Nutritional Psychology:
Is Your Mind Ruining Your Food?


food-psychology-and-the-mindinsights into eating and food psychology are revealing fascinating things about the mind and how what we believe affects our health. photo: lama-photography

Eating Psychology: The Metabolic Power of Thought

“Thoughts rule the world.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the most fundamental building blocks of nutritional metabolism is neither vitamin, mineral, nor molecule. It’s our psychological relationship with food. It’s the sum total of our innermost thoughts and feelings about what we eat. Consider the word relationship.

Each of us, whether we know it or not, is in an intimate, lifelong, committed union with eating. It’s not by accident that the same words that describe our relationships with people equally characterize our relationships with food—love, hate, pleasure, pain, expectations, disappointments, excitement, boredom, uncertainty, change. This relationship with food is as deep and revealing as any we might ever have.

The great Sufi poet Rumi once remarked “The satiated man and the hungry man do not see the same thing when they look upon a loaf of bread.” And Al Capone, noted gangster, astutely observed, “When I sell liquor, it’s called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, it’s called hospitality.” Indeed, how each of us thinks about eating (known as eating psychology or food psychology) is so profoundly relative that if a group of us were looking at the same plate of food, no two people would see the same thing.

Say, for example, we were examining a plate of pasta, chicken, and salad. A woman wanting to lose weight would see calories and fat. She’d respond favorably to the salad or chicken but would view the pasta with fear. An athlete trying to gain muscle mass would look at the same meal and see protein. She’d focus on the chicken and look past the other foods. A pure vegetarian would see the distasteful sight of a dead animal and wouldn’t touch anything on the plate. A chicken farmer, on the other hand, would be proud to see a good piece of meat. Someone trying to heal a disease through diet would see either potential medicine or potential poison, depending upon whether or not the plate of food is permissible on her chosen diet. A scientist studying nutrient content in food would see a collection of chemicals. All of these are reflections of our perceptions, our unique nutritional and food psychology.

What’s amazing is that each of these eaters will metabolize this same meal quite differently in response to her unique psychology and thoughts. In other words, what you think and feel about a food is as important a determinant of its nutritional value and its effect on body weight as the actual nutrients themselves.

Does this sound unbelievable? Here’s how the science works.

Food Psychology: How Your Brain Eats

The information highway of brain, spinal cord, and nerves is like a telephone system through which your mind communicates with your digestive organs. Let’s say you’re about to eat an ice cream cone. The notion and image of that ice cream occurs in the higher center of the brain—the cerebral cortex. From there, information is relayed electrochemically to the limbic system, which is considered the “lower” portion of the brain. The limbic system regulates emotions and key physiological functions such as hunger, thirst, temperature, sex drive, heart rate, and blood pressure. Within the limbic system is a pea-sized collection of tissues known as the hypothalamus, which integrates the activities of the mind with the biology of the body and plays a big role in eating psychology. In other words, it takes sensory, emotional, and thought input and transduces this information into physiological responses. This is nothing short of a miracle.

If the ice cream is your favorite flavor—say, chocolate—and you consume it with a full measure of delight, the hypothalamus will modulate this positive input by sending activation signals via parasympathetic nerve fibers to the salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Digestion will be stimulated and you’ll have a fuller metabolic breakdown of the ice cream while burning its calories more efficiently.

nutritional-eating-psychologynutritional psychology tells us that what we think about what we eat is more important than what we actually eat for our health and wellbeing. photo: nitsa citrine

If you’re feeling guilty about eating the ice cream or judging yourself for eating it, the hypothalamus will take this negative input and send signals down the sympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system. This initiates inhibitory responses in the digestive organs, which means you’ll be eating your ice cream but not fully metabolizing it. It may stay in your digestive system longer, which can diminish your population of healthy gut bacteria and increase the release of toxic by-products into the bloodstream. Furthermore, inhibitory signals in the nervous system can decrease your calorie-burning efficiency, which would cause you to store more of your guilt-infused ice cream as body fat. So the thoughts you think about the food you eat instantly become reality in your body via the central nervous system and the mind-body aspects of food psychology.


