When you are dieting and training, your emotional and mental health take a hit. No amount of meditation is going to make eating cold, Tupperware, white fish less sucky, however, having the proper tools in your toolbox to combat the physical and mental taxation can make a difference between dead center and dead last.
What do we know about stress? What we know is cortisol can wreak havoc on your gains and on your weight loss journey. Cortisol can decrease athletic performance, increase inflammation, reduce recovery and generally contribute to the wiring of neural circuitry in unpleasant ways. Neurons that fire together, wire together and the more we wire unpleasant thoughts and emotions, the more likely we are to continue to ride down that pathway.
During my recent mini-cut, I was experiencing an exceptional amount of work-related stress. Despite my cardio and training being on point, I was not making any progress. It wasn’t until I implemented a few of the mindful tools in my toolbox consistently, and actively decreased my stress, that I was able to drop weight again.
Here are three researched strategies to add to your arsenal.
I’m not talking about clearing your chakras or any woowoo chanting naked in the moonlight. (But if that is your thing keep doing you!) I am talking about paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, with curiosity (without judgment). Mindfulness is a buzz word. It is on the cover of Times at the grocery store, on the news, and even in schools, but all for good reasons. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to:
- Improve impulse control (cue wanting to eat the entire box of thin mints)
- Reduce anxiety
- Decreased aches and pains and improved physical health
- Decreased fatigue
- Increased mood and optimism
- Increased cognition (decision-making, memory, flexible thinking)
- Increased academic performance
- Increased focus and attention
- Increased self-awareness
- Improved relationships (more empathy and compassion)
- Increased creativity
Practicing mindfulness OUTSIDE of the gym can actually help you INSIDE the gym with the mind-muscle connection. Mindfulness and meditation can help train the brain to focus attention, which can be helpful when we want to focus our attention on say, our rear delts.
Mindfulness can be hard at first. But give it the good ol’ college try. Start with the breath.
Take 3 long deep breathes and become aware of your what you are feeling in your body. Start with a body scan from your head, and notice anything that comes up. If your mind wanders that’s cool. Just come back to the breath. There are a TON of meditations and tools out there. I personally like to start with the app headspace.
I am also really digging the app CHILL. You can set a timer for mindful moments throughout your day to remind you to just check in and breathe!
You have an entire lobe of your brain devoted to processing visual stimuli. The brain craves visualization. Many Olympic and famous athletes have used visualization to increase athletic performance. What we know is that athletes that use visualization prior to an event perform better than those who do not.
“…visualizations under hypnosis enabled nationally ranked Stanford male gymnasts to execute for the first time several complex tricks that they had been working on for over a year. The gymnasts were able to eliminate timing errors in the tricks, to increase flexibility, and, possibly, to concentrate strength…”
L Jones, G Stuth – Applied and Preventive Psychology, 1997 – Elsevier
Visualizing your gym performance before your stack on the weight. Visualizing your muscles contracting lights the same neural pathways as when you actually perform the exercise. Visualize your squat form and moving the weight with ease before every set.
Visualize the stage and get detailed. Visualize your backstage ritual. See yourself walking on the stage, running your posing routine effortlessly and with grace. Before bed at night visualize your routine up to ten times. You didn’t spend 16 weeks dieting and training to not nail your posing.
Gratitude increases the neural circuitry related to positive emotions. Gratitude also releases serotonin and oxytocin, two powerful neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of bliss. gratitude acts like an antidepressant and changes the circuitry in your brain. The more you practice gratitude the easier to is to activate blissful circuitry. We know that neurons that fire together wire together.
My favorite app right now is 365 Gratitude Journey. There is also BLISS, Mindshift, or the oldest in the book, a moleskin gratitude journal. Oprah claims a gratitude journal is the most profound act that changed her life.
If you don’t know where to start, a good prompt is:
“what are three good things that happened today?”
In Conclusion, neuroscience supports using mindful tools to increase athletic performance and well, to embrace the glorious suck of prep. Approach any new practice with loving kindness and tenderness. You are human, I am human and we are all doing out best. With love and light,