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Regular Yoga May Improve Eating Habits

Body awareness plays a key role in weight maintenance, researchers say,,,,

THURSDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Practicing yoga regularly may help your eating habits so you can maintain a healthier weight, a new study says.

Researchers at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center reported a link between yoga practitioners and "mindful eaters," people who were better aware of their feelings of hunger and fullness and why they ate. These mindful eaters, as opposed to those who ate regardless of hunger or to soothe anxiety or depression, tended to be less likely to be obese, the study found. Results are published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Mindful eating is a skill that augments the usual approaches to weight loss, such as dieting, counting calories and limiting portion sizes," study leader Alan Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program at the Hutchinson Center, said in a news release from the center. "Adding yoga practice to a standard weight-loss program may make it more effective."

The study was based on analysis of a questionnaire about mindful eating habits (such as being distracted by other things while eating or responding to emotional situations with food) and other health- and exercise-related factors that was completed by more than 300 people at Seattle-area yoga, fitness and weight-loss facilities. Though the average weight of the participants was within normal ranges, people who practiced yoga tended to have a noticeably lower body mass index than those who didn't, with the average being 23.1 versus 25.8, respectively.

The findings support earlier research by Kristal that found that regular yoga helped middle-age people gain less weight over a 10-year period than non-yoga practitioners, regardless of other physical activity and eating patterns.

Although about half of the new study's participants also engaged in at least 90 minutes of walking or moderate and strenuous exercise, only regular yoga class participation was linked to mindful eating.

Kristal, himself a yoga enthusiast, said that yoga challenges people to focus and accept their surroundings without judgment, key teachings that might encourage better discipline about eating. "This ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating more even when the food tastes good and not eating when you're not hungry," he said.

Kristal hopes the questionnaire his team developed could have clinical and research applications that would help people understand their eating habits and promote better ones.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more about yoga.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, news release, August 2009

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