When we think of weight loss, we often think of the basic calories in/calories out equation, but there are so many other things that factor in to an individual’s success, that taking a holistic approach to weight loss makes a lot more sense.
What makes a holistic approach different? Well, instead of focusing entirely on calories in/calories out, a holistic approach takes the whole person into consideration – body, mind, and soul.
We know that weight loss and gain don’t happen in a vacuum. It’s very rare for someone to gain or lose weight spontaneously without an underlying reason, but so often, we only focus on the end result.
If calories in < calories out were the answer, we’d all be within a few pounds of our body’s “ideal weight” most of the time, but because there are so many other factors to consider–and many of those factors involve hormones–the answer isn’t that simple.
This yogic approach to a holistic weight loss plan adapted from YogaLean helps address some of those “other” factors allowing weight loss to happen without starvation, restrictive diets or voodoo. I know, I know, you were hoping for voodoo. Sorry!
Click play below if you prefer to listen to the podcast and get a greater in-depth explanation of the 8 pillars, or keep reading for the show notes.
The 8 Pillars for a Holistic Approach to Weight Loss
Yamas and Niyamas
The Yamas and Niyamas are the ethical practices of yoga and related to how we interact in the world and how we interact with ourselves. Relating to weight loss, I’ve reduced these to 9 (omitting the last Niyama), but if you are interested in learning more about the yamas and niyamas in general, I have a free micro-course on them linked below that you can check out.
- Non-violence (to yourself and others) – Think of the harm you do to yourself when you always put yourself last or forgo your needs in order to take care of another.
- Truthfulness (to yourself and others) – When I think of this one, I think of how truthful we are with ourselves about our diet. Most people will tell you they have 1-2 treats/week, but when you get them to track it, many discover they are having 2-3 treats/DAY and didn’t even realize it.
- Non-stealing (stealing from yourself or others) – Much like non-violence, you can steal from yourself without realizing it by stealing your own time to do things you know you should have said “no” to, for example.
- Moderation – I don’t think this needs any explanation, but remember you need to use moderation for everything – including moderation 😉
- Letting Go – This is one of the hardest ones. Letting go of physical and mental/emotional things that are cluttering up your physical and mental space.
- Purity – Providing your body with clean, whole, nutrient-dense food (most of the time).
- Contentment – Being happy with your life and your BODY just as it is right now. You can be content with your body and still want to make it healthier.
- Discipline – Eating well, exercising, and managing stress all require discipline. Especially in the early days when they are not yet a habit. You can do hard things!
- Self Observation – When you learn to step back and breathe, you begin to uncover what drives your cravings, choices, and reactions–and only then will you begin to learn how to overcome them.
Meditation promotes awareness and acceptance and also reduces stress. When you can learn to let the mental dust “settle” you can tune in to what YOU really want in life versus what the world tells you, you should want.
There are lots of free meditation resources out there. I like using Insight timer, but there are millions of options on YouTube and if you search “meditation app” you’ll find lots of choices.
10 minutes/day truly can make a huge difference!
Breathing is so closely connected to our nervous system and stress response it is something that every person should be taught from a young age. Controlling your breath truly helps you control your life.
Short, shallow breaths increase cortisol and adrenaline as your body prepares to power your legs to run away from a bear or a house fire or some other serious threat. Most of the time those aren’t the kinds of threats we are dealing with though. We don’t need that stress response when we are upset about someone cutting us off in traffic!
Long, deep breaths (even just 2) signal the relaxation response and your body cuts off the flood of cortisol. It recognizes you aren’t in any immediate danger and begins to move back into the parasympathetic system. This is important for hormone health, but also for metabolic health because it’s in the parasympathetic system that digestion happens and metabolism increases. Whoot!
4. Positive Affirmation
The average person thinks 12,000 thought/day. 12,000! And no, those aren’t all original thoughts, many are repetitive, and many have been repeating over and over in your head for years and years and years. Furthermore, many times, those thoughts that have been on playback the longest are negative thoughts that aren’t doing you any good. In fact, they are often the basis of the blocks we build around us that cause us to struggle with living our happiest life.
Those established thought patterns can be hard to break, but doing so will have a profoundly positive impact on your life and your ability to live your healthiest life.
I also have a free micro-course called “Manage Your Mindset” which is a 5-Day challenge that will help you begin to do just that. For many, simply identifying those negative thoughts is a huge step in the right direction. You can’t change something you don’t know exists!
Well, you had to know it would show up eventually!
As much as what you put in your mouth isn’t enough for sustained weight loss, the exercise you do isn’t enough all on its own either.
Any type of exercise you will do and enjoy is great for weight loss, but speaking about yoga specifically, it can be a great form of exercise for weight loss not because of its calorie burn, but because it improves self-esteem, body image, and allows you to be in better tune with your body which generally translates into eating more mindfully.
Compared to walking, yoga increases your level of GABA. GABA regulates the activity of the nervous system and is generally lower in people who have anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Yoga increases GABA production in the thalamus reducing anxiety and improving overall wellbeing which also helps you make better food choices.
You are not an island. Whether you find support through friends, family, a coach, a challenge, or in another way, support is a huge component of success. If you don’t have someone in your corner cheering you on or joining you on your journey, it’ll be so much easier to fall off the wagon and forget to get back on. If you know you have a friend waiting for you at the park for your daily walk, you have a much higher likelihood of actually going on that walk!
As much as our body has to digest the food we give it, it also has to digest the events and experiences that happen to us. Journaling is an inexpensive and safe way to digest events from the day or from your life in general.
There are so many types of journaling! There is something out there for everyone–from a stream of consciousness journal to a dream journal, prayer journals, gratitude, positive affirmation–you can make your journal whatever you like!
You can certainly keep your journal on your phone or computer, but there is something about putting pen or pencil to paper that seems to be more impactful and can help you “digest” things more easily.
The other side of that is the food journal, which allows you to be more honest and disciplined (Hello, pillar one!) when it comes to your nutrient intake. Food journals can be great, but I am biased because I created a nutrition journal earlier this year that I think will be most useful for most people.
Instead of writing down each food you eat, you can check off boxes for each nutrition component, so at the end of the day you get a snapshot of your overall nutrition. I’ve also incorporated a short gratitude journal so you can kill two birds with one stone!
You had to know food would come up somewhere! I’m not going to add a lot here because I think most people know what they should, in general, do nutrition-wise–eat whole foods, lots of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. I also feel like in this holistic approach, nutrition is the bottom of the list for a reason. It’s important, but the inside work is even more important for long-term weight loss success.
I can help you lose 10 pounds in a pretty short period of time, but the question is–how many people will keep it off? Without all the work in the previous pillars, restricting calorie intake is going to be a short term solution at best. So, while it will seem counter-intuitive to leave food until last, it’s probably because it is counter-intuitive that it should be last.
I hope you found this interesting! What was the pillar that surprised you the most? Or what area do you think you need to focus a bit more attention on moving forward? If you listened to the accompanying podcast, you’ll already know that I’m currently working hard on both non-violence and non-stealing when it comes to stealing time and energy from myself in order to do my job the way I have in the past. While weight loss might not be front of mind for me right now, most of these pillars are pillars we ALL should be considering more than we probably do.