I don’t happen to believe that in order to lose weight a person is required to become more physically active. I don’t think that gaining weight is a function of putting in more energy that we are expending. Even though the logic seems ironclad, because people who are starving always seem to be thin. The converse is not true, though. People who have incredibly physical jobs are not always thin. Think about NFL offensive linemen. They work very hard for most of the year, way harder than I ever thought about working, and they are all thickly padded with fat. People that are starving usually have no choice, and given a choice they would eat more and have more energy.
I do, however, want to become more physically active. This morning my New York Times has an article about why some people take readily to physical activity and some (like me) are only physically active if it is a condition of their employment. However, even though I am a bit of a slug, I am not overweight. My body mass index is at the verge of overweight, but by just eating a minimal amount of carbs mixed in with my meats and fats I am ever so gradually losing mass–without exercise.
The Times’ piece theorizes that people who are ‘mindful’ during exercise are more likely to view the experience positively and to want to repeat the practice. I have experience with mindfulness during exercise…my wife teaches yoga and I have attended many classes. The ones that I have enjoyed the most are the ones that I paid the closest mental attention to. When I am trying to appreciate the muscles that hurt, to ‘breathe into them’, when I allow my physical body to do as well as it can without judgement, I enjoy the sessions immensely. When I am critical, frustrated, or disappointed in my performance then I don’t get as much out of it as I know I can. For me, the purpose of exercise is not to get it over with, to get through it. The purpose of exercise is the experience of motion.
I agree that it would be very difficult to quantify the effect of mindfulness on the experience of exercise. This is the kind of thing you have to experience. Take a Kundalini yoga class led by a very good Sikh or experience instructor and you will find everyone participating is only working on themselves, not competing with the other ‘posers’ in the room. Nobody is trying to strike the best pose. The exercises are all as much mental as they are physical.
Running can be the same way. In the Times’ piece there is this line:
Of course, being aware and in the moment during exercise also means experiencing, fully, your twinging muscles, declining pace, hunger, and unbecoming spite when a grandmother passes you on the trail.
See, it is possible to be hyper-critical of oneself even when running solo in the park. You are not being mindful of your experience if you can feel something about a fellow traveller that is on a different path than you are. The idea of mindfulness is one that also applies to your diet. It is easy to become discouraged if you evaluate your results compared to the people around you. It might seem like some people can eat whatever they want, and as much as they want and never gain weight. If you are mindful of the totality of your experience then you will appreciate your journey to healthfulness. Don’t allow yourself to starve, starvation is not necessary to lose weight..you must deny yourself any carbohydrate for three weeks to a month, but then you can just avoid simple carbs like white rice, white flour, any form of sugar. One month without fruits and then you can eat sweets or starches mindfully. Do all of your eating on purpose. Breakfast meats and eggs in the morning. Green leafy vegetables should be in your diet for bulk so that you have something scrubbing your insides clean. Lunch and dinner should be plenty of meats, fats, and great leafy vegetables. Eat enough so that you enjoy eating. Don’t worry about results and pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. If you are doing it right the signals will be positive messages like increased energy, lack of hunger, good sleeping. If you eat too many carbs the messages will be things like inflamed hands, hammering heart, night sweats. Read a good book like “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”
Enjoy your time on this Earth. Pay attention to everything you are experiencing. Allow yourself to enjoy successes and challenges equally. Learn from all of it. We are on the ride for only so many years and it would be a shame to spend any of it starving, and in my case to spend too much of it setting on my butt.