Weight Loss, Hypertension, and Alternative Therapies

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on August 01, 2014

Losing extra weight really helps when you have high blood pressure. As you work on diet and exercise, are there other things you can do to shift the numbers on your scale in the right direction?

Some alternative or holistic treatments, though they're not a quick fix, can support the other positive changes you're making, like eating better and moving more. Here are a few to consider, especially if you’re finding it hard to shed the pounds.

Best known as a practice for calm and clarity, meditation helps tame one of the biggest things that can sabotage your blood pressure control and your weight loss efforts: stress.

Stress is notorious for undermining eating habits. Many people's best diet intentions fall apart when they're stressed. That’s because recurrent or chronic stress leads to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which drives appetite and the motivation to eat.

Stress is also distracting, leading people to lose sight of the quality and quantity of the foods they’re eating. Plus, stress is bad for blood pressure on its own, pushing readings upward even if you eat right. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress is key. "If your goal is to lose weight, and you have high blood pressure, using food is never the way to manage that stress," says Adam Perlman, MD, executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine. "You need new tools, such as meditation, to fill the food void."

Set a goal to get calmer so you make better food choices. "Find the right mind-body strategy fit for you to help reduce the stress, manage blood pressure, and work to eliminate emotional eating," Perlman says.

A close cousin to meditation practice, mindfulness means being aware of what you're feeling, both emotionally and physically. One study found that mindful eating could help reduce binge eating, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress-related inflammation.

If you focus on the nourishment and pleasure of food first, you can start to let go of negative habits and actions around food. “Clients learn to eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full,” says psychotherapist Jean Fain, who wrote The Self-Compassion Diet. "They rest when they’re tired, and move when they feel energized. When they do that, they don’t have to deprive or neglect themselves. They lose weight naturally. "

Try it. Ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" If you’re not, do something other than eating, Perlman suggests. If you decide to eat, pay attention to each bite: Take small ones, and chew slowly and well, savoring your food.

Hypnosis isn't a proven weight loss solution on its own, but it may help you stick with other things you're doing, like following the diet and exercise plan your doctor recommends.

If you want to try it, go to a licensed hypnotherapist and let them know you want to work on weight loss and making better food choices. You won't be asleep when you're hypnotized. It's a "highly relaxed state," according to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

Fain says hypnosis has worked for many of her clients' stress and weight-related goals. "It gives them better access to their feelings, thoughts, memories, and problem-solving abilities," she says. "With these enhanced abilities, change often happens more quickly and easily."

You can use biofeedback to help manage blood pressure and stress, but it's not a proven tool for weight loss.

There are at-home biofeedback monitors for your computer. "These kinds of tools allow you to explore thinking patterns, thoughts, feelings and even triggers," Perlman says. "If you understand the patterns, you can make more productive, healthy decisions."

Many patterns are deep-seated, he says, and need more extensive exploration beyond biofeedback. The goal? "It’s discovering the best ways to deal with stress individually, and food’s role in managing stress," Perlman says.

These traditional Chinese medicine techniques harness energy, called chi. To do acupuncture, specialists insert very thin needles on certain points on the body for a short time. Acupressure uses gentle pressure, but not needles, on the same points.

Both techniques can help you relax and manage stress, which is good for your blood pressure. There's not a lot of research on these methods for weight loss, and the findings have been mixed.

A small study published in 2013 showed that ear acupuncture may help with weight loss, but it's not clear why. Other findings have been mixed. You can expect that you'd still need to diet and exercise to lose weight.

Show Sources


Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, executive director, Duke Integrative Medicine.

Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW, psychotherapist, certified hypnotherapist, Concord, MA; teaching associate in psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; author, The Self-Compassion Diet, Sounds True Inc., 2010.

American Heart Association: "Stress and Blood Pressure."

"Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association" Hypertension, published online April 22, 2013.

Harvard Health Publications: "Why stress causes people to overeat."

The Center for Mindful Eating: "The Principles of Mindful Eating."

Daubenmier, J. Journal of Obesity, 2011.

American Society of Clinical Hypnosis: "Frequently Asked Questions," "Biofeedback: Overview."

University of Maryland Medical Center.

Yeo, S. Acupuncture in Medicine, published online Dec. 16, 2013.

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