Home Emotional issues Emotional issues and the mind set for healthy eating

Emotional issues and the mind set for healthy eating


I’ve been thinking about writing a post on emotional issues and diets, or more accurately how your brain and emotions get in the way of our desire to eat healthily. It’s clear to me that many people just don’t or won’t or can’t seem to consistently keep eating in a way that they say they are committed to. I’m not talking about really difficult emotional problems that could require therapy to deal with, or people who may be on medications that mess with weight and appetite – I’m thinking of the normal everyday person who is successful in many areas of their life, however when it comes to a ‘diet’ or more accurately healthy eating / lifestyle, they do well for a while and then go back to old habits, put the weight back on, feel bad and is racked with guilt, and beat themselves up for being a failure. Not to mention hating themselves for going back to where they started. (Or worse – go and see a nutritionist / dietitian, and then put nothing in practice.)

One of the problems with going backwards when you lose the plot with weight loss is that you often end up further behind than where you started. With just about everything else in life that doesn’t happen. For example if you start an exercise programme and then stop, you have built up your muscles and body memory, when you jump back into exercise you catch up faster to where you left off. If you make a mistake at work you still have a lot of accumulated knowledge that led up to that point, so you fix up your mistake and move on – you might stall rather than go back to the beginning. That certainly doesn’t happen with weight loss, as when we give up – we go back to the way of eating that made us overweight and re-gain the kilos. Dis-heartening to say the least!

How do I tackle this subject? It is such a huge topic! I’m going to throw a lot of thoughts out there, hopefully it will make some sense. I’ve been working on this post for some time and it’s got bigger and bigger – so I’m going post in sections.

I recently went to a weekend workshop just for women, led by Dr Libby Weaver, a pretty amazing nutritionist, who earned her PhD studying the poop of kids with autism, and found some really interesting links between gut flora and brain dysfunction. Fascinating – but that’s another topic.
The weekend was just for women, about our bodies, lifestyle and a huge amount on nutrition. I love learning from other nutritionists, in fact I often learn as much from other nutritionists who deal with real people and real issues on a daily basis, as the nutrition texts. Plus it was fun to have me time out for a whole weekend!

Libby discussed many factors that need to be taken into account with regards to weight loss. She has a book coming up called “Accidentally Overweight“. There are a number of physiological factors which make it difficult to lose weight – and these have to be addressed. In this list she includes:
Caloric intake (yep – calories matter!)
Stress hormones
Sex hormones
Thyroid problems
Insulin (metabolic dysfunction)
Liver function
Gut Flora
Alkaline / acid imbalance

An holistic Doctor can assist in testing for some of these problems and correcting them.

Another two I would add are inflammation and hunger control (appetite hormones)

And – In my experience the correct dietary prescription is imperative.

The issue of eating the correct diet is huge, as many of the hormonal, inflammatory, metabolic, hunger control issues can be addressed just through eating in line with our genes. Time and time again I see people eating along the lines of the recommended food pyramid and not losing weight, and not feeling good. They are following the conventional rules but the rules are not working – and these are highly motivated people.

So first, before I even tackle the mind issues, we all need to eat a diet that won’t fail us. In my experience and research the most successful eating plan is paleolithic or ancestral eating. In addition we need to eat the correct macro-nutrient ratios and portions sizes (adjusted for each individual) for our metabolism. This way of eating both for myself and clients goes a long way to sorting many health and hormonal issues out (It did for me, no herbs or supplements were nearly as effective) Then – if supplements are necessary – add them in.

For many people just starting and trying this programme for a month, is enough to set them on a path of weight loss and health. When clients achieve the rewards of eating in a way that gives results, there is no going back.

However for some people, some kind of emotional issue gets in the way of getting started, being consistent, or keeping an eating programme up in the long term.

This gets us back to the emotional or mind set side of the equation.  Interestingly Libby said that if you made a pie chart of all the factors stopping weight loss, emotional issues would fill half or more of the pie for the majority of people she sees.

This post is about my thoughts on the emotional issues or the mind state that I’ve noticed gets in the way of people taking on eating in way that supports their health. And then I’ll make a few observations about how you might deal with the mind stuff, how to be successful in your quest to consistently eat well.

First up here are some of the excuses I hear from people, when asked ‘What went wrong?’:

I sabotage myself
I start well with diets and then I stop
I messed up once and then gave up
I just like eating the foods I eat now, I don’t want to give them up
I’m addicted to sugar and I can’t seem to stop – I like eating … too much
I eat really well until the afternoon / evening and then I just cave in and eat junk after a hard day at work (or some other reason)
I deserve a treat, I’ve worked hard, I’m stressed, life is difficult.
I love food, it’s pure pleasure, I don’t want to stop eating delicious stuff.
I’ve done really well so far, I deserve to have a treat / not have to try so hard / eat what everyone else is eating / eat my wife’s baking!

Okay – you might want to add your own reason / issue / problem / stopping point.

I’ll leave this here – more coming later on on what I think are the issues and what I have observed in myself and clients on how we can achieve a mind set for success.


  1. Yeah this topic is a biggie for sure. I think stress is a trigger for all sorts of default behaviors. When we have had too much we shut down our brains and switch to auto pilot. Stress does not mean some deadline, I think it can be the lack of or the wanting of or you fill in the blank …….. A need is not being met that you feel is or should be actualized.

