How yoga changes how you eat!

There is a fairly new measurement of “mindful eating” that was published in the American Dietetic Association Journal (Framson,, 2009) that I am very excited to start using in my research here at the University of Missouri.  Their findings regarding the relationship between doing yoga and mindful eating was also particularly intriguing.

Mindful eating is defined as the “nonjudgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations while eating or in a food-related environment.” The Mindful Eating Questionnaire measures how aware you are of what you eat, how much you are influenced by external cues (such as advertisements, having food around, etc.), emotional eating, eating while distracted, and the inability to stop eating even when full.  The authors of the article put forth the argument that mindfulness skills are quite distinct from the cognitive skills that are often taught for weight management, such as meal planning, record keeping, and portion control.  While these things may be important, without mindfulness skills in place it is very difficult to impossible to change behavior.   If you aren’t present for what you are doing, you make choices that are more habitual and unconscious.  Brian Wansink, who wrote the book “Mindless Eating,” goes into great detail about the effects of “mindlessness” on our eating behavior and hypothesizes that “mindless eating” explains the poor long-term success of most weight loss interventions.

I have long believed, and have research that supports my belief, that mindfulness is responsible for positive changes in peoples eating behavior and body image.  I have always emphasized formal mindfulness training (through eating meditations, sitting meditation, mindful yoga, body scan) as the key to people’s success in changing their relationship to their food and bodies (as well as their entire lives).

But, here is the part of study about yoga that I found interesting.  Both the number of years of yoga practice and the number of minutes of practice per week were associated with an increase in mindful eating.  Further, there were no or very weak associations of other measures of physical activity on mindful eating.  Another study in 2005 by Kristal, Littman, Benitez, & White also found that regular yoga practice was associated with a reduction of weight gain in middle-aged adults.   Yoga is not just a physical activity, but a practice that teaches mindfulness skills that can be utilized to navigate actions and behavior off, as well as on, the yoga mat.

See you in yoga class!