterns and temperaments.
Knowing my body type gave me insights to why I craved sweets instead of salty snacks; why I was feeling ‘bloated’ at certain times of the day more than others; why I got ‘hangry’ at certain times of the day; and why I had more trouble losing weight compared to some of my friends. Ayurveda even gave me an insight to my moods and emotional patterns according to the season and time of the day and related it to the food I am eating. Just my knowing my pulse, the doctor figured out I was having PMS issues and trouble sleeping at night.
Ayurveda gave me a holistic eating plan. I began to eat according to my body’s constitution, which meant eating wholesome food that suited and nourished my body. I began eating according to the seasons, allowed myself the leisure of butter or carbs (but took them in moderation) and modified my diet to nourish and nurture rather than discipline and deprive. The result? I felt much more emotionally balanced, in-control, and at peace with myself. My body also felt healthier, stronger and less fatigued.
As per the guidelines of Ayurveda, I stopped having artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes, which often made me feel not only light-headed but also unsatisfied. Instead, I went for natural, wholesome foods including whole milk and raw cane sugar. I was not only able to give my body what the nutrition it needed an but also prevent it from crashing in the long term. I also stopped skipping meals, something I used to do often. This particularly helped keep my metabolism steady so I could burn calories effectively.
Weight-Loss Tip #2: Vary Workouts and Add Yoga
Although I used to workout everyday, my workout would often be a repetitive mix of aerobics, spin classes and martial arts boot camp. My wellness coach then explained to me, “Working out every day is great, but if you are repeating the same workout, you may not be getting all of the benefits that you could be getting”.
So, besides the cardio and strength training, I started to incorporate flexibility and balance training with yoga. Why yoga instead of pilates or gymnastics? Yoga not only tones and stretches the body but also relaxes and brings clarity to my mind because of its emphasis on mindful movement with the breath. Thus yoga has the added benefit of incorporating a meditative, stress-relief element into the practice.
Although I did not initially see the benefits of yoga, I soon realized how different types of exercises affect the same part of the body in very different ways. Moreover, I realised how strength and cardio elements could also be incorporated into yoga routines to give a more rigorous workout.
Now, I vary my workouts to focus on different parts of the body each day. I also incorporate interval training with peaks and valleys of high and low intensity.. This way, my body still burns fat and calories varying workouts and I ensure that all parts of my body receive the attention they need.
Weight-Loss Tip #3: Practice Breathwork:
Women, perhaps more often than men, fall prey to emotional eating and binge eating of all the wrong foods - often at all the wrong times (late nights or late afternoons when calories are burnt most slowly).
Emotional eating happens when we don’t know how to manage or deal with the sudden upsurge of emotions we face. As a result, we express, ‘vent’ or suppress these emotions in emotional or binge eating. Learning breathwork goes a long way to deal with this everyday phenomena.
Our feelings affects our breath patterns and in turn, our breathing patterns reflect and can change the way we feeling. Learning breath-work or pranayama helped me realize how my emotions are related to my breath patterns. Now, whenever I feel low, frustrated and that an urge to grab that ice-cream or bag of chips to calm myself down, I first take a few deep breaths and find myself instantly coming back to balance and preventing myself from, prevent falling prey to emotional eating. Practicing pranayamas also helped me help manage my stress levels - which were the triggers to resort to emotional or binge eating in the first place.
Weight-Loss Tip #4: Meditate
Although meditation, like pranayama may not directly link to weight loss, it significantly contributes to the process. Meditation, like breathwork, helps lowers down stress levels which may stalling your weight loss efforts.
Stress hormones, like cortisol, signal our bodies to store calories as fat. This means that if you have high cortisol levels in your body, it is still going to be a challenge to lose weight even you are making all the healthy eating choices and exercising regularly. Regular practice of meditation has really been a valuable tool for me to manage my stress levels and help me burn fat and lose calories in a more direct way.
Additionally, meditation offers heightened self-awareness and mindfulness which helps in self-control. It is now a lot easier for me to pass up that second cookie or that scoop of ice-cream when I might be craving for one.
Research at Department of Psychological Sciences at Texas Tech University in 2016, showed how meditation led to “increased attention, relaxation, calmness, body-mind awareness, and brain activity,” just after a couple of short sessions. The study also showed how the parts of the brain most affected by meditation were those that help in self-control. It fits together that our self-control increases with daily meditation practice and helps us be more mindful and really pause and ask our body what it really needs at that particular point of time. Now, before I go for an instant sugar-fix or a bit, I take a brief moment to ask myself,“Is my body really craving sugar-fix?”. My connection and relationship with my body has as resulting transformed all-together with this practice of body-mind awareness of love, kindness and attentive listening.
Meditation also allowed me to just rest and take a break from the constant hustle of losing weight - which was refreshing. Tiffany Cruikshank, author of Meditate Your Weight, and a health and wellness expert, particularly noticed how meditation could complement weight loss efforts by providing an alternative from the constant activities and and “tasks” around losing weight. Cruikshank attributed higher success rates to her clients incorporating meditation into their daily workout and eating routines.
Weight-Loss Tip #5: Think Positive
Small rituals of positive thinking throughout the day aided my weight loss journey when I particularly felt down about my self-image, my body, or my progress when I would look at the perfect ‘bikini bods’ on social media or magazines.
I began by making a habit to smile at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning. Although it initially seemed a little quirky, this habit unconsciously boosted my self-esteem and gave me a bright start to the day. In an indirect way, it also boosted my self-image and gave me the confidence I needed to achieve my goals, whether it was personal weight loss or professional targets.
I also started a habit to keep a gratitude journal habit where I would write at least one thing I would be grateful for each day. As the list became bigger, my life seemed so much lighter and brighter. This practice of positive thinking prevented my unhealthy tendencies of fussing about my body and constantly examining myself in the mirror and comparing the size of my tummy every single day. I started to become ‘more than my body’ and be a more confident version of myself.
The better body that became a part of a better, happier and more confident me. I started feeling beautiful inside and out. Losing weight now became a journey and a phenomenon rather than a nerve-wrecking self-obsessed mission. From the point when I adopted the 5 steps to sustainably lose weight, I started seeing quicker and better results.
I lost about 15 pounds in 3 months following this 360 approach which deals with not only losing weight fast but also addresses creating a better version of me - as a whole. I hope this sharing of my journey provides you with guidance on losing weight the healthy way - the ‘yogic way’ - and gets you closer to your weight loss goals and keeps you motivated, uplifted and energized throughout your journey.
By Isha Sharma, a global ‘nomad’ native to the Himalayas who has been raised across six countries. Youth Ambassador and Instructor at the Art of Living, E-RYT 300 Yoga teacher, Social Worker, Nutritionist and Mind-Body Wellness Writer.
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