Free Enlightened Living Course: Take Your Happiness, Health, Prosperity & Consciousness to the Next Level

Discover powerful insights and techniques for creating radiant health, happiness, prosperity, peace and flow in your life and relationships.
Our nutritional psychology and our thoughts also directly impact some of the most powerful metabolic chemicals we know of—hormones. As information about the ice cream travels from the cerebral cortex to the hypothalamus, it exerts its influence upon the pituitary, the master gland of the endocrine system that sits at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland transmits information from the realm of the mind into the language of hormones. It relays hormonal signals to the pancreas, adrenals, parathyroid gland, kidneys, and thyroid gland. Remember the cephalic phase insulin response that can cause you to gain weight just by thinking about ice cream? That’s the endocrine pathway operating via the pancreas.

Or consider the importance of the thyroid gland. Many people already know that a well-functioning thyroid is a key requirement for a healthy metabolism. If you’re not producing enough thyroid hormone you’ll likely feel tired, sluggish, or depressed. And you’d probably feel that no matter how little food you eat you still won’t lose weight. ­Interestingly enough, a healthy attitude toward the ice cream—what we call a healthy eating psychology—promotes thyroid hormone release, which increases your output of digestive hormones and the motility of the digestive tract and revs up the metabolic rate of almost every cell in the body. All this not by taking a thyroid pill but by loving and respecting your ice cream cone!

On the other hand, anxious thoughts and a negative food psychology about the ice cream would inhibit thyroid hormone, which translates to decreased metabolism and increased fat deposition. It can also trigger stress-hormone release, which as we’ve seen means inefficient digestion, nutrient wasting, calcium loss, and weight gain.

So we’ve now seen that due to the intricacies of our food psychology not only does eating under stress diminish metabolism but thinking stressful thoughts has the same results. The brain doesn’t distinguish between a real stressor or an imagined one. If you sat in a room all by yourself, happy and content, and started thinking about the guy who did you wrong five years ago, if that story still carries a charge for you your body would quickly adapt to the physiologic stress-state—increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased digestive function.

Any guilt about food, shame about the body, or judgment about health are considered psychological stressors by the brain and are immediately transduced into their electrochemical equivalents in the body. You could eat the healthiest meal on the planet, but if you’re thinking toxic thoughts the digestion of your food goes down and your fat storage metabolism goes up. Likewise, you could be eating a nutritionally challenged meal, but if your head and heart are in the right place (aka your food psychology), the nutritive power of your food will be increased.

Placebo on a Plate

To fully appreciate the power of your nutritional eating psychology and mind over metabolism, let’s take a fresh look at one of the most compelling phenomena in science: the placebo effect. Here’s my favorite example of this extraordinary force.

In 1983, medical researchers were testing a new chemotherapy treatment. One group of cancer patients received the actual drug being tested while another group received a placebo—a fake, harmless, inert chemical substance. As you may know, pharmaceutical companies are required by law to test all new drugs against a placebo to determine the true effectiveness, if any, of the product in question. In the course of this study, no one thought twice when 74 percent of the cancer patients receiving the real chemotherapy exhibited one of the more common side effects of this treatment: they lost their hair.

Yet, quite remarkably, 31 percent of the patients on the placebo chemotherapy—an inert saltwater injection—also had an interesting side effect: they lost their hair, too. Such is the power of expectation and our psychology. The only reason that those placebo patients lost their hair is because they believed they would. Like many people, they psychologically associated chemotherapy with going bald.

So if the power of the mind and our psychology is strong enough to make our hair fall out when taking a placebo, what do you think happens when we think to ourselves “This cake is fattening, I really shouldn’t be eating it,” or “I’m going to eat this fried chicken but I know it’s bad for me,” or “I enjoy eating my salad because it’s really healthy”?

Certainly I’m not saying we can eat poison without any harm if we believe it’s good for us. I’m suggesting that our food psychology and what we believe about any substance we consume can powerfully influence how it affects the body. Every day, millions of people eat and drink while thinking strong and convincing thoughts about their meal. Consider some of the foods you’ve given strong associations to:

“Salt will raise my blood pressure.”

“Fat will make me fatter.”

“Sugar will rot my teeth.”

“I can’t make it through the day without my cup of coffee.”

“This meat will raise my cholesterol level.”

“This calcium will build my bones.”

