My Unconscious Mind is Making Me Fat – Part 3

emotional eating chocolate

In Part 2 of this series, I tried to back up my belief that our unconscious minds make us fat with some science.

In case you missed it, here’s the Cliffs Notes version:

  • Our Western Diet is high in sugar, fat & salt
  • A diet high in sugar, fat & salt over-stimulates our reward centers and causes us to…
  • Seek out more and more sugar, fat & salt

In essence, this Un-Holy Trinity of processed food ingredients is an addictive substance.

Just like drugs or alcohol or sex.

So, what do we do about it?


The Plan

Step 1

Mental Strategy

Whether you know it or not, your brain is constantly searching for the answers to questions…all sorts of questions…Why am I so fat?…What smells in here?…Why would she wear those shoes with that dress…..

What we need to do is to harness the power of our own personal Google search engine by asking it better questions.

Better questions lead to better answers.

Better answers leads to better assumptions about yourself.

And better assumptions lead to better actions.

And better actions leads to success.

And I know that this all sounds like a bunch of self-help, new agey blah blah blah, but I have seen it work time and time again.

It is one of the main reasons successful personal trainers have successful clients.

Because they have helped clients lose weight and get fit in the past, they assume that all of their clients will lose weight and get fit. And then they go and lend that confidence to their clients…and eventually, the client accepts that the trainer is right and starts assuming that they too will lose weight and get fit.

And then they go out and do it.

And this is how you’re going to do it.

1. Ask yourself what you want.

Lose weight, get fit, be healthy, have lots of energy, see my abs, see my toes, live to 100, firm up my arms, run a marathon, shrink my butt, get a bigger butt, etc…

2. Write down these “wants” in the form of a question. But, most importantly, write that question as if you have already achieved the goal.

  • Why am I fit?
  • Why does my butt look so great in my jeans?
  • Why can I run a marathon?
  • Why do I have so much energy?
  • Why does everyone find me so damn sexy?

3. Don’t actively try and answer the questions. Just ask ’em.

Ask these questions often and just let your unconscious mind start working on finding the answers.

4. Start taking actions based on the assumptions raised by your questions.

This is the hard work – changing your diet, exercising more, getting enough sleep, etc…

The Plan

Step 2

Dietary Strategy

Your body functions best on a diet of non-processed protein, non-processed fats and non-processed carbohydrates.

The less processing the better.

  • Your Mom’s “homeburger” is better than a Big Mac
  • An orange is better than orange juice
  • Grass feed beef is better than corn fed beef
  • Roast chicken is better than McNuggets

and don’t pretend that you don’t already know this stuff.

Because we both know that you do.

And even though your unconscious mind is forcing your body to crave junk, consciously, you know that stuff is bad for you.

This is what’s good for you.

  • Beef, chicken, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, etc…unprocessed, organic if possible
  • Vegetables…unprocessed
  • Fruit…unprocessed
  • Nuts & seeds – not fried in oil
  • Water

Now, how you transition from eating junk to eating healthy is up to you.

Some people prefer to do it gradually…cut out the McDonalds first, then cut out Subway, then cut out the “microwave-ready” meals and eventually they end up with a diet that is good for them

Other people like to dive right into the deep end. Throw out all of the junk and re-stock the pantry with healthy stuff.

It’s up to you, but I would recommend the second option. It’s just like tearing off a band-aid. It hurts more at first, but it’s over with much quicker.

Note – for this article, I am not going into much detail about the diet. I will be doing that next week. But, if you can’t wait, take a trip through the archives.

The Plan

Step 3

Exercise Strategy

There has been a bunch of research done showing that exercise stimulates the same reward centers in the brain as food or drugs or sex. In these studies, the type of exercise was shown to be irrelevant. You will receive the same benefit whether you walk, do yoga, play softball or take up weight lifting.

And considering that you are going to be facing a big enough challenge with your dietary changes, I would suggest that you choose an activity that you might actually enjoy.

In a perfect world, I would have you do a variety of exercise in order to improve all of the aspects of your physical fitness.

But, for now, finding a workout buddy and going for a brisk walk each night is a great start. If you’re extra motivated, stop every now and then and do some push-ups or partner assisted bodyweight rows. If you’re extra-extra motivated, throw in some short bursts of  jogging/running/sprinting during your walk.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a variety of exercise videos that you can do in the great outdoors.

The Plan

Step 4

Emotional Strategy

This may be the most difficult part of the plan for some of you.


During this process, you are going to screw up. Guaranteed.

You’re going to give in to temptation and demolish a bowl of ice cream or a bag of potato chips.

And you know what, it doesn’t matter. One meal (even one really big meal) isn’t the reason why we gained the weight in the first place.

And one meal isn’t going to derail your efforts to lose the weight.

