Why Conscious Fitness Is the Key to Losing Weight

Importance of the mind body connection for weight loss
Mind-body fitness expert Suzanne Deason gives her take on why mind-body fitness is more likely to take you back to your workout day in and day out — and take off pounds for good.

If you think huffing and puffing your way through a workout is the best way to burn off excess weight, you may want to think again. Exercising the body is just part of the picture, says yoga and Pilates instructor Suzanne Deason, author of Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss.

"If losing weight was just a matter of burning more calories than those consumed," she points out, "we wouldn't have an obesity problem." Indeed, we are a country getting less fit by the day. Based on 2003-2004 survey data from the Centers for Disease Control, 66 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese (defined by a body-mass index of 25 or higher), compared to 56 percent in 1994 and only 47 percent in 1980.

Cardio Isn't the Only Weight-Loss Solution

While cardio workouts do burn calories, Deason says, "For someone who is overweight it can also be an extremely stressful and discouraging experience." She explains that a person who is relatively fit can more easily stay within his or her fat-burning zone as they run or bike, maintaining a target heart rate at least 20 to 30 percent below their maximum heart rate. But an overweight person may surpass that ideal range quite quickly, becoming anaerobic: At a higher intensity, the muscles stop taking in oxygen and lose their ability to release stored fat for use as fuel. "People can exercise for months and not lose a pound," says Deason.

On top of that, lack of oxygen causes soreness and can lead to injury. All that, says Deason, "does little to create a pleasurable sensation you want to return to." So even if you do lose weight initially with cardio, you may get discouraged and give up.

"You have to set yourself up for success," she adds. "Yoga and Pilates feel good while you're doing them. They require the involvement of your mind, so you don't get bored. This has an immediate impact on your sense of well-being and your desire to feel good and look great. And feeling good is more likely to take you back to your workout day after day."

Yoga and Pilates will indeed strengthen your muscles and make you leaner. Just try doing a few downward facing dogs, plank poses or 100s, and you get it immediately. And when you create more lean muscle, Deason points out, you burn more calories and fat whether you're active or not, 24 hours a day.

Mind-Body Approaches Focus on the Cause, Not the Symptoms

Mind-body fitness stands apart from other cardio workouts because it does more than address the outward physical results of overeating and imbalance. The precise body positioning called for in yoga and Pilates require focus — your body and mind have to work as a team. And simply tuning in to the back-and-forth between your mind and body makes it easier to get to the cause of weight gain, vs. just the symptoms.

"Most people who are overweight can't lose weight because there is a mind-body disconnect," Deason explains. "When you're out of touch with your body, you misinterpret its messages. Instead of using food to fuel the body, you use it to momentarily fill a need or distract from a negative emotion." The signal of being comfortably full is also distorted, she says, replaced with a need to feel stuffed in an attempt to feel satisfied.

"Mind-body methods of working out tune you in to the messages between the body and mind and interprets them more clearly," says Deason. "It helps you identify your overeating triggers and bring to light the real issues at the core of the battle to lose weight."

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