To a certain degree, some of these statements may be true. But is it possible that we are instigating these effects with our own psychological dispositions? And if these effects are the inherent result of eating these foods, can you see how we can enhance those results with the potency of our expectations?

The placebo effect is not some rare and unusual creature. Its appearance is quite commonplace. Researchers have estimated that 35 to 45 percent of all prescription drugs may owe their effectiveness to placebo power and that 67 percent of all over-the-counter medications, such as headache remedies, cough medicines, and appetite suppressants, are also placebo based. In some studies the response to placebos is as high as 90 percent. It amazes me that no one in the scientific community has made the obvious connection between placebo power and food. Indeed, the placebo effect is built into the nutritional process. It is profoundly present on a day-to-day basis every time we eat. Simply put, the placebo force is how your metabolism responds to thoughts, feelings, and expectations. It’s like phoning in a prescription to your own inner nutritional pharmacy. What we believe is alchemically translated into the body through nerve pathways, the endocrine system, neuropeptide circulation, the immune network, and the digestive tract. This is the power of our food and nutrition related psychology.

In one fascinating study researchers found that subjects who were given a placebo and were told it was vitamin C had significantly fewer colds than subjects who were given real vitamin C and told it was a placebo. In a Cornell University study of an appetite-suppressing drug, patients who were given this drug but were told nothing about its side effects showed no change in calorie intake or body weight. When they were told the drug would suppress their appetites they began to eat less and shed pounds, a reflection of their own perceptual psychology.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that placebos are as effective in reducing appetite as any over-the-counter drug. Many people who’ve visited such countries as Portugal, Spain, Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Brazil have noticed that many women in these nations show little interest in eating nonfat foods, counting calories, or restricting their pastry intake. Furthermore, they don’t relate to treadmills and jogging and they eat more fat than American women, and yet they’re happier, healthier, and thinner. They believe the foods they eat will have a positive effect on their bodies—a positive nutritional psychology of there ever was one. Compare this with the many American women who are culturally conditioned to worry about grams of fat, who fear food and ceaselessly diet. Can you see how such thoughts become a self-fulfilling metabolic prophecy through the power of food psychology and the placebo?

The Good Food, Bad Food Myth

There’s one particular nutritional thought I’d like to alert you to that lingers in the minds of many, is the most metabolically damaging, and is best removed from our mental diet. The outdated thought is this: Some foods are good, some foods are bad.

Strangely enough, the psychological notion of good foods and bad ones is largely unscientific. As we’ve seen, the metabolic value of any foodstuff is profoundly influenced by factors that aren’t inherent in the food but issue forth from the psychology of the eater—relaxation, quality, awareness, pleasure, and so on.

In truth, though, there’s no such thing as a good or bad food. Allow me to explain.

Yes, it’s clear that certain foods will enhance your health while others will detract from it. When I say to you there’s no such thing as a good food or bad food, I’m pointing out that no food is morally good or bad. In other words, no one can say they’ve uncovered an evil conspiracy between bacon and eggs to raise our cholesterol. Nor has anyone come forward claiming to have seen heavenly angels flying about their salad. Food is morally neutral. So is every other object in the universe. Is a baseball bat good or bad? It depends on how you use it. It can be used to can hit a home run and thus make thousands of fans deliriously happy or it can be a tool of destruction, used to smash someone’s car window and ruin her day.

Is a food good or bad? It depends on how you use it and your nutritional psychology. This distinction is of the utmost importance if you wish to have even the slightest chance of a happy relationship with food and with your body. So much of the misery that pollutes our emotional atmosphere around eating comes from the consequences of moralizing about food. That’s because if you choose to label a food “bad,” what does that imply about you if you eat it? It implies that you’re a bad person. And as everyone knows, bad people need to be punished, and severely, so they don’t want to do bad things ever again. When we moralize about food in this way we put ourselves in the unusual position of being both the guilty party and the judge. We might sentence ourselves to a miserable low-calorie diet, to extra helpings of punishing exercise, or maybe just to some good old-fashioned guilt, shame, and self-abuse. All of which, of course, creates a physiologic stress-state, and you know what that means for metabolism. My point is that the various remedies we concoct for our crimes actually create a far worse result than the crime itself. (Politicians and lawmakers please take note.) Something else happens when we label a food good or bad. We stop the process of questioning and discovery. We stop being curious. If you were told by a colleague that the new guy in your office is a jerk, you’d have him labeled. You might never get to know him and so you might lose out on a potential best friend. The same goes with food. If we label sugar as bad, our food psychology adjusts accordingly we stop asking detailed questions to learn about sugar’s nuances and complexities. Are all kinds of sugar undesirable or are some kinds better than others? Can eating sugar with other foods mitigate any of sugar’s negative effects? Does sugar react differently in children’s bodies than in adults’? Moralizing about anything or anyone severely limits our knowledge of the world and causes us to dwell in fear, ignorance, and judgment.

