4 Ways Yoga Helps You Lose Weight

As anyone over the age of 50 can tell you, managing your weight can be a battle. While yoga is not a band-aid for excess weight, it can help you manage your weight.

Even more valuable are its benefits which extend well beyond the “calories-in-versus-calories-out” equation. Not only that, but because physical activity is important to staying mobile and active, yoga is a great choice at any age.

If the number on your scale is getting you down, consider adding yoga to your fitness routine. Here are four reasons why yoga should be part of your weight loss plan:

1) Encourages Mindful Eating

If you crave ice cream late at night or can’t resist eating that whole bag of chips, you know that these behaviors hurt your chances of losing weight. It’s not that you don’t know that eating vegetables, whole grains and lean protein is good for your health and weight. But everyday stress can weaken our willpower.

One of yoga’s benefits is that it improves both mindfulness and awareness of bodily sensations. In fact, yoga is form of “moving meditation.”

Research shows that you don’t have to do formal sitting meditation to get yoga’s mindfulness benefits. Simply by increasing mindfulness, yoga decreases emotional eating, stress eating, and binge eating. These types of “mind-less” eating habits can sabotage weight loss efforts, causing a negative spiral of guilt and shame, which often leads to giving up.

How does mindfulness help with weight loss? When eating mindfully, you are better able to recognize hunger cues and stop when you feel full or satisfied. Moreover, with repetition you are better able to zero in on which foods leave you feeling fueled and energized versus which ones produce lethargy or bloating. Case in point, a study published in 2015 showed that practicing yoga led to healthier eating, including lower fat intake and an increase in vegetables and whole grains.

The bottom line: the best diet plan is one you can stick with over the long haul. And, by improving mindfulness, a regular yoga practice equips you to not only make healthier food choices, but also to stick with your weight loss plan.

2) Reduces Stress 

Stress can make weight loss very difficult. Why? When stressed, our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is an essential hormone that affects almost every organ and tissue in your body. It suppresses inflammation, regulates blood pressure as well as blood sugar, and controls the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Equally important, cortisol aids in controlling your body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, aka your metabolism.

When stressed, high cortisol levels fuel our cravings for fat and sugar-rich food. While some people experience stress as physical pain, sleep deprivation or feelings of anxiety or agitation, the result is the same: we’re less able to control our weight.

How does yoga help? Yoga has been shown to decrease stress levels by lowering cortisol, decreasing feeling of anxiety and depression, and enhancing mood. Further, yoga improves chronic conditions (such as hypertension and diabetes) which reduces the need for medications that can cause weight gain. In the same way, deep breathing, or pranayama, can reverse some of the negative effects of stress that make weight loss more difficult.

And remember mindfulness? Studies have shown how mindfulness exercises also reduce the amount of cortisol in our bodies.

So, if you don’t already have an established home yoga practice, start by committing to 5-10 minutes a day. Your practice can be as simple as sitting quietly and notice your breath. Or if you prefer to be more active, do a few Sun Salutations. Small practices sprinkled throughout the day can reduce overall stress levels.

3) Builds Muscle

You won’t necessary get a “ripped” weight-lifter’s body from doing yoga, but yoga is an effective tool for building muscle.

Yoga is a whole body workout, engaging every muscle as you move through a sequence. Many poses use your own body weight as a form of resistance. A consistent, well-rounded practice increases muscle tone while at the same time improving flexibility, mobility and balance.

Need more proof? A review published in June 2016 in the journal Preventive Medicine that looked at 30 trials with more than 2,000 participants concluded that yoga can reduce waist-hip ratio in healthy adults, as well as body mass index (BMI) in people who are overweight or obese. Say no more.

4) Better Sleep

Here’s the big one: experts say sleep could be a “game changer” for weight loss efforts. Why? Research has shown that people who lack sleep lose less weight than people who have better sleeping patterns.

Moreover, researchers observed that irregular sleeping and lack of sleep affect body composition and fat loss. Experts believe this is due to a link between lack of sleep and the body’s regulation of the neurotransmitters, ghrelin (which promotes hunger) and leptin (which contributes to feeling full). In studies, men who got 4-hours of sleep had increased ghrelin and decreased leptin compared to those who got 10 hours of sleep.

Not getting the recommended 6-9 hours of sleep each night? A consistent yoga practice can help. First, a regular practice can aid you in falling asleep faster and experiencing sounder sleep. In particular, the practice of yoga nidra, a form of guided relaxation, promotes deep rest and in turn, promotes better sleep patterns. Want to learn more about yoga for sleep? Check out my blog, “Getting Your ZZZs: The Brain, Sleep and Yoga.“

So, if the number on your bathroom scale or your reflection in the mirror is less than pleasing, consider adding a bit of yoga to your weight management plan. In the process, you’ll reap yoga’s benefits for mind, body, spirit  . . .  not to mention your waistline.

Be well!


published 4/20/22; updated 6/9/24

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