Yoga for Weight Loss (part 1 of 4)
I lost 41 pounds during my first two months practicing yoga. It sounds impossible, I know, so just imagine how it felt to swim in your own clothes and suddenly have a visible jawline. It was both empowering and unsettling. Ninety-two to 98% of weight loss programs fail long term, so most people I meet are desperate for answers and constantly asking, “How did you do it?”
Firstly, I ate nothing but raw plant food (between 3,500-4,000 calories per day); and secondly, I practiced Hot Yoga daily. I know that calorie intake sounds crazy high and that showing up to a yoga class sounds overly simple, but that’s what I did. I don’t recommend eating or exercising as I did. It was extreme and unnecessary. There are far simpler and more accessible ways to accomplish the same thing when you understand the principles at work.
In the years since, I’ve become a weight loss expert and nutritional coach. Through my podcast, writing, and the conferences I’ve produced, I’ve had unprecedented access to leading medical doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, and researchers who taught me why my transformation happened and why others get blocked.
Yoga Helps to Balance Your Hormones
Yoga practices done correctly create a hormetic response (a positive hormonal response) that can lower cortisol and promote greater sensitivity to insulin, leptin and ghrelin. This can improve sugar metabolism, reduce hunger, and reduce the body’s tendency to store food as fat. Many forms of exercise do the same, but they often do this by stacking stressful exercise on top of stressful living. The results? You feel pumped up, wired, and tired.
Excess stress hormone impairs digestion, increases blood sugar, and can contribute to metabolic disorders. Yoga creates hormonal balance while simultaneously reducing your stress-hormone response. This is why in clinical trials with yoga and weight loss, often very gentle and easy classes can contribute to impressive results. Sometimes, less is more.
Yoga Reduces Your “Fight or Flight” Nervous System Response
Most workouts promote sympathetic nervous system dominance, also known as the fight or flight response. In the short term, this can feel invigorating because you feel ready to take on the world. The problem is most people do these hardcore exercises after a brutally stressful day with work or family obligations, so what their nervous system actually needs is cooling, not stimulation.
Yoga promotes vagal tone, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system response, and reduces your stress response. Balanced nerves create balanced energy and mood both of which help you make better food choices and eat more mindfully. Even better, your digestive system is stimulated so you actually absorb and digest better. If you’ve ever heard of meditation for weight loss, it’s acting on the same principles. Cool the nerves, cool the body, lose the weight.
Yoga Weight Loss Myths
- No, Nauli Kriya (belly vacuum practice) does not cause weight loss or help with belly fat reduction
- No, core strength yoga classes do not cause weight loss
- No, simply practicing yoga faster does not burn more calories or cause weight loss
- No, twists do not detoxify your colon or lead to weight loss
Yoga & Weight Loss Truths
- Yes, controlled, nasal breathing in yoga is powerful and unique for your nervous and endocrine systems, and the effects can be huge
- Yes, yoga tends to cause eustress, meaning it positively and safely stresses the body with positive outcomes affecting your chemical and electrical bodies
- Yes, yoga’s tangential benefits might be just as effective as its obvious ones including community support, increased mindfulness and body awareness, and improved sleep quality
- Yes, yoga has been used in clinical weight-loss interventions with consistent, positive results
Why Not Just “Eat Less and Exercise More?”
The age-old axiom to eat less and exercise more is not wrong, it’s just stupid. If you told someone with financial problems to spend less and earn more, it’s not wrong, it’s just useless. If you told a couple with marriage problems to fight less and love more, again, it’s not wrong, it’s just ignorant advice. And yet, this silly recommendation to starve yourself and exercise for maximum calorie burn continues to propagate.
Q: Does food matter?
A: Yes, it’s the biggest factor in body composition.
Q: Does exercise matter?
A: Yes, but far less than what people assume and it affects the body and brain in ways that are much more complex than calorie burn.
Yoga to Burn Calories is Ridiculous
Your body doesn’t forget the 90 minutes you spent in Power Yoga class this morning or the hardcore gym workout you did last night. All things being equal, your body adjusts your hunger levels to compensate for your extra activity and homeostasis is usually achieved. The idea that more yoga means more calories burned and more weight loss is categorically false; however, consistent practice has been shown to be effective for reasons we’ll explore below.
Calorie Counting is Kindergarten Math
If you try to gauge the weather based only on the number of clouds in the sky, you’ll sometimes be right, but often, you’ll get it wrong. Calories give us important information about the foods we eat, but it’s just one piece of a very complex equation.
When I lost my weight, I actually increased my intake to over 3,500 calories daily. How is this possible? The same way there can be a sky full of dark clouds and no rain. Correlation and causation are not the same. Rather than counting calories, you’ll get much better results in counting carbs and proteins.
Article by Lucas Rockwood
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