This situation is best exemplified with alcohol. Americans have a peculiar moral relationship with this substance. We drink it, we enjoy it, we abuse it in staggering proportions, and our scientists can’t decide if it’s a medicine or a poison. (Hint: It’s both.) So is wine good or bad? It depends on how you use it and your food psychology in relation to it. Only you can know the right dose for you. Some people feel fine with a few glasses in the evening. Others remark that they used to tolerate alcohol quite well but now a little bit makes them tired. These are some of the natural changes the body undergoes that only you and I can account for. You are the expert on you. And as you allow yourself to develop this natural expertise, along with your curiousity, you’ll become more expert at knowing when to use and trust the expert advice of others.

When we talk about the power of mind over food we are entering new scientific territory. Researchers for the most part have been silent on this topic because there’s little interest in it and it’s a difficult area in which to design a reliable study. For me, though, the proof of the effects of nutritional psychology comes from the front lines. Working with individuals and watching their health change or their weight transform simply by shifting their negative beliefs is the real living proof.

Krista, a thirty-seven-year-old administrative assistant, was a lifelong yo-yo dieter whose weight fluctuated between 140 and 152 pounds. When dieting, Krista ate what she considered the “good foods” according to her own food psychology—a yogurt at breakfast, a salad at lunch, a piece of chicken at dinner, and no sweets or desserts. At such times she felt in control and happy with 
herself. But if she dared to stray off her diet and yield to the “bad foods”—bread, ice cream, pizza, and junk-food snacks—she’d lose control, punish herself, live in anxiety, and secretly binge. She’d gain weight and lose her dignity. In Krista’s mind she was either a good girl or a bad girl, each entirely in relationship to her diet. There was no middle ground. Krista desperately wanted to stop dieting and stay at her desired weight, but after almost two decades without lasting success, she felt hopeless.

I suggested to Krista that her best chance to have what she wanted would be to focus on what needed to change most—her nutritional psychology and her thinking. Specifically, she needed to discard one set of thoughts: the “good food/bad food” business. This was the root of her problem, and it led to a battle with biology that caused a cascade of harmful behaviors that resulted in increasing body fat, not decreasing it.

I asked Krista to short circuit her usual food psychology and act as if foods were neither good nor bad but were morally neutral. I asked her to stop seeing herself as bad if she ate a bad food. This meant no more self-punishment. I also asked her to take on a new thought about food—that it was her friend. Discarding old thoughts and trying on new ones is like changing clothes. It’s no big deal—you just need to try it. Krista agreed to do her best to welcome food and relate with it in a new way. In doing so, she also opened the door to work with and receive the metabolic benefits of relaxation, awareness, pleasure, rhythm, and quality. Krista eventually succeeded because she released a way of thinking that had her locked in a deeply held physiologic stress, the same kind of stress that raises cortisol and insulin and deposits weight.

After her adjusting her perceptions and her food psychology, her weight finally stabilized in the low 140s. Most importantly, Krista felt empowered and free to enjoy food and had regained her self-respect. And it all began by changing a single, metabolically limiting thought.

Motivation, Exercise, and Metabolism

Here is one more story I’d like to share about the metabolic power of thought. It’s about two clients who provided me with one of the big “aha’s” of my professional career. Early on in my nutritionist practice, a forty-eight-year-old female lawyer named Toni was referred to me by a local physician in New York City. He warned me that she was a difficult patient who was trying to lose weight but couldn’t. The doctor did numerous tests but found nothing wrong with Toni; he had suggested various diets and she hadn’t lost a single pound. The highlight of this case was that Toni was a marathon runner. She ate a paltry 1,300 calories per day, she ran eight to ten miles a day during the work week and about fifteen miles on Saturday, and she was a legitimate candidate for losing fifteen pounds.

