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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