Your Unconscious Mind is Making You Fat

There I am.

  • Sitting on the couch watching NHL playoff hockey at the end of a long day.
  • The wife offers me some of her potato chips.
  • I decline

I’m a personal trainer dammit, and personal trainers don’t eat potato chips.

Fast forward 20 minutes…..

I am now sprawled out on the couch…..totally immersed in the game…..screaming at the referees for blowing another call….and absent mindedly reaching over and grabbing a handful of potato chips out of the bag…and then another…and then another

your unconscious mind is making you fat

WTF!!! What just happened?

I don’t eat potato chips….seriously. So what happened? Where did my will power go?

I’ll tell you what happened.

  • When my wife first offered the chips, my conscious mind did a quick pro/con calculation and decided to take a pass on the salty/greasy delight.
  • Soon after, my conscious mind became fixated on the hockey game.
  • Soon after that, my unconscious mind snuck behind the back of my conscious mind, and by using a mixture of sensory inputs, old memories, emotions, brain chemicals and hormones, managed to hijack my body and convince it that eating those chips was suddenly a great idea.

Damn you unconscious mind!!!.

  • This is a big reason why diets fail.
  • Your bad habits live in your unconscious mind.
  • Your bad habits have built up powerful connections within your mind and body.

And if you let your unconscious mind run the show, you WILL return time and again to your old habits…your over-eating, under-exercising, making you fat kind of bad habits…

Next PageThe Unconscious Mind…and why it loves making you fat…

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Can my friends make me fat?

Can my friends make me fat?

Q:   Can my friends make me fat?

  • A1:   Yes
  • A2:   No
  • A3:   Sort of

According to this meta-analysis of fifteen experimental studies, the type and quantity of food that your peers (friends, family, etc) consume does have fairly strong influence on the type and quantity of food that YOU eat.

  • In short, if your friends eat healthy, you will feel the influence of positive peer pressure to eat healthy.
  • Conversely, if your friends eat piles of junk food and drink gallons of sugary beverages, you will feel that influence as well.

Can my friends make me fat?

Of course, just because your friends choose to re-enact an episode of Man v. Food every time they sit down for dinner doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to their bad habits & peer pressure.

  • You have free will.
  • You have the ability to transcend your unconscious need to “be one of the gang”.

Even if that means your friends get upset, launch into a major guilt trip and unfairly accuse you of judging their poor eating habits and thinking that they are a bunch of fat losers with no willpower. Seriously, I have seen this happen many, many times with my personal training clients.

Let’s take a closer look at the science…

This meta-analysis, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, looked at fifteen different studies from eleven different scientific journals.

What they found is that “if participants were given information indicating that others were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices, it significantly increased the likelihood that participants made similar choices.”

In other words, if I am presented with a healthy food option and an unhealthy food option, I am more likely to eat healthy if I am told that everyone else is eating healthy. The same holds true if I am told that everyone is choosing pizza over salad.  

And it’s not just the quality of food. The same peer-pressure effect holds true for quantity of food eaten. When participants were told that everyone was pigging out, they were more likely to strap on the feed-bag as well.

According to the psychology researchers conducting the study, “It appears that in some contexts, conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group, which is in line with social identity theory. By this social identity account, if a person’s sense of self is strongly guided by their identity as a member of their local community and that community is perceived to eat healthily, then that person would be hypothesized to eat healthily in order to maintain a consistent sense of social identity.”

What happens when you alone?

According to the shrinks, the “analysis also revealed that the social mechanisms that influence what we decide to consume are present even when we eat alone or are at work, whether or not we are aware of it.”

“Norms influence behaviour by altering the extent to which an individual perceives the behaviour in question to be beneficial to them. Human behaviour can be guided by a perceived group norm, even when people have little or no motivation to please other people,” says Dr. Robinson.

“Given that in some studies the participants did not believe that their behaviour was influenced by the informational eating norms, it seems that participants may not have been consciously considering the norm information when making food choices.”

What does this mean to YOU?

It depends.

If you have terrible willpower AND you want to start living a healthier lifestyle, you may want to consider adding some new healthy friends into your posse and hope that their positive peer pressure rubs off on you.

Of course, you should probably also scan through my blog archives for articles on nutrition and exercise. And feel free to include me in your new healthy-eating posse.