When Toni walked into my office I was surprised to see that she looked absolutely nothing like a marathon runner. She was short, plump, and high-strung. I’d never seen someone in such a panic about her weight. Toni had spent thousands of dollars on blood tests and to have her body poked and probed to find something wrong but was given a clean bill of health. This highly intelligent, super-successful woman was absolutely beside herself that she could be exercising so much, eating so little, and seeing no results after a year of training.

With the right questions I quickly determined that, contrary to my suspicions, Toni was telling the truth. She was really running and she was really starving herself.

I was quite confident I could help. Toni’s diet was clearly deficient in protein, fat, and calories, which was putting her in a survival response and slowing down her metabolism. She ate fast, received no pleasure from food, and seldom had a nourishing meal. We had lots to work on in regards to her eating and nutritional psychology. I told Toni it would take eight sessions over a two-month period to begin to shift her weight. I explained that she had to eat more food, including more fat and protein, and she needed to learn to relax and receive pleasure from food.

Toni looked at me as though I was insane and insisted that if she ate anything more than she was eating now she would most certainly gain weight (a reflection of her misguided food psychology). She admitted that she didn’t believe me but acknowledged that she was at the end of her rope and would try anything. And she made me promise that she wouldn’t gain a pound on her new regime. Without my asking, she wrote a check for all eight sessions and walked out of the office more agitated than when she walked in.

At the end of two weeks Toni weighed six pounds more and threatened to sue me. Her worst nightmare had come true. I was devastated. Her lawyer was sending me intimidating letters. I quickly returned Toni’s money, apologized every way possible, and the whole affair blew over. But I never forgot her and remained mystified about her case.

Fast forward to seven years later. A woman comes into my office who could be the sister of this marathon runner that I’ve never forgotten. Sheila was yet another high-achieving woman, a stockbroker in her late forties—short, plump, healthy, a low-calorie and high-mileage marathoner who couldn’t lose a pound. I would have instantly referred her to someone else but a number of her close friends who had come to see me had all shared their wonderful success stories, so Sheila was eager to work with me. I couldn’t send her away, nor could I think of any strategies other than the unsuccessful ones I tried seven years ago. It seemed as though the universe was entertaining itself by having a good laugh at my expense.

I gave Sheila the same advice I had given Toni: eat more food, especially more fat and protein, and slow down when eating. In two weeks Sheila gained four pounds. I felt like a criminal and was ready to surrender myself to the authorities. Surprisingly though, she wasn’t upset or deterred. She was so inspired and positive about how her friends had benefited from working with me that she felt certain I could figure this out.

This is where the “aha” came in. An exercise physiologist friend explained to me that intense exercise can closely mimic the stress response. Yes, aerobic exercise is great for us and has a long list of wonderful metabolic benefits. I know this because I personally place a high value on working out. But in the wrong context exercise can wear us down, elevating cortisol and insulin levels, generating inflammatory chemicals, and locking us into a survival metabolism in which we vigorously store fat and arrest the building of muscle. According to conventional wisdom, weight is a function of calories in and calories out. So the more you exercise the more weight you will supposedly lose. But in reality, the exercise story is never so black-and-white. Kenneth Cooper, M.D., the granddaddy of the fitness movement in America and a previous proponent of intense workouts, has done a complete about-face concerning vigorous aerobic exercise. His research findings at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, were so astounding that I think anyone who does high-intensity workouts should take note. Basically, Kenneth Cooper discovered that low- to moderate-intensity exercise for only thirty minutes three or four times per week was the best prescription for health, weight maintenance, and fitness. On our next visit I asked Sheila why she ran marathons. She said she needed to do something for fitness and she liked running. I asked her if she really wanted to run so much or if there were other forms of fitness she would prefer. She was uncomfortable with my questioning and was taken aback when I suggested she secretly disliked running. But the place we eventually arrived at in our conversation was a very honest one: Sheila was running out of punishment for having a body, and for having a body with fat. She didn’t exercise because she loved movement. She ran because she hated weight. To my thinking, the intensely fearful thoughts that motivated her were causing a physiologic stress-response and undermining her nutritional psychology. This fight-or-flight state was exponentially increased by a form of exercise that didn’t suit her body but in fact added even more stress chemistry. Running was not going to take her where she wanted to go and her weight was the proof.

