Relaxation training, as part of an overall weight loss program, may be an important factor in helping people lose weight and keep it off, suggests a study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2013; doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.05.005).
Researchers from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, in Boston, conducted a pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive mind-body approach to weight loss. Twenty overweight and obese participants from an employee-based program took part in the 20-week intervention.
The Lighten Up program components included practical exercises and education to address the mind-body connection, the relaxation response, nutrition and eating habits, and exercise and physical activity. The exercise and physical activity section included aerobics, strength training and yoga, as well as education on the mind-body benefits of activity.
Investigators assessed weight, body mass index, waist and hip circumference measures and a number of other biomarkers and psychological variables at baseline, after the 20-week intervention and 6 months later.
Data analysis showed that just after the intervention and at the 6-month mark, participants had significant weight loss and reductions in BMI and in circumference measurements. Subjects also demonstrated significant improvements in self-efficacy, self-esteem, positive outlook, physical function and four health-promoting behaviors—responsibility, physical activity, nutrition and stress management. Loss of control over eating and hunger had both decreased significantly since baseline.
Study author Albert S. Yeung, MD, at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital told IDEA Fitness Journal, “Mind-body group intervention is an important element of a holistic approach to weight control. Our study showed that mind-body intervention had some effects on weight control, and it also improved people's eating behavior, quality of life and self-esteem."
Study limitations consisted of the small, demographically narrow sample size and the lack of a control group. Author recommendations for future research included tailoring mind-body interventions for weight loss to specific individuals, such as those suffering from emotional eating.