But, if you beat yourself up about it, you WILL be more likely to wallow in that guilt. And if you wallow, you are much more likely to slip again and again and again….until you eventually give up altogether.

So, when you give in to the lure of the Golden Arches…ENJOY IT!!!

Don’t worry about the calories. Don’t skip breakfast the next day. Don’t go to the gym and run on the treadmill for 2 hours.

You’re human. You screwed up. The world didn’t end. Start over.


As well, I would also recommend people take a look at including some form of Mindfulness Meditation in their program. It’s an unbelievably powerful practice that has been shown to have numerous health benefits.

However, I also know that a lot of people think this stuff is a load of crap. No way, no how are they going to meditate…mindfully or not. Up to you.


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  1. This is a great article full of truth. We all subconsciously know so many of the answers to weight loss but the “doing” of it is where we fall down – well were I fall down.

  2. Here’s my problem. Lately, I’ve done great throughout the day. However, by about 6 p.m. I’m majorly craving some of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the cabinet (it is my daughter’s favorite). I start with a small bowl, maybe 1/4 of a serving. Within thirty minutes I’ve probably downed about 2 servings of that delicious cinnamon-sugary goodness.

    I am also wondering if the intensity of my workouts is causing my body to crave carbs?

    What can I do? I’ve tried substitution. Hasn’t worked. But lately breaking this late day snacking is akin to breaking a heroine addiction. Or at least it feels that way.

  3. I am *no* expert (and in fact have similar episodes) but I think part of that has to do with making something off-limits — you tend to want it more. Then when you have it, you go overboard. What if you just planned to have a real, regular size bowl of the cereal after your workout? I mean, if you’re going to eat sugar/carbs, post-workout is probably the best time, right? Then maybe you could taper to every other day, every third day, etc. I don’t know, just an idea! I think allowing yourself to have any food you want goes a long way toward eliminating cravings.

  4. Craving and addiction are the right words.

    These cravings are caused by various factors.

    Your workout has drained some/all of the glycogen stored in your muscle. So, it’s normal that your bod sends out signals to replace this lost sugar. The easiest way to refill your muscles is with dietary sugar. And yet, someone on an Atkins type diet would be able to refill their muscles by converting stored fat and/or muscle mass to sugar.

    Obviously, you’re not a low-carb guy and you DON’T want to be catabolizing muscle just to refill your sugar tanks. So, make sure you get a big dose of protein & carbs after your workout. You may also want to look at the new Biotest Workout drink. I just started testing it – very impressive – tons of energy and recovery from hard works has been way easier.

    Another reasons for your cravings is the concept of sugar addiction that I outlined in Part 1.

    It’s true that your body likes to use sugar as a source of energy. It doesn’t require much processing in the body – unlike fat.

    However, your cells don’t prefer the sugar found in Cinnamon Toast Crunch over the sugar found in fresh vegetables. In fact, I think we would all agree that other than quickly absorbable sugar, there isn’t much nutrition to be found in any sugary cereal.

    So, how come you’re craving your daughter’s cereal.

    Addiction is the right word.

    So, what would you suggest to an alcoholic trying to quit the bottle?

    Cut back gradually or kick the habit?

    (I hear they have a 12 step program for C.T.C addiction)

  5. Hi Emily,

    Another cereal fan…weird

    Re your theory of tapering off the sugar – I am 100% behind you on that. Personally, I prefer to quit cold turkey, but that’s just the kinda guy I am. Your way is less of a shock to the system, but it takes a little longer. Not wrong, just a different approach.

    And yes, post workout is the best time to get your cheat carbs in for the day.

    And I know that I sound like a bit of a food Nazi in these articles. But, all I want for people is to be honest with themselves about the effect their diet has on their health. Obesity isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom of a disease/imbalance in someone’s body. And that disease (Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, chronic inflammation, etc…) is caused by the tons of processed food most of us eat

    And don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to eat sweet, sugary, fatty foods – I am a certified ice cream junkie. But, I know that if I eat ice cream as much as I would like to, I would be 350 lbs. So, I enjoy it occasionally, knowing that while it’s not the best food for my health, it tastes awesome.

    It’s a trade off.

    So yeah, cereal after the workout (add some protein in there somewhere) is cool

    Sorry for the rant – great comment BTW

  6. Last night I almost snapped and made the Cinnamon Toast Crunch equivalent of Rice Krispie treats. The only thing that stopped me was that I had no marshmallows.

    My temporary solution? I had my wife hide the C.T.C. and I got some 100 calorie packs of microwave popcorn. It isn’t the best, but I never gorge on popcorn and it is filling enough for a late snack.

  7. Checked out that supplement you recommended. Wow, that is a major punch in the pocket. $50 bucks a pop?! I also can’t seem to find the info on how many servings are in each container. Would hate to pay that much for only two weeks worth.