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The Science Behind Ice Cream Addiction

Most of you can look at this picture of an ice cream sundae, appreciate it’s creamy goodness and move on with the rest of the article.

However, for an unlucky minority, just the very sight of this frozen delight is enough to set off a powerful dopamine response in their brain – leading to a burst of neuro-chemical happiness and an almost irresistible desire to find the nearest ice cream parlor.

For those people, the mental association between this picture of an ice cream sundae and the real thing is so powerful (due to the dopamine), that they can already imagine the pleasure they will receive as they dive into that giant bowl of ice creamy goodness….leading to an actual ice cream addiction…or potato chip addiction…or candy addiction…or chocolate addiction…

And, considering we live in a world where ice cream sundaes aren’t hard to come by, a large percentage of those dopamine-flooded individuals are going to indulge in a bowl or two.

And it’s not just ice cream.

Scientists believe that this study points the way to figuring out why some people are more strongly motivated by environmental cues and therefore at a greater risk of compulsive/addictive behavior.

And it’s not just over-eating…this research could apply to all manner of addictions – food, drugs, sex, danger, my blog, etc…


health-healthhabits-fitness-nutrition-diet-jillian michaels positive reinforcement diet - shame

Dieting 101 : Say NO to Shame

Believe it or not, you will cheat on your diet.

At some point in the next few weeks:

  • You’re going to eat too much, or
  • Eat right before bed, or
  • Eat the wrong food, or
  • Skip a meal, or
  • Etc, etc, etc….

It’s guaranteed. Everyone does it. Even Jillian.

It’s how you deal with that cheat that’s going to determine the success of your diet.

If you see your cheat as a temporary slip-up and move on to the next meal, next day, next week…you’ll probably be very successful with your weight loss.

However, if you:

  • Obsess over your cheat, and
  • Keep blaming yourself, or
  • Pretend it didn’t happen, or
  • Hide it from others (ie your trainer)
  • Or find some other way to catastrophize your little diet slip-up

I can pretty much guarantee that your diet is doomed.

Shame is the Diet Killer

When you were learning how to drive, you made all sorts of tiny little mistakes & corrections. But you didn’t crash the car.

When you’re learning how to eat healthy & lose body-fat, you’re going to make all sorts of tiny little mistakes & corrections. You’re going to learn which foods work best for you. You’re going to adapt the generic diet to suit your unique lifestyle.

And as long as you don’t turn your little mistakes into big, emotional problems, you will be successful.

Always remember to stay in the present.

When you cheat on your diet:

  • Recognize that you did it.
  • Ask yourself why you did it.
  • Ask yourself how to avoid having it happen again
  • And then move on. Let it go.

There is no shame in making a teeny tiny little mistake. Learn from it, move on to the next meal and stop beating yourself up over a few cookies.

Think Yourself Thin….The Complete Beck Diet for Life

A few days ago, I introduced you to my Better than the “Best Life” Weight Loss Plan.

In that post, I told you why diets and workouts simply don’t work for most people.

I told you that unless you address your personal weight loss roadblocks, you may be trapped forever in a cycle of yo-yo dieting….well, that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

I told you how it all comes down to lifestyle. And to make things just a little bit easier, I divided those lifestyle factors into 3 groups:

  1. Physical Factors
  2. Mental / Emotional / Spiritual Factors
  3. External Factors

Today, I will be discussing your mental/emotional roadblocks to successful weight loss.

In particular, I will be discussing Dr. Judith Beck’s psychological approach to successful weight loss.


Who is Dr. Judith Beck?

Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., is:

  • judith-beckThe author of the textbook, Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond, which has been translated into 20 languages and is the basic textbook in the field for most students in psychiatry, psychology, social work, and psychiatric nursing in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Clinical Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania
  • The Director of the non-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research
  • The daughter of  Aaron T. Beck, M.D., the founder of cognitive therapy, with whom she has worked closely in developing its clinical applications and theoretical advancements.
  • A consultant for research studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health
  • The past president of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy

And what is the Beck Diet all about?

According to Dr. Beck, the Beck Diet:

  • Frees you from guilt, worry, self-consciousness and self-blame
  • Frees you from your fear of hunger and your fear of losing control
  • Frees you from overwhelming temptation and emotional eating
  • Frees you from feelings of deprivation, unfairness and discouragement
  • Frees you from obsession about your food choices, weight and appearance.

