An important aspect of being a WAG Coach is helping others succeed on their health and fitness journey by teaching valuable nutrition practices. But what many people often overlook in the pairing of fitness and nutrition is the third member of the trifecta—mindfulness.
That’s why so many WAG coaches work with clients to accomplish weekly mindfulness goals and exercises along with their nutrition.
If you’re someone who has focused a lot of time and energy into nutrition and fitness but have reached certain plateaus or obstacles, it might be time to consider how you practice mindfulness.
If you’ve ever considered meditation or another form of mindfulness, you’ve probably come across statistics or heard from friends that it can help reduce your stress levels. You might have even seen studies that show these practices may help with weight loss.
But maybe even with these facts, you’re a bit wary about the practices and think that it all seems a bit “mushy” or “foo-foo.”
We get that! So our goal is to help explain in simple, practical terms some of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation and how they can be integrated seamlessly into your day.
Mindfulness is a self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind through focusing on present-moment awareness. The goal of mindfulness is staying in the present moment, with a non-judging, non-striving attitude of acceptance.[2,3]
Now let’s talk about why mindfulness can be a life-changing tool.
First, we’ll go through the natural human response to life circumstances and events:
With mindfulness, you can create a gap between the circumstances and the thoughts you have about them.
This helps you respond rather than react to your circumstances, which leads to more positive results.
Mindfulness is cultivated through the practice of meditation.
In other words, we practice mindfulness through meditation.
Meditation is, very simply, focus.
It’s training our ability to focus on a single point.
Not too intimidating after all, right?
The ability to focus on a single point is a valuable skill to have in a world where we’re facing constant distraction—where 50 different things are pulling at our attention, which can make us feel scattered, stressed and anxious.
It’s part of life to experience stress. Not all stress is bad—stress is part of growth. During a workout, for example, we’re putting our body under a certain amount of stress so that it will, over time, get stronger and fitter. Without some stress, we’re standing still.
Too much stress, however, is bad for our health and wellbeing.
As we described above, practicing mindfulness (through meditation) can create a “pause moment” in between the circumstances of life and your reaction to those circumstances.
That pause moment can be the difference between a reaction and a thoughtful response (grabbing the donut versus letting go of what happened during your morning commute and choosing to eat your pre-planned breakfast).
And those pause moments add up throughout your life. The more often you respond thoughtfully to circumstances, the more your life will unfold in the way you’d like it to unfold.
Yes! There’s plenty of research supporting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
Recent research is showing that the way we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention (through mindfulness practice) induces a state of brain activation during the practice.
And with repetition, this brain state can actually become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure.
This is a fundamental property of neuroplasticity—how the brain changes in response to experiences.
In simple terms—your brain can change through meditation!
Here are a few samples of what the research is showing us, in particular with regard to stress, binge eating, and weight loss:
Not convinced that mindfulness can help you achieve your weight loss goals? Check out this study published online in the Journal of Obesity.
In this study, participants practiced simple mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques, which helped prevent weight gain without dieting.
Here are more details about that study:
Results of the study:
In the study described above, the women in the treatment group achieved positive results through practicing techniques including mindful eating.
But what does “mindful eating” actually mean? How do you do it?
Mindful eating involves:
Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, mindful eating seems to help people enjoy their food more and struggle less over controlling their eating.
Do you struggle with binge eating? Mindfulness practices can help. Practicing mindful eating has been shown to drastically reduce the severity and frequency of binge eating.
In fact, one study found that after a six-week group intervention in obese women, binge-eating episodes decreased from four to 1.5 times per week. The severity of each episode also decreased.
The mindful eating tips above are a perfect start in building a connection between your mind and body when it comes to eating. To begin, pick one meal per day to focus on those points mentioned above. Once you’re feeling comfortable with one “mindfully eaten meal”, try eating two or more meals that way.
It might feel weird and awkward at first, but with practice and consistency, mindful eating will become more natural.
Competitive athletes in any sport need to perform successfully under stress, in environments where they cannot control every variable. This means it’s crucial for them to be able to maintain a calm focus when distractions are high.
If you’re a competitive Olympic weightlifter or powerlifter, for example, and you approach the barbell with doubt in your mind—you’ve basically just decided you aren’t going to make your lift.
The key is to recognize when your mind is drifting and bring the focus back to your breath. Many athletes also find it helpful to create a strong, vivid visualization of a positive outcome (for example, nailing their snatch with perfect form).