    I think it at least starts off that way and then when you get hooked by addictive foods then you really don’t need a reason per se. You just feel the need or the addiction comes over you without much thought about it. I also think that food manufacturers and big agra have not only spiked the foods to elicit an addictive response in us but they also controlled the message out there from advertisements to how governments responds or don’t respond to food issues they are mandated to regulate. Politics and money play an important role in how consumers got lulled into thinking what we ate, how we ate was normal and acceptable and healthy.

    Now we have “Supersize”meals which is somehow a macho accomplishment if you can finish such a meal.

    I laughed last night when San Francisco gave fast food the finger by passing a law that any kids meal had to be less than 600 calories if they wanted to include a toy with the kids meal. I thought it was a brilliant way to play games with the fast food king pins who play games and profit from selling unhealthy food to children by luring them with toys. Game on. Hoorrah for San Francisco. They surveyed like 300 fast food places and found that there were only like 15 healthy food options compared to the 3,000 they had total for kids.

    Yes our emotions do play into this but I think we have been emotionally and physically affected by what we were told is ok to eat. I do think the food makes you feel physically worse and then you want to feel better and you get in this cycle of trying to feel better and calmer with carbs and sugar and etc. I think it affects your metabolism as well and you want to do less.

    Just as tobacco companies spiked the cigarettes to get consumers addicted to their products so have food companies. Coke spiked their drinks and there are countless examples of this sort of marketing approach to food. They also made it cheap too. Rats in labs have proven over and over again that your basic instincts to eat and drink will easily be overridden by cocaine or sugar. I have heard recently that alcohol is more addictive than cocaine and heroin. But somehow alcohol is legal and cocaine and heroin isn’t? Alcohol has tons of sugar. Also heard Dr. Phil say that alcoholics who stop drinking will have many months of literally detoxing from the alcohol that lingers in their system. They really cannot even begin to take control until like maybe a year after they stop drinking since their body literally has it stored in tissues in the body and it craves alcohol. It is like being really thirsty, the drug it is so powerful. Maybe that has to do with another fact I heard that it takes a year for all your cells to be replaced in the body.

    We have heard about the horror stories of people going through withdrawal from drugs. Going cold turkey on carbs is a big thing. When we went gluten free for the first time, they talked about having flu like symptoms which we did experience. That was a withdrawal for sure not flu symptoms. When we did cheat to have gluten we ended up feeling awful after wards and had a physical response to it. So any successful diet has to be a long term one that gets them past the physical responses first along with the mental responses and attachments.

    The thing now is to shut off the tv and make a special family time to eat and yeah that sounds like some Norman Rockwell painting and we attach a lot to it rather than just eating for the sake of eating for energy. Many times we attach love with food since our mothers or others spent time to make that special thing you liked to eat. Also we were taught to clean our plate since folks were starving in some third world country. My husband was the youngest of four brothers and I tell you the fastest eaters gets more helpings. I swear he is like Secretariat at dinner time. There is so much attached to eating and celebrating all around the world that the more affluent you are the more times you can celebrate since that is a good thing and makes folks feel happy and an acceptable excuse to over eat or eat the wrong things. It turns into a social thing. I really don’t think many of us are aware of all the causes to our emotional responses to food outside of the physical responses.

    I also think it is easy for us to get defeatist when the images we see are all about some photo shopped version of what is ideal. I give up there is no way I am ever going to look like that and why beat myself up over it. I surrender.

    I now look at chefs and cooking shows differently when channel surfing and feel they too want to make a buck selling stuff that they know or should know is not helpful but harmful and completely void of science of what is healthy. I don’t watch them anymore, I can’t buy into it anymore. I know too much to pretend what they do is great and worthwhile. They seem more like drug pushers to me now. I am getting pretty jaded about it all and I feel like Tom Cruise yelling in that movie with my take on it “SHOW ME THE SCIENCE” if you want me to listen or believe anything pertaining to food.

    I don’t want diabetes and have a limb amputated or go blind and have early heart attack etc. Right now we see folks advertising diabetes drugs and supplies and watch the finger prick. What they need to do is show the dark side of diabetes and the reality. Stop soft peddling the epidemic. Remember some of those awful anti smoking commercials where the lady who can’t stop smoking now had a hole in her neck and she still smoked through the hole since she can’t talk or breath normally? There was a bunch of those shocking commercials that made us all pause big time.

    I think it is hard to conceptualize that food companies are so heartless and care so little about their customers. It would seem it would be in their best interest to keep them happy and healthy and to keep them around to purchase their products. But just as the tobacco companies had a reason to keep the health hazards from using their product vague for as long as possible so do the food companies. They denied gluten for Celiac as long as possible and now they are using it as a marketing point to buy more time. The mad men advertising companies are at work again.

    Paleo needs some sort of condiment that you can add to your vegetables like we do with salt or sugar to foods that would elicit the same reaction you get when eating let’s say a Coconut Cream pie without any adverse physical affects and is legal! Then you would associate that good feeling with vegetables. I think breaking the physical reaction to non Paleo foods would help folks greatly in overcoming the emotional reactions we have to them.

    • Thanks for your comments, these are all issues I encounter with people living with our current food and lifestyle paradigm. I’ve had a few clients recently have remarkable success over their emotional issues, and doing well mentally and physically, and for them it has been a mind-shift to be successful when for years previous they weren’t. I’ll try to put on paper what I see that led to their success next update.

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