In short, Dr. Beck’s CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) approach to weight loss attempts to free you from your controlling thoughts and emotions. There techniques taught in this book have been successfully used as a treatment for many clinical disorders, personality conditions and behavioral problems.

To this point, only Dr. Beck has applied these techniques to treat the mental issues behind obesity.

Her step by step approach allows you to make gradual changes to your thoughts and behaviors. Over time, her techniques build upon themselves and “lead you to make the psychological changes you need to be satisfied with your food choices, your ultimate weight and yourself.”

I have used these techniques on a number of my clients, and what I love about Dr. Beck’s techniques is how they help dieters avoid the pitfalls that happen to all of us.

She teaches you how to transform your psychological “giving-in” into a psychological “stick to it” muscle.

The Plan

There are 5 stages to Dr. Beck’s program.

Stage 1 – The Success Skills Plan

In Stage 1, you will learn and practice Dr. Beck’s  nine “success skills”.  Those skills include:

  1. scale-weight-feetMotivate yourself daily
  2. Weigh yourself daily
  3. Eat slowly or mindfully
  4. Give yourself credit
  5. Get moving
  6. Overcome hunger, cravings and emotional eating
  7. Plan and monitor your eating
  8. Follow your plan, no matter what
  9. Get back on track – right away

To help you develop these skills, you will have to complete various tasks and techniques.

And believe it or not, in Stage 1, there is no dieting. That begins in Stage 2.

And before you can proceed to Stage 2, you HAVE to master the 9 success skills.

Stage 2 – The Think Thin Initial Eating Plan

In Stage 2, Dr. Beck introduces her “Think Thin Eating Plan”.

I will go into more detail on Dr. Beck’s eating plan in a future post.

However, I have to say that this is the one area of Dr. Beck’s book that I disagree with. Her recommendations are typical of most of the other diet books on the market. It all comes down to the typical Food Pyramid / Caloric Restriction theory that has been failing dieters for decades.

Obviously, the nutritional guidelines weren’t drafted by Dr. Beck. I can only assume that a nutritionist associated with her practice put this together.

In her defense, I have heard through the grapevine that Dr. Beck’s readers complained that her previous book didn’t have this information and that they were shocked that a “diet” book wasn’t telling them what foods to eat. So, in an attempt to make them happy, Dr. Beck added this chapter.

Personally, I still recommend that you complete Stage 2. I just think that you should follow another diet. This one or this one.

You will spend 2 to 3 weeks in Stage 2. And like Stage 1, you need to fulfill specific requirements before moving on to Stage 3.

You will also continue to work on the 9 Success Skills from Stage 1.

Stage 3 – The Challenging Situations Plan

emotionaleatingDuring this stage, you will learn how to apply the skills you have learned in Stages 1 & 2 to various challenging situations:

  • Eating outside the house
  • Entertaining at home
  • Or when you are psychologically or emotionally stressed out.

There are a wide variety of skills to work on in this section. I will go into these skills in greater detail in a future post.

In my opinion, the skills you will learn in this stage should be required reading for anyone trying to lose weight and still have some semblance of a social life.

Stage 4 – The Think Thin Lifetime Eating Plan

To enter Stage 4, you need to know that you can follow your plan in any situation.

If you have achieved that level of self control, you can now loosen things up a bit, knowing that you are in charge of your thoughts and feelings and that if you start to put on some extra weight, you have the skills necessary to turn things around.

And not that she doesn’t trust you, but Dr. Beck still has a few more experiments to make sure that you are ready to graduate to Stage 5.

Stage 5 – The Motivation for Life Plan

Stage 5 is Dr. Beck’s Maintenance Stage.

During this stage, she asks you to follow 1 of 3 different plans:

  1. Daily Motivation Plan – when dieting/maintenance is going well
  2. Re-Motivation Plan – when dieting/maintenance becomes difficult
  3. Get back on Track Plan – when your skills slip and you gain weight

And like all of the other stages, Dr. beck has a series of daily tasks designed to maintain your success skills and your weight loss.


Some of you out there don’t need this book. Those extra holiday pounds are probably already melting away as you have returned to a more “normal” day to day schedule.

