Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Adolescents with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“But, after coming back to Vinyasa yoga, and making it a daily practice, my eating habits have completely changed. I now crave fruit, vegetables, whole grains and other yummy nutritional things. And I haven’t had to even think about it or “engage in battle” with my brain for one second. The healthy choice is the only choice I want.” – Leslie Lewis
Eating is produced by two categories of signals. Homeostatic signals emerge from the body’s need for nutrients, is associated with feelings of hunger, and usually work to balance intake with expenditure. Non-homeostatic eating, on the other hand, is not tied to nutrient needs or hunger but rather to the environment and or to the pleasurable and rewarding qualities of food. These cues can be powerful signals to eat even when there is no physical need for food.
Mindful eating involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and may help reduce intake by affecting the individual’s response to non-homeostatic cues for eating. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity. Hence, mindful eating may counter non-homeostatic eating. Yoga is a mindfulness technique and yoga practice has been found to reduce emotional eating, reduce eating disorders, and improve mental health and dieting in the obese. Hence, yoga practice may be a method to improve healthy eating and physical activity in adolescents.
In today’s Research News article “Yoga’s potential for promoting healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among young adults: a mixed-methods study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932774/ ), Watts and colleagues recruited middle and high school adolescents and had them complete measures of yoga practice, fruit and vegetable intake, sugar sweetened beverages, snack foods, fast foods, physical activity, and body size. A subset of the sample was recruited for qualitative interviews.
They found that those adolescents who practiced yoga had healthier diets and greater physical activity; including significantly greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and lower consumption of fast foods, snack foods, and sugar sweetened beverages. In addition, the greater the number of hours of yoga practice the better the diets and the greater the physical activity. In the interviews the adolescents indicated that yoga practice increased their mindful eating, cravings for healthier foods, and motivation for healthier eating, improved their management of stress and emotional eating. Also, they indicated that yoga practice increased their strength and flexibility and their desire to engage in other physical activities.
It should be kept in mind that these results are correlational and causation cannot be determined. But the results suggest that practicing yoga is associated with a constellation of healthy practices including healthier eating and greater physical activity. This is important as adolescence is the time when eating disorders and obesity develop. It is also the time for the establishment of eating and exercise habits. Thus, yoga practice may be a means to intervene early in life to establish a healthier lifestyle and promote health and well-being throughout life. It remains for future research to examine the effects of training adolescents in yoga on their health and well-being.
So, promote healthy eating and physical activity in adolescents with yoga.
“One of the unique aspects of yoga as an activity is its holistic approach. Yoga practitioners focus on both mental and physical well-being. Similarly, food yoga isn’t only about cooking and eating, it’s about considering your thoughts and emotions as well.” – Yalla Mediteranian
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Watts, A. W., Rydell, S. A., Eisenberg, M. E., Laska, M. N., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2018). Yoga’s potential for promoting healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among young adults: a mixed-methods study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 15(1), 42. doi:10.1186/s12966-018-0674-4
A regular yoga practice may have benefits for young adult health, however, there is limited evidence available to guide yoga interventions targeting weight-related health. The present study explored the relationship between participation in yoga, healthy eating behaviors and physical activity among young adults.
The present mixed-methods study used data collected as part of wave 4 of Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults), a population-based cohort study in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Young adults (n = 1820) completed the Project EAT survey and a food frequency questionnaire, and a subset who reported practicing yoga additionally participated in semi-structured interviews (n = 46). Analyses of survey data were used to examine cross-sectional associations between the frequency of yoga practice, dietary behaviors (servings of fruits and vegetables (FV), sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and snack foods and frequency of fast food consumption), and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Thematic analysis of interview discussions further explored yoga’s perceived influence on eating and activity behaviors among interview participants.
Regular yoga practice was associated with more servings of FV, fewer servings of SSBs and snack foods, less frequent fast food consumption, and more hours of MVPA. Interviews revealed that yoga supported healthy eating through motivation to eat healthfully, greater mindfulness, management of emotional eating, more healthy food cravings, and the influence of the yoga community. Yoga supported physical activity through activity as part of yoga practice, motivation to do other forms of activity, increased capacity to be active, and by complementing an active lifestyle.
Young adult yoga practitioners reported healthier eating behaviors and higher levels of physical activity than non-practitioners. Yoga should be investigated as an intervention for young adult health promotion and healthy weight management.