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The real reason people who carry yoga mats always look thin

August 5, 2009 | 11:44 am

It’s no secret that yoga helps practitioners stay slim. A new study explains why: People who engage in the traditional form of exercise are more in tune with their bodies in general, including at meal times.

Mindful eating helps people to stop eating once they are full, even if delicious food remains on their plates. They try not to let tempting advertisements lure them to food; they avoid eating while they are distracted by a TV show or other diversion; and they don’t eat to distract themselves from emotions like stress or sadness.

Yoga1 Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle created a 28-item questionnaire to assess the degree to which people practiced mindful eating. They passed it around to yoga studios, gyms and weight-loss centers around the Seattle area and got more than 300 people to respond.

The researchers – led by longtime yoga enthusiast Alan Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division – found that mindful eaters weighed less, as measured by body mass index. They also found that the 40% of respondents who practiced yoga for at least one hour per week had an average BMI of 23.1 (well within the normal range), compared with a BMI of 25.8 (slightly overweight) for those who didn’t.

The results suggest that yoga should be recommended for people trying to diet through more traditional means, like limiting portion sizes and counting calories, Kristal said. The mental focus required to hold a difficult yoga pose could also help people avoid “eating more even when the food tastes good” or “eating when you’re not hungry,” he said in a statement.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Researcher Alan Kristal and study co-author Denise Benitez, owner of Seattle Yoga Arts, think about their bodies instead of Ivar’s world-famous fish and chips. Credit: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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Comments (11)

Maybe, but I think that a bigger factor is that its mostly skinny people who take up yoga. If the result of this study is not just selection bias, then the weight distribution of people in beginning yoga classes should be the same as the general population. Is this true? Still, I have no doubt that yoga helps. I just don't believe that yoga practice accounts for most of the difference in BMI (23.1 versus 25.8).

ditto. there seems to be a strong selection bias here. who took the survey? were they compensated? do we know if they were different from those who also go the same yoga studio but chose not to answer a survey about their eating habits (say if they are more on the overweight side)? Not really convincing... maybe get your science desk to look over stuff like this before you announce as a breakthrough...

There is no breakthrough here, simply the affirmation of common sense. People who exercise more tend to eat smarter, and people who eat smarter tend to exercise more. I was overweight with a BMI just over 30 when I took up yoga. 3 years later, I don't practice very often but my diet has absolutely changed and my BMI is currently just over 26, with muscular legs, chest, shoulders and a firm, tight core.

For some reason last week I took yoga six times. I do have a larger BMI, and I was the largest person in class. What was amazing though was that the foods I craved started to change, and I ate less and more healthy food--from one week of it. It makes sense to me, since it happened to me.

I'd like to see more people embrace yoga as a way of life.

It's a great way to calm your mind, focus on your body, and release stress. Also, it's the greatest accomplishment to see your self progress as it gets stronger and more flexible. Have you ever done a shoulder stand on your own? or an L pose? Damn! It's the greatest sense of achievement!!! Even being able to hold downward facing dog with out breaking a sweat is bomb! Oh, and depending on your instructor's style, you sweat like crazy and your heart is totally yoga is great for cardio as well.

Check out your city's parks and rec classes...most of them offer a class or two and they're pretty affordable. Or get an introductory DVD. I do both...a bit of class at my local community center and then I practice at home, every night, for 20 minutes.

Put this on your to do list this'll feel way more energetic!

limiting portion sizes and counting calories and eating when you are not hungry..good points

The more one gets into yoga and educates oneself, the more one learns to eat more healtfully. Reading Yoga Journal or Yoga For Joyful Living, having friends and instructors that have helped educated me on how foods affect body chemistry has been a big help also.

For instance, eating more fresh vegtables, fruits and salads has helped not only reduce weight, but reduce a very high acidic ph in my system that resulted in tighter muscles and less flexibility. (big coffee drinker - acidic)

Really embracing the yogic lifestyle and trying to go vegetarian as much as possible...l'm still a dismal failure...has also helped me lose some weight... except for that pint of Hagen Daz last night...errr.that I ate all of.... AND .has also brought greater awareness of the philosophy of ahimsa - which includes both the non harming of animals and the envirionment.

opps I'm eating a freddo frog as I read this...but usually I am very healthy and a yoga teacher

I started practicing Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) two months ago, four times a week. My goals were:
- losing some weight;
- helping on curing my right knee that had badly recovered from surgery two years ago;
- helping with the recovery of a very bad broken wrist from five months ago.
After two months of practicing bikram yoga:
- I haven't lost any weight BUT my body figure looks much nicer, my stomach has flattened and my legs and buttocks have tightened. My diet has already naturally changed (less fat, I drink much more water than before). I'm pretty convinced that in a few more months of practice, I will have lost some weight;
- my right knee has almost fully and finally recovered. This is a small miracle considering the state it had been in for the last two years;
- the length of the physical therapy on my wrist was divided by three as compared to normal length.
So my conclusion is: don't expect from yoga to operate like some miracle diet. You have to know what you want. If you want to lose weight very quickly, yoga will disappoint you. But, on the other hand, it is a well-known fact that super fast diets often end up into a "yoyo effect", meaning that you will quickly regain the weight loss and likely will add up more. If you want to adopt a strategy more with a long term view: losing weight, slowly but steadily and stabilize durably at the weight that is good for you, then yoga can definitely be part of such strategy.
As far as I'm concerned I intend to persevere...

too true - must focus on what we eat if we are to improve our overall health - but just look at the picture of the instructor - the vast majority is unaware of just how risky such a pose is to the health of their back.
Steven Barteck PT

Yoga is a way of life. It is predominantly concerned with maintaining a state of equanimity at all costs.
Women's emotional health


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