This book is written for those people who need to re-gain control over their thoughts and emotions.

If that sounds like you, I can heartily recommend Dr. Beck’s new book…..Except for the dietary recommendations..

Related Posts

Emotional Eating: When Diets Don't Work

  • Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food in response to feelings instead of hunger.
  • Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.

And believe it or not, 100% of experts believe that obesity is caused by overeating.

And with researchers forecasting that by 2030, 86.3% of American adults will be overweight or obese, maybe, just maybe we should take a closer look at Emotional Eating and it’s cousin Binge Eating.

A Closer Look

Over the centuries, human beings have evolved to thrive on certain types of food. Sure, we can survive on lesser quality food, but our health will suffer for it.

The Good Stuff:

Vegetables, Fruit, unprocessed Animal Protein, and smaller quantities of Seeds, Nuts, Grains and Dairy.

Keep in mind that there is a wide variety of human dietary practices based upon geography and food availability. But this list encompasses pretty much all of the good stuff.

The Bad Stuff:

Processed foods – The more processed they are, the worse they are for our health. e.g. Trans Fats, High Fructose Corn Syrup and just about any kid’s meal at a fast-food restaurant.

So, how come “when you’re happy, your food of choice could be steak or pizza, when you’re sad it could be ice cream or cookies and when you’re bored it could be potato chips.

Food does more than fill our stomachs. It also satisfies feelings, and when you quench those feelings with comfort food when your stomach isn’t growling, that’s emotional eating.

And emotional eating seldom involves the good stuff. Our bad moods drive use towards the processed foods that satisfy our taste buds, defective insulin receptors and most importantly our serotonin receptors.

Ahhh serotonin. Wonderful stuff. Powerful stuff.

So what’s the big deal?

What’s wrong with treating myself after a hard day?

Well, this tendency to use certain foods as though they were drugs is a frequent cause of weight gain, and can also be seen in patients who become fat when exposed to stress

So, How Can I Tell The Difference Between Real Hunger And Emotional Hunger?

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn’t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, usually something creamy or sweet or salty or crunchy or all of the above. And only that particular food will meet your need. Actual hunger usually doesn’t involve such specific cravings.

3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Even when you are full, if you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to keep eating. When you’re eating because you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.

5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

Are You An Emotional Eater?

Maybe, maybe not.

If you want to be sure, here is a test from our good friends at Psychology Today that will let you know if you are an Emotional Eater.

Eating Disorders &
Emotional Eating Test

62 questions, 30-35 min

Do you have issues with food? Do you overeat, binge or obsess over calories? The Eating Disorders and Emotional Eating Test will assess your eating habits. It will evaluate whether your relationship to food is mentally healthy or damaging. It will also assess whether you have tendencies towards certain documented eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

After finishing the Eating Disorders & Emotional Eating Test, you will receive a detailed, personalized interpretation of your score that includes diagrams, information on the test topic and tips.

So, Are you an Emotional Eater?

If so, come back tomorrow.

I hate to do this to you, but I am going to have to split this topic into a couple of posts.

In my next post, I will cover the strategies that are being used to combat Emotional Eating. I will also spend some time looking at the phenomena of Intuitive Eating.

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How to Beat Emotional Eating

How to beat Emotional Eating

Are you an Emotional Eater?

  • Do your feelings drive your appetite and your eating behavior?
  • Do you eat when you are not hungry?
  • Do you continue to eat when you are full?…stuffed?…about to explode?
  • Do you ever find yourself on the couch with your hand at the bottom of a LARGE bag of chips?
  • Do you eat like this while you are alone?
  • When you are bored
  • When you are stressed?
  • To take your mind off of your problem
  • Do you feel guilty about this behavior?

If you answered YES, then you, my friend, are an Emotional Eater. And you’re not alone.


Janet Jackson and Britney Spears are celebrity examples of Emotional Eaters

So What Do I Do?

If you think that your manner of eating may constitute a threat to your health, please contact your doctor.

And here is some solid reference info:

What Do I Do Right Now?!

One tool you should look into right away is Mindful Eating.