Sheila understood this and agreed to completely drop all aspects of her marathon training. In place of running I asked her to choose something she would love to do. She decided to take a dance class three times per week and a yoga class three times per week and to do some occasional walking.

In three months’ time Sheila lost the weight she had gained in the first weeks of her new diet, in addition to losing eight of the ten pounds she was originally hoping to lose. She was satisfied with her body, relieved that she didn’t need to run like a hamster on a wheel, and was truly enjoying her newfound physical activity.

The moral of this story is not that exercise is bad. But we need to look at the motivating forces that drive us to exercise, which is often connected to our food psychology. Healthy habits driven by fear are not so healthy after all. Deep self-limiting thoughts can do nothing but suppress metabolism, even in the face of intense, calorie-burning workouts. Can you see any implications for your own exercise style?

Your Primary Task: Exercises to Shift Your Food Pscyhology

This week is your opportunity to transform thoughts and feelings that suppress metabolism and limit happiness. Your primary task is to identify thoughts that drain energy and replace them with thoughts that gain energy. Think of this as a new beginning in how you use your mind and your own positive food psychology to support your highest intentions.

1. Eating Psychology Exercise: Think Nutritionally

With pen and paper, take an inventory of the most common thoughts you repeat to yourself about eating, nutrition, and your body. These are the one-liners that together form your nutritional psychology and relationship with food and that ultimately help or hinder metabolism. Use the following questions to help guide you in your inventory. Be specific and thorough in your answers.

What do you tell yourself when you’re eating?

What do you expect food to do for you?

What nutritional rules do you feel strongly about?

Which foods are on your good list?

Which foods constitute your bad list?

What are your rules about health, weight, and longevity?

What are your fears about health, weight, and longevity?

Is food your enemy or your ally, or is it a combination of the two?

Some examples of typical one-liners about food are these:

Food makes me fat.

Hunger is bad.

I don’t deserve to enjoy food.

If I eat what I want, I won’t be able to stop.

Eating should make me happy and thin.

These vitamins are good for me.

Salt is bad for my blood pressure.

Salads are healthy.

Wine is good.

Wine is bad.

Any food containing fat is bad.

And so on.

Next, look over your list and put a check next to the thoughts that empower your metabolism and an X next to the ones that diminish it. A metabolically empowering thought encourages openness, possibility, and a joyous life experience. This is what we call positive eating psychology or positive food psychology. An energy-draining thought feels heavy and limiting and is designed to lead us into self-judgment.

Next, replace the energy-draining thoughts with metabolically inspiring ones. For example, if your thought was Eating is a frustrating affair, your new thought might be I am nourished by food. If your thought was Food makes me fat, your new thought would be I let go of my fears about weight. If your thought was Ice cream is bad, your new thought could be Ice cream is something I can either choose to eat or choose not to eat. Made wisely, either choice can support my metabolism. Other positive and energy-enhancing positive food psychology thoughts include these: I trust in the wisdom of my body; I welcome my desire for food; I let go of punishing myself for eating ‘bad’ foods; and I choose to relax about eating. Your job is to let new and inspiring thoughts abundantly inhabit your inner airwaves each day. Affirm these new thoughts as you eat. Repeat them to yourself before bed. Catch yourself when you think otherwise and compassionately make a correction within. In general, this week let go of all moralistic concepts of good food and bad food and allow the wisdom of your body to determine what is best for you.

Closely monitor your thoughts and your nutritional psychology as you would the intake of food on a strict diet. And rather than let your thoughts think you, choose to claim the power to control your mental landscape. To the best of your ability, release all negative thinking about food, weight, and body. Stop the flow of toxic chemicals created by your inner pharmacy through fearful thoughts. Freedom and vitality will surely follow.

2. Nutritional Psychology Exercise: Change Your Core Beliefs

Your next task is to identify and make a list of the core limiting beliefs you hold around food, body, health, and sexuality. This is an even deeper dive into how we think. It’s about discovering the negative mantras that we silently and unknowingly speak to ourselves. These hidden, negative food psychology mantras are the software programs that direct brain and body to construct a metabolic world of lack and limitation. Identifying and correcting them is a huge step in empowering the chemistry of the body.

