Surprising Ways Yoga Can Help You Lose Weight

Cathe Friedrich doing Yoga


Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. The fluid and graceful movements of yoga are mind-body exercises that combine stretching and breathing techniques with meditation or relaxation. Yoga helps you focus your mind, cultivate inner peace, and become more aware of the interconnection between your body and mind. But yoga has health benefits that extend beyond feeling relaxation and stress management.

Research shows yoga is beneficial for many aspects of health and healthy functioning. For example, regular yoga practice enhances flexibility. Being flexible is important for everyday activities, like getting out of a car or reaching for something on a high shelf. If you work an office job, you likely sit in a chair so much that your hip flexors are tight and less flexible than they should be. Yoga helps counter this tendency and improves your body alignment too.

Yoga also improves range of motion, and a better range of motion means safer, more efficient workouts. In addition, yoga enhances balance and coordination as it relaxes mind and body. It can also be a welcome addition to your fitness routine if you’re trying to lose weight. Here’s why.

The Effect of Exercise on Appetite and The Impact of Yoga

Although aerobic exercise, like running and cycling, burns calories, intense activity can also increase your appetite. Studies are mixed, but some research shows exercise is an appetite stimulator, especially for women.

While you’re doing it, exercise may suppress your desire to eat but after you’ve recovered from your workout, your body senses that your energy level is low, and you start to feel hungry. When that happens, it’s easy to overeat your workout and consume more calories than you burned during your sweat session. This positive energy balance makes it harder to lose weight.

Could yoga be the answer? One benefit of yoga is it strengthens the mind-body connection. By improving how your brain and body talk to each other, you become more in touch with true hunger signals and learn to distinguish actual hunger from a food craving related to stress or boredom.

Studies show that people who practice yoga make more informed food choices and are more aware of how much they eat. The mindfulness aspect of yoga can even help you enjoy your food more and consume it more mindfully.

But what about weight loss? One study found that healthy, middle-aged adults packed on fewer pounds over 10 years when they practiced yoga. The benefit held even when researchers took into account other factors that impact bodyweight like total physical activity and diet.

The key may be the mindfulness factor. When you’re mindful, you’re less likely to eat when you’re not hungry or make unhealthy food choices. The mindfulness aspects of yoga may also help practitioners develop a more positive relationship with food.

The practice of yoga shifts attention toward internal cues that tell you whether you’re physically hungry or eating out of stress or boredom. You learn how to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger.

Another underappreciated aspect of yoga is how it builds self-esteem, so you become more accepting of your body without trying to change it. Yoga will also help you understand how food choices affect your mental and physical health. You’ll develop an intuitive feel for what foods work for you and which don’t. Making healthy, more nutritious food choices can be a game changer for your waistline and body weight.

Yoga is Beneficial for Cortisol Control Too

Although higher intensity exercise, like running and cycling, improves fitness and body composition, it also places enough stress on your body to increase the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol release rises with increasing intensity and duration of exercise. That’s why it’s best to keep high-intensity interval training sessions relatively short and not do them every day. Balancing intensity with rest is the best approach for health.

Why is cortisol a negative for weight loss? Cortisol increases hunger and sugar cravings. Exercise-induced increases in cortisol may explain the possible appetite-boosting effect of exercise. Plus, cortisol affects where you store fat. A high cortisol level shifts fat storage toward your mid-section and belly. This type of fat, called visceral fat, is most dangerous from a health standpoint.

Keeping your workouts balanced and giving your body adequate recovery time can help tame your body’s cortisol response too. How can yoga help? Yoga helps balance out more strenuous workouts that place more stress on your body. Plus, some studies show yoga lowers cortisol. One study found it had both a cortisol-lowering and an anti-depressant effect.

The Practice of Yoga Can Shift Your Attitude Toward Diet and Health

Doing something relaxing, like yoga, can also shift your thoughts toward healthy living and good nutrition. You’ll be inspired to make healthy choices based on something other than pure willpower. This will not only help you adopt a healthier approach to eating, but it will be beneficial to your mental health as well.

The Bottom Line

Keep doing other forms of exercise but add yoga to your fitness routine too. It may be just what you need to tame that increase in appetite you get after a workout. You’ll become more mindful of your food choices and have a more positive relationship with and attitude toward food.

Balancing more intense exercise sessions with yoga will help your tame cortisol and its effect on your appetite and body composition. Although it’s not a major calorie burner, yoga helps with weight control in other ways. Plus, you get the flexibility and mind-body benefits that a yoga workout offers.


  • Framson et al. Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009; 109 (8): 1439 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.006.
  • “Regular Yoga Practice Is Associated With Mindful Eating ….” 16 Aug. 2009, sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090803185712.htm.
  • “Yoga for Health: What the Science Says | NCCIH.” nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/yoga-for-health-science.
  • Thirthalli J, Naveen G, Rao M, Varambally S, Christopher R, Gangadhar B. Cortisol and antidepressant effects of yoga. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2013;55(7):405. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.116315

Related Articles By Cathe Friedrich:

5 Ways Yoga Can Improve How You Strength Train

Is a Yoga Workout Effective for Building Strength?

4 Benefits of a Relaxing Yoga Workout if You Do High-Intensity Exercise

Related Cathe Friedrich Yoga DVDs:

Perfect Flow Exercise DVD

Yoga Max Exercise DVD

Yoga Relax Exercise DVD

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