To gain a competitive edge, we recommend beginning to practice mindfulness habits during your regular training in the gym. Creating habits and rituals builds confidence when you’re going for a PR or a challenging lift.
Many athletes find it helpful to use a set of physical cues that their body will learn to follow every time they perform. For example, if you’re preparing for a heavy back squat, you could focus on the following checklist. Then, in a high-pressure competition setting, you could focus on your checklist rather than how heavy the actual lift is:
The key is that this pattern never changes—from your warm-up to your heaviest set of the day, you always follow this pattern. The idea is to place all focus on the elements of training that you can control and that you’ve mastered over time.
Focusing on your breath is the simplest, easiest way to begin practicing mindfulness—it’s always available to you, and just a few deep belly breaths can have a powerful impact on your sense of well-being.
Most of us usually breathe in a shallow way, especially when we’re rushing from one task to another or feeling anxious. In a single day, we take somewhere between 17,000 to 30,000 breaths—how many of those breaths are we really aware of?
Breathing and mindfulness go hand in hand because the past and the future become irrelevant. Concentrating on just a single deep breath puts immediate focus on this moment. And just like that—you’re practicing mindfulness!
Meditation can seem intimidating (and maybe even boring) for folks who haven’t tried it. Fortunately, there are so many apps available that make it easy for anyone to begin a meditation practice
And lucky for you, we’ve tested the top mindfulness and meditation apps to make your already-busy schedule a lot less hectic.
Bonus: Most of these apps offer free trials so you can try different meditation styles and test which one works best for you.
Before diving into the apps, here are a few different types of meditations you’ll come across, which might give you some direction as to where your personality or intention should lead you to practice.
Mindfulness meditation is centered around experiencing things in the present. Guided mindfulness sessions will often bring the practitioner’s focus toward the breath or a mantra to create a clear mental space.
If you’re new to meditation or struggle with focus, racing thoughts, and distractions, this might be the right place to start.
During a body scan session, practitioners are guided to focus on doing a “scan” of their body, beginning at one end and moving to the other, to recognize and release tension.
If you carry stress in a physical way or notice that you clench your jaw or shrug your shoulders, this might be a great option for you.
As the name suggests, this practice is focused on bringing thoughts of love and kindness to the forefront of the mind to cultivate compassion for others and yourself. You’ll focus on giving love and receiving it. If you struggle with frustration, anger, blame or relationship stress, this might be a useful practice for you.
Our emotions can influence our breath. Think about how your breath flows when you’re relaxed in bed versus having an argument with someone. When we spend much of our day busy, perhaps a bit stressed, we might not take a second to check in with how we’re breathing.
The practice of breath awareness centers the attention to the breath, which practitioners can implement outside the sessions. If you’re looking for an easy way to implement practice for everyday life, this might be for you.
Now that you’re a bit more aware of types of meditation, let’s check out some apps:
For the Skeptics
Bonus: Check out the 10% Happier Podcast for more educational content on mindfulness and meditation from doctors, scientists, wellness experts, and meditation practitioners.
Question: I feel intimidated by all of this and don’t know where to start.
Question: I am already so busy. How do I find time to meditate?
Just like with any goal in life, it’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time.
What about making a small adjustment to the amount of time you spend watching TV or browsing social media? Or you could even go to bed 10 minutes earlier and use that extra few minutes for quiet time.
Question: I can’t make the voice in my head be quiet. How do I shut it off?
That voice inside your head—your “inner narrator”will never go away. It isn’t meant to go away entirely—with mindfulness practice, you just become better at stepping backwards and noticing the voice.
As Eckhart Tolle explains, your inner narrator is “the voice that chases you out of bed in the morning and yammers at you all day long. It has you constantly comparing yourself to other people, engaging in ruthless self-criticism, and casting forward into the future or ruminating about the past, to the detriment of whatever is happening right now.” Focusing on just one deep breath can bring you back into this moment—and you will notice that your inner narrator quiets down without you needing to do anything.
It’s not a competitive sport. No one is good at it or bad at it. You’re winning as soon as you give it a try.
We work out in the gym in order to get physically stronger and fitter—and with enough reps and practice, we know we’ll improve.
The same goes for practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness practices are mental exercises. Each time we get lost in thought but we notice that it’s happening—that’s one “rep” for your brain. With enough reps, your brain can, and will, change.
And with it—your life will change.
Begin practicing mindful eating with our $1 Mindful Eating Journal download.