  8. 30 scoops per container and you only use it on HARD workouts.

    Shipping is free so that works out to $1.70 per serving – how much is gatorade?

    I had to pay for shipping to Canada & the damn Canadian gov’t dinged me for another $40 in taxes & various other forms of extortion.

    I have been testing it this week and have been very impressed – lots of extra nrg during some insane workouts and recovery from the workouts has been improved. I have also been using their Leucine product with meals to improve protein absorption.

    The goal is to keep workouts hard while I attempt to get my bodyfat % down into the single digits.

  9. I only eat like this when I eat too little the rest of the day. But, all are different, as I have no plans nor interest to give up sugar, so I’ve learned to moderate and live with it (it helps that I don’t like sweet a whole lot)

  10. Whatever works for you Julie.

    Food is a very complex subject. Some people look at food strictly as fuel for the body. And on one level they are correct.

    Other people look at food as being something grander…cultural, sensual, historical…. And on a bunch of levels, they are also correct.

    I just want people (my clients) to be honest with themselves about their relationship with food. If you go out for dinner with friends and eat foods that throw off your weight loss plans, don’t b.s. me (and yourself) the next morning by saying that you had to eat this or everyone else was doing it.

    Be honest. You decided to put the enjoyment of that social event over your body’s health…..and that’s 100% okay.

    Just know that life is full of decisions and consequences.

    Anyway, enough ranting – thanks for the comment Julie

  11. Hi Doug,

    I didn’t mind the “rant” at all — I agree with what you said. (And I’m not a huge cereal fan; I know it gets converted to sugar in your body instantly.) Your advice is spot on, I was just looking at it from a different perspective. I was super-healthy when heading off to college (hadn’t EVER dieted, exercised all the time, had fun, etc.) but became really anxious in the new environment, dieted severely, lost weight (went from an already healthy 130 lbs. to 118, at 5’6.5″), set off binge/diet cycle (body’s response to perceived famine), etc. At a certain point I realized the whole cycle was pointless; I didn’t need to be dieting or bingeing. So, for me, it’s important not to have any strict rules, restrictions, etc. (I know that seems counter-intuitive, but to me focusing too much on it can cause anxiety, etc.)

    Interestingly, it’s when I have no rules that I gravitate toward my normally healthy eating style (very paleo in nature). When I “diet” or try to eat a certain way, that’s when I begin to focus on it too much, get anxious, etc. So that’s where I was coming from when I suggested allowing yourself whatever you want, because when you can have it you probably won’t want it anyway! But that’s my unique take on it, based on my own background — I agree with what you said in your post.

    Thanks for the follow-up, though!

  12. This is great stuff…. any chance that I can link to this from my blog for my clients to read? I don’t want to plagiarize you but this is spot on and very well written. Thanks!

  13. […] obese persons have deficits affecting inhibition and mental flexibility, they may benefit from mindfulness techniques that target inhibition (of dominant or automatic behaviors and of intrusive thoughts) and mental […]

  14. Excellent article!! And that photo makes me NEVER want to eat chocolate again… 🙂

  15. A very well presented article. Obesity is obviously a multifactorial in origin and mind plays a significant role in this mind-body dysfunction. However, a significant component may also be out gut and the bacteria in it which allow different amount of energy to be extracted in different persons.
    A diet plan as above may have impact on that as well, atleast while the plan in in effect.

  16. Another awesome article. It’s so refreshing to hear a muscular trainer actually go into depth about emotional concerns. I think you’re right on about how much we do already know about food. Mostly it’s about us trying to use “complex strategy,” as a means of dodging healthy eating for life. I have indeed found that writing things down- goals, desires, positive stuff- makes it so much more real and worth reaching for. And you totally hit it on the head with dietary breakdown. It’s hard to go from fast food to homemade chicken and broccoli overnight. It’s gradual stepping down in phases that might work best for major junk fooders, especially when they start trading in cost, time and convenience.

    As for cinnamon toast crunch– been there! I was there with ice cream first, then soda, then chips, then wine. I found that if I wrote down how much I consumed each day and had a little less the next day, I was able to break the habit after a few weeks. Some days I got weak and ate the same as the day before, but never more than that. Though it would be an understandable setback and I would know how to move on since I’d write it down regardless. What got recorded got cut out. I’m now at my goal weight, and I’m still working on toning my body up!

  17. Thanks Nancy – As I have grown up/gotten older, my priorities have shifted. The 18 yr old me wouldn’t have cared about how emotions & thoughts affect our “physical” health & fitness. He was more concerned with girls, sports, etc…

  18. Great article. I can attest to the beating yourself up after messing up the diet. I think every woman on the planet can relate to that one! And how you choose to cope with a bad decision is 100% indicative of what you do after. So, kudos for not only pointing out that it’s going to happy, but making it an accepted occurrence.

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