Here are some examples of core limiting beliefs:

“There is something wrong with my metabolism and I won’t be happy until I fix it.

“I’ll never be truly loveable unless I’m at my perfect weight.”

“There’s never enough for me in this world never enough love, enough satisfaction, enough money, enough food.”

“I didn’t choose this body, these looks, or my life circumstances. I’m living the wrong life.”

“There’s not enough time to nourish myself. My body comes last.”

“I can’t let out my real passion and sexiness. I wouldn’t be safe.”

“I’m destined to have the same illness that my mother [or father] had.”

“If I could only find the perfect diet, the perfect way to eat, then I’d be happy.”

“The past is certain to repeat itself I’m bound to be disappointed with weight-loss practices or in trying to improve my health.”

“The world owes me. I haven’t been given my due. People owe me, life owes me, God owes me.”

“I’m a victim. The unhappy events in my life were done to me, against me. I’ve been wronged. None of it is my responsibility.”

“I’m an imposter. I’m not good enough. I’ve got to pretend to be someone I’m not. If people knew the real me, I’d be totally alone.”

How do you uncover your deepest nutritional psychology and core limiting beliefs? It takes a little bit of soul-searching and a lot of self-honesty. Find some quiet time to reflect on the question: What are the deepest fears that drive my life? Your core limiting beliefs will come from answering this question. Sometimes a powerful question such as this needs to marinate for a few days. Listen to your dreams. Let the responses emerge into your awareness. You may find that you can clearly identify one core negative belief, or even a handful. Once you’ve identified them on paper, pull the plug on their power source by rescripting them into beliefs that elevate and inspire. Next to each negative belief write down its healthy opposite. If the old belief was I’ll never be truly loveable and attractive unless I’m at my perfect weight, your new core belief could be I am loveable and desirable just as I am right now. If the old belief is I’m living in the wrong body, its replacement could be My body is the perfect vehicle for me to learn the lessons of love and to grow. Repeat these new affirmations to yourself each day, reflect on them at night, tape them to your refrigerator or have someone close to you say them to you as often as possible. The eating psychology transformation happens as you truly try on and absorb this new way of thinking and being. Success is in gentle, conscious, continuous effort throughout the week. If you catch yourself falling back in to the old belief, gracefully redirect the course of your thinking. This is a profound way to change your inner world, and thus the chemistry of the body.

3. Food Psychology Exercise: Inspiration Inventory

Take a moment to consider why you do what you do when it comes to your health. What motivates you to eat a good diet? To take vitamin supplements or medications? Why do you exercise? What forces are at work in your inner world that propel you to take action? Make a list of all the strategies you do during the course of the year that are intended to benefit your health. Then, next to each one, note whether you are motivated by fear or by love. Do you eat healthy because you love health or because you loathe disease? Are you exercising because you love movement and the feeling of fitness or because you despise body fat? This reveals your deeper food psychology patterns.

Next, consider the distinction between motivation and inspiration. Motivation, though a potentially positive attribute, is often used to push ourselves to act in ways that aren’t truly resonant with our core values. People who say they’re highly motivated are often highly stressed and physically drained from chasing after elusive goals. Inspiration, on the other hand, is a power that comes through us but is seemingly not of us. It is expansive, enlivening, limitless in supply, and leaves us metabolically enriched. How does inspiration register in your body? Does it give you a different metabolism? Notice how it affects your nutritional psychology.

During the week, your task is to practice the eating principles you’ve been learning from a place of inspiration. Eat quality foods with relaxation, awareness, pleasure, and rhythm not from a fear of fat or disease but from the love of living a healthy life. Perhaps the easiest way to feel inspiration is to invoke it. Ask it to enter in through your heart’s doorway. Recall a time when you felt inspired to nourish yourself with good food and care for your body. What were the circumstances? Where did your inspiration come from? How did you maintain it? Visualize the you that was inspired, feel in your body what that inspired state felt like, and invite that inspired self into present time. From that place, make a list of anything you can do this week especially the little things that are inspirational for health. Practice them with gratitude and with a smile and watch your nutritional psychology start to shift effortlessly.