Here are some great books to get you started:  Dr.Susan Albers – Eating Mindfully, Amazon book list

In the past few years, the practice of mindful eating has grown out of the more generalized psychiatric practice of Mindfulness Meditation, made popular by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It finds it’s origin in Buddhist teachings. The Buddhist practice of Mindfulness can be defined as “awareness of one’s thoughts, actions or motivations”.

  • A similar practice is currently being espoused by Oprah’s protege, Mr. Eckhart Tolle.
  • I Can Make You Thin with Paul McKenna employed mindful eating in it’s weight loss plan.
  • In the 1920’s, Horace Fletcher was the diet guru of the day with his theory of Fletcherizing.

Mindful Eating – The Basics

Eat consciously. By this I mean:

  • Take a bite of food
  • Put down your implements/sandwich/glass/etc…
  • Chew your food
  • Taste your food
  • Enjoy your food
  • Repeat until you ‘think’ you are starting to feel full
  • Stop Eating
  • Eat again when you are hungry – not bored or nervous – listen for a ‘grumbly tummy’

That’s It.

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Fat Phobia

The Wild, Wacky & Wonderful World of Fat Phobias

We have officially gone crazy.

  • In Japan, employers are forcing their employees to eat fish sausages, participate in a “lifestyle reform programs,” and attend boot camps designed to reduce the incidence of metabolic disease or metabo.
  • Not to be upstaged, the Japanese government has addressed their fat phobia  by introducing compulsory ‘fat checks‘ for people over 40 years of age.

It’s not just the Japanese that are panicky about obesity. This article in The Independent brought my attention to all of the medical classifications we now have for obesity and supposedly aberrant eating behaviors. We all know about bulimia and anorexia.

But did you know about the following medical conditions?

and my personal favorite

  • Rumination – Like a cow, ‘bringing up’ partially digested food and then spitting it out or digesting it.

Or how about:

Maybe, for simplicity’s sake, we could lump all of these conditions together under one banner:

  • Obesophobia – a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of gaining weight

I am not for one second suggesting that people have legitimate mental & physical issues concerning food and their bodies. But, why oh why, does every human peculiarity have to become a syndrome or a condition? Why do we have to be afraid of everything? Why do we have a fat phobia?


Everything You Need to Know About Dieting

Do a Google search of the word “diet” …and you will get approximately thirteen bazillion hits. Thirteen bazillion articles and websites created by thousands upon thousands of individuals & corporations who are trying to sell you their miracle solution to your weight loss dreams…all for the low, low price of….over $60 billion per year

In today’s post, I am going to start laying out a weight-loss framework that will…

  • tell you everything you need to know about dieting,
  • help you understand the theories behind any diet,
  • help you design a diet that works for YOU, and
  • not spend any money

To begin with, we’re going to divide ALL of the possible dieting methods into their 2 main camps.

  1. Eat Less
  2. Burn More

Then, we’re going to break down these two main dieting philosophies into their numerous sub-categories, and so on and so on…until you are a veritable expert on diets and weight loss.

Notewhile I don’t believe that an Eat Less / Burn More approach to weight loss is the correct approach, this is how the current weight loss industry is constructed…so we will stick to that format as we delve deep into the diet /weight loss industry

Eat Less

Eat less food and you WILL lose weight…This is the basis for most diets.

It’s a simple theory, based on the concept in physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed…and as a result, if you consume less energy (food), you have to lose the exact same amount of body-fat. Unfortunately, as every seasoned dieter knows, our bodies are not as straightforward as the laws of physics and are incredibly stubborn about holding onto our fat and that unless we are willing to keep dropping caloric intake until we are literally starving ourselves, we need to build upon the Eat Less theory of dieting if we want long-term success.

To that end, here are the major sub-categories of Eat Less dieting techniques created by the weight loss industry.

Structured Diets

This category dominates the weight loss industry. In fact, when I say the word diet, structured calorie-reduction diets are what everybody thinks of. Whether it’s a soup diet or a cabbage diet or a detox diet or a juice diet or any of the other  79,o45 different types of diets that Wikipedia categorizes, the theory is the same. Eat Less. How you do it is nothing but a marketing ploy. They are all the same.

diet-booksAlmost all diet books are variations of the Eat Less theory. Save your money and re-use last years diet books before you rush out and buy the latest best-seller.

Next Page – Behaviour Modification Techniques…

Quick Nav

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