4. Eating Psychology Exercise: A New Way to Move

Many of us approach fitness not so much out of love for exercise but as a reprimand for having body fat or eating food, which is a reflection of a negative food psychology. Even though we may reap some of the benefits of exercise, our hidden world of fear and self-judgment will generate a metabolism that falls far short of its potential.

Similarly, many of us who choose not to exercise are also acting from a position of judgment and punishment. We abandon our bodies because of shame, grief, or the false belief that once we’ve let ourselves lose control of eating and exercise we can never recover. We secretly believe that we don’t deserve better—again a reflection of a negative food psychology.

It’s time to move closer to our own hearts and souls to examine what most often stops us our fears and to administer the proper medicine compassion.

A useful distinction to proceed with is the difference between movement and exercise. For many, exercise has the connotation of required, repetitive punishment. It’s something we have to do as opposed to something we love to do. Movement is the antidote to exercise. It’s a celebration of the body. It’s inspired, it’s natural, and it’s born from a place of cellular joy. The same exercise, such as jogging or Stairmaster, can be done from love rather than punishment. It’s all about our thinking and our internal psychology.

In your journal, give thoughtful responses to these questions:

Do I exercise from a love of movement?

Are there any ways I use exercise as a punishment?

Have I abandoned my body when it comes to movement or exercise?

What are the specific judgments I have about my body?

Do these judgments serve me?

What stands in my way of inspired movement on a regular basis?

What would my life feel like if joyous, inspired movement was regular fare?

What kind of movement or exercise would inspire me?

During this, transform the way you exercise. Move from a place of celebration. Make the commitment to find joy in your physicality. The specifics are simple: Observe your thoughts when you exercise. When you notice the inner critic is at the controls, gently invite in the compassionate and graceful dancer. In this way exercise, like eating, becomes a meditation in awareness. As with meals, breathe deeply and consciously as you move. This brings us into the present moment and into a more authentic relationship with the body. You needn’t change the type of exercise you do. You simply need to change you, the exerciser and shift your nutritional psychology.

Monitor yourself to see if you’re receiving pleasure. Many people find that once they observe and release their negative mind-chatter about exercising, they have more energy, endurance, and a welcome lightness of body and being. For extra credit this week, choose a new way to move your body. Find an exercise or body discipline that’s a departure from how you normally move. The choices these days are bountiful Pilates, Gyrotonics, Feldenkrais, NIA. Think of this not as a replacement of your regular routine but an addition to it. If you’re accustomed to aerobics, add some light weight training. If you’re the type who focuses on competitive exercise, choose a more artful form of movement such as dance or tai chi. If you tend to go hard doing heavy weights, intense aerobics, and so forth try going soft with yoga, gentle stretching, swimming. Trust your body this week. Set it free to move. Ask your gut-intelligence for information about what your body wants, and listen for feedback in a deeper way than you ever have before.

The key to accessing the metabolic power of thinking and create a positive food, nutritional and eating psychology is to become aware of your thoughts and then choose to change them. Observe your mind with persistence and patience. Affirm the energy-gaining thoughts and gently release the energy-draining ones. Discard all nutritional concepts that are rooted in judgment or fear. Invoke inspiration into your dietary world. Practice self-acceptance. And above all, believe in the power of belief to direct the course of your metabolic destiny in each and every moment.

Key Lessons to Shift Your Eating and Food Psychology

What we think is electrochemically transduced into physiological responses.

Thinking, therefore, is a nutritional choice.

Negative thoughts about food can directly inhibit digestion through nerve pathways, hormones, neuropeptides, and other bio-substances. Positive thoughts about food enhance digestion via these same pathways.

The placebo effect is proof positive that our thoughts, beliefs, 
and expectations can influence the metabolic effect of a food or 

The source of our motivation strongly influences metabolism. Healthy activities driven by fear can yield poor results, while the same action powered by inspiration can yield more positive results.

This article on nutritional and food psychology is excerpted with permission from The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss by Marc David. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.

About The Author

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and bestselling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. The Institute for the Psychology of Eating is the world’s only teaching organization dedicated to a forward thinking, positive, holistic approach to nutritional psychology. The Institute also features cutting edge programs for the public. Learn more here: