“If you’re not losing weight, you must be cheating.”
“You just need to eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Calories in, calories out!”
Well, it’s not quite that simple.
Despite what you hear from the screaming maws of overcaffeinated weight-loss trainers on reality television, you’ll soon discover that taking pleasure in nourishing your body is essential to your success.
You really can be happy and healthy at the same time.
On this show with Marc David, you’re about to learn why the “calories in, calories out” model of weight loss is wrong, and how your thoughts impact your nutritional metabolism.
As a psychology and brain science geek myself, Marc and I get deep into the mental game on this episode. I think you’re going to dig it.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why the “calories in, calories out” model of weight loss is wrong
- How thoughts impact nutritional metabolism
- What to do before you eat your meal
- The impact of pleasure on weight, appetite, digestion and assimilation
- And much more…
Marc David: How Nutrition Saved His Life
Abel: We’re here today with my friend, Marc David. Marc is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology. He also has the best hair of anyone who has ever been on this show.
How you doing, Marc?
Pretty good, Abel. Good to see you, my friend.
Abel: Let’s give listeners a bit of background into why you focus on the mental game. What does it mean to be in Nutritional Psychology and how you got started.
My thing is Eating Psychology, and for me that’s almost like the missing half of the nutrition equation.
I’m a nutrition fanatic. Nutrition saved my life. I was born asthmatic, allergic, sickly, immunocompromised, and I almost died a handful of times in infancy. That drove me to look for answers.
I was in the generation of Fruit Loops and Kool-Aid. We were the guinea pigs of industrialized food.
When I was five, I heard a rumor that fruits and vegetables were good for you. I don’t think I’d ever had one. So I asked my mother to buy me some apples, peas and carrots in a can because that was my concept of fruits and vegetables.
It was a revelation for me. I got on the “nutrition is magic” track. It’s so personally empowering, and then at a point in my career I got into nutritional counseling.
I realized that it didn’t matter much of the time how much nutrition information I knew because I could tell someone who’s smart and motivated, “This is what you do and eat,” and they’d agree, but then two weeks later they come back and say they couldn’t do it.
They’d say, “I don’t know why. I don’t know what happened.”
That was the moment I realized that if I don’t understand the mind, heart and soul of the eater – (What are we thinking? What are we feeling?) – then I can’t really help anyone. So that just put me on my lifelong mission of discovering what eating psychology is, what our relationship with food is and how it is driving us.
Are You Using Food To Feel Better?
Abel: Many people know the right foods to eat and how to move their body, but they just don’t do it in real life. What makes doing the right thing so hard?
Our relationship with food inevitably leads us to some interesting places. I’m saying I want to eat this or exercise, but don’t do it. There are fields of psychology (it might be called Parts Therapy or Gestalt) that assert “ you are not a person, you’re kind of a crowd.” There’s me the man, but I’m also a son, father, teacher, student. I can be a jerk, or I can be a really wise person.
We have all these different characters who live inside of us. There’s fascinating research that shows in a classic multiple personality disorder patient when they switch personalities, their physiological parameters will change. Every personality has its own metabolic profile: heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, hormonal picture.
There’s been clinically documented cases where in one personality will have a citrus allergy, and if they eat fruit they get hives. But when they switch personalities, the researcher will watch the hives disappear as they switch over.
At any given moment, one of these different personas tends to be at the head of the table. So the person sitting down to the meal… is it the Abel that loves nutrition, loves to feel good in his body, and just loves to explore healthy food? Or is it the kid who had a bad day and wants to use food to feel better?
A lot of times there’s a personality that takes over the relationship with food, and we’re not aware of it. Regaining control is about noticing this and invoking who you want to sit at the head of the table.
Abel: So much of our identity is wrapped up in what we eat. To use raw vegans as an example, as much as raw whole foods hold promise, the dogma and limits are a bit of a trap.
We can get so religious about things food.
I was a vegan for 5 years and vegetarian for 11. I had found my deity.
At some point my health started plummeting, and I woke up one morning and “oh my god I’m craving meat and what a horrible sensation.” It took me months to move through my own judgments and the whole construct I had built up.
In a lot of ways nutrition teaches us about flexibility. The mind gets locked in and we can become judgmental and fundamentalist, or we can become open human beings.
We can say, “Hey, ok, that seemed to work, but now it’s not. Now what do I do, and now what’s next? And if I’m vegan, how can I pull along some of those great political and ethical pieces?”
Sometimes nutrition brings us into a place of paradox. We share information and then we try it. When we bring the explorer, the scientific attitude, then it gets interesting. But it’s easy for us to go into battle around who’s got the best nutritional system.
Abel: I had Kevin Gianni on the show awhile back. He mentioned how he had become such a raw vegan superstar that people would notice him when he was out grocery shopping and hawk over everything he bought.
But he was craving protein, which can be bad for a “vegan.” So he’d get 64 ounces of raw yogurt… and cover it up under his kale. Then he ate 64 ounces of yogurt a day. That’s a ton of yogurt.
Sometimes focusing too much on nutrition allows us to stray into disordered eating.
I love the example that you just gave because here’s a person who had a strong construct, ethics, and belief system that he put it into action. A lot of times we identify ourselves with how we eat.
When cultural anthropologists studied primitive cultures, they found that people talk about and identify each other by what they eat and how they eat differently.
Here’s his identity of how he eats, but the body is saying something different. There’s this feedback loop, a consciousness and an intelligence that’s saying, “I need yogurt. I’m going to protect myself and hide this under the kale.”
But our nutritional survival brain takes over. Body wisdom takes over. There’s so much intelligence in human beings, but we’ve focused instead on IQ. What about people who have intelligence when working with animals, emotional intelligence, or musical intelligence?
Humans naturally have body-based wisdom.
Sometimes I’ll talk to someone, and they’re eating a bunch of junk food and it’s less that I’m in judgment and more that I’m like, “How can you not feel that in your body?”
In many ways culture teaches us to ignore our body’s intelligence because we’ve got things to do. Eat the food and make stuff happen. I think the predominant archetype in terms of how we look at food in the industrialized world is that we see food as fuel.
You’re not going to be concerned about ingredients if you’re just putting the fuel in. When do we start listening to the body, and what does that mean?
Abel: How do you build that intuition?
There are a lot of people who don’t trust their own body. We can get online and read so much information about a paleo, vegan, and mediterranean diet, and they’ll all have proof and studies that people have healed cancer—they’re all right and they’re all wrong.
I want to come from a spectrum of nutrition. Anything can work and we’re still evolving.
It’s not like evolution stopped. Culture and the environment are still changing. So when I’m eating, it’s from that perspective—what‘s going to help me elevate as a metabolic being? But I also don’t want to live long and be healthy and be a jerk and not expand myself or not grow and be bored for the next 150 years. So, how can nutrition support me on that more subtle level? I’m asking those questions and listening to my body.
It’s the wisdom that created us. It’s so much smarter than us. If I’m following that wisdom, the clues are forthcoming. I’m drawn to that food. Let me try it and eat it, and how did I feel?
It’s less about what I eat and more about the collective conversation of what’s working.
Ditching Dogma: The Importance of Being Wrong
Abel: It’s almost like you have to follow something until it doesn’t work anymore to realize that’s not the answer.
I love to experiment with different types of exercise. I’ve done everything from marathons to sprints. I loved running and competitive mountain biking.
I’ve tried a super low-carb keto diet, then higher carb experimenting with starches and carb-refeeding. It’s a powerful moment when you can try something and admit to yourself, “wow, that didn’t work.”
Intermittent fasting is something else I experiment with, especially when I’m out in nature. But if you push fasting too far then you come crashing down… and all of a sudden you’re eating 64 ounces of yogurt.
How do you accept that you might be wrong?
In food, as in life, things change and nothing stays forever, whether it’s our personality, friends, partners, loved ones. We change and life is always bringing us new expressions that are unexpected. I’m accustomed to that already. Things are going to look different in every way shape or form two years from now. Why should that be different with food?
Humans love certainty. “Just give it to me, tell me what to eat and how to exercise and I’m never going to have to think about that for the rest of my life.”
We have to look at this need for absolute. Certainty makes us comfortable, but it has us dumbed down because we’re going to do what’s safe and what we know, even if it’s not the best for us.
Sugar might not be so good for me? Oh my goodness. We want our routine and our certainty, but our relationship with food can tell us—can I be flexible?
Rigidity is death. Flexibility is life. In our minds we need to be nutritionally supple and flexible.
That’s how the ones who came before us did it. We had to be able to turn on a dime. We’re like cockroaches, sharks and rats in that they can eat anything. They’re the most successful evolutionarily.
We have to clean up our nutritional act on a global level.
Abel: It’s been fascinating to see over the past five years how much attention we give to what people are eating, and guiding us back to how we used to eat before industrialization.
Where do you think food and the world of nutrition is going?
Let me give you 30 seconds of history: In the colonial times, the reigning wisdom about nutrition was that food was a universal element, a food stuff. Then we started realizing there’s protein, fat, and carbohydrate macronutrients. We get the microscope, dive down, and develop chemistry, and we can look at micronutrition, vitamins, and minerals. Then we get into ancillary nutrients like CoQ10.
Nutritional science is about filling in the agenda of the chemical blanks. We just need to keep discovering more chemistry, more things circulating in the cells. It’s this additive science where we keep discovering more nutrients.
It’s almost like we’re bifurcating a little bit, and it’s about the nutritional have and have nots. You and I have access to information, we can read and write and get on the internet. We have money to buy good food and the wherewithal to experiment.
There’s another segment of the population that’s in survival mode. They just don’t have time to learn, and they’re thinking, “I just have to go to work and feed myself, and oh my goodness I can get a happy meal for a dollar.”
The part of us that’s really studying nutrition and going “Wow.” That tends to be where the excitement and action is.
In part, we have to look at nutrition from a very strong immunoprotective perspective. We’re living in a world right now that’s under assault: electrochemical attack, a sick food chain, and we are facing an immune challenge that none of our ancestors have ever faced.
I’d rather be dealing with a lion than pick up a newspaper and know that I’m going to absorb a hundred chemicals that didn’t exist 40 years ago.
So I think we really have to up our game collectively and really respect nutrition in a whole different way.
Our collective gut has been compromised. There’s all this research about gut microbiome because we need it. We’ve been walking around with sick guts because of antibiotics and poor food quality. So all of a sudden the gut microbiome is this great new understanding that so many people have known about for a long time—it takes the research community a little bit to catch up.
We have to be pragmatic—I look at intermittent fasting like a great nutrition experiment.
Immunoprotective, gut expansive, and protective—those are the big pieces… and also using nutrition to really start to elevate our brains.
I think we get smarter. What makes us smarter in terms of nutrition and supplements, and what dumbs us down?
A Harvard study is looking at flouride in water and how those who are exposed to fluoridation have a lower IQ. I’m thinking it’s time to filter our water. That’s an immune movement—protect myself against a harmful substance. But let me experiment: filter or natural spring water?
There’s more and more science that can dive into our chemistry and DNA and show you a full-picture of your makeup and where you have challenges in your metabolic pathway. So, I can look at that data, and then try a supplement and food.
It’s all pointing toward body based intelligence. You might have a plumbing issue in your house, you may not be able to fix it yourself but you’re smart enough to get three estimates and then choose the best one.
We gave that to doctors a long time ago, but the medical person isn’t really interested in keeping us healthy. They’re more focused on fixing you when you come in.
I have to do that for me. We have to do that for ourselves, our partners, lovers, children, friends.
Abel: It comes down to respect. You need to respect what you’re eating, and understand that it’s something more than fuel.
There’s this dichotomy between eating for damage control and treating water or food as a nutrient. They’re two fundamentally different things.
I think the common thread between the people who are healthiest is that they think in terms of the best quality food and water they can find and afford. You can start doing that right now as long as you respect your own body, and it should be one of the highest priorities of your life.
We don’t know with 100% certainty what happens to us beyond the body. But we’re clear that while we’re here we are alive and the biological space suit matters. That place of respect or humility in its own way is a metabolic enhancer. It furthers the action of who we are.
When I’m in a state of trust and humility, I’m more relaxed. When humans are in a relaxation response, also called parasympathetic nervous system dominance, that’s the optimum state for digestion, assimilation, and natural appetite regulation. AND day in day out calorie burning.
One of the challenges is that, yes, we must look at the foods to eat, and we also have to look at what we’re doing with the body so it’s able to fully receive that food.
I could be eating the healthiest food in the universe, and if I eat that plate of food in a state of being freaked out, stressed, and hating my life, I’m disrespecting my body. I’m creating tension, fear, judgment, and that creates stress chemistry and sympathetic nerve reaction that pulls the body away from digestive capacity and assimilation capacity.
We are so powerful in terms of the mind and how it’s influencing body’s chemistry, but sometimes as humans we sweep that under the rug.
So we’re eating the right food, but we’re eating it because we’re so freaked out about getting ill. That’s not the best nutritional state.
How To Reach Optimal Eating State
Abel: Say you’re about eat lunch or dinner and you’re coming to the table, how do you approach it in the right head space?
It’s so simple it’s almost embarrassing. Ask the question: Am I about to eat in a relaxed state?
It’s about understanding that you are in an optimal state when you are in a place of relaxation. Just ask that question—we know if we’re stressed, anxious and rushed, or if we’re relaxed.
If you’re stressed, do this exercise: Take 5 to 10 long slow deep breaths. It takes less than a minute. You can do it with your eyes open or closed.
Any time we adopt a breathing pattern of a particular brain state we will move toward that brain state.
Even if your breath is in a stress response with rapid and shallow breathes, if you take those deep breaths you will trick your body into a relaxation response and it will create relaxation chemistry.
Another way to relax the body is to focus on sensation. If you’re stressed out, focus outside, focus on the sun and clouds—just look at the sky. Listen to the sounds you hear outside. Focusing on a sensation, especially a natural one, will relax the body in less than a minute.
You could also focus on the food—the color, beauty, taste, aroma, the feel of the eating experience. When you focus on that, the sensation pulls you in. The body enjoys sensation. It will relax itself so it can pay attention to it. The benefit is that all of a sudden you’re enjoying your food, you’re experiencing more pleasure.
We tend to look at pleasure as this frivolous nonsense thing, but pleasure is a metabolic enhancer. Pleasure by itself will catalyze a relaxation response. Relaxation is the optimum state for digestion and assimilation and day to day calorie burning.
Pleasure signals that there’s not a tiger chasing you. You’re safe.
Any time we pleasure the system through taste, touch, music, or company, we’re regulating the emotional and social metabolism, and you’re regulating your nutritional metabolism.
Abel: Where does gratitude come in?
Back in the day, food was more expensive (figuratively and literally), and humans ritualized being grateful for the food in front of us.
In today’s society, when you can get the worst food possible for almost nothing, we skip that step.
Gratitude in a strange way requires a little bit of time. It requires pause. If I’m being chased by wolves I don’t have time to be grateful. I just have a couple minutes to make something happen.
We move so fast in this world. Video games, music videos, life, internet, cars. We’re falling in love with fast and consequently we miss the nuances of food, nutrition relationships, and our body. Gratitude essentially has us slowing down and taking stock. So right there, we’re doing the same physiological event.
Is it creating stress or relaxation practicing chemistry? We are literally a different person in terms of body and mind.
When I’m in gratitude, I’m in a relaxation response because there’s a moment of “I am safe.” When we have that moment of safety, we can relax, and the part of our brain (executive function) steps into place and comes alive—the part that creates and has intuition.
When we’re practicing gratitude, there’s this strange benefit that impacts our physiology, which opens up the body to digest and assimilate and opens the mind to explore and see what the world really is.
Why The “Calories-In, Calories-Out” Model Is Wrong
Abel: Why is the “calories-in, calories-out” model outdated when it comes to nutrition?
It annoys the begeezus out of me. There is obviously a degree to which human beings are an input output calorie machine. But you can take a lot of people and put them on a 1200 calorie diet and have them exercising their brains out and they don’t lose any weight.
You can put people on a medical fast and they eat almost nothing for a week and they gain two pounds. That deserves attention.
Calorie burning metabolism will be affected by macronutrient balance, and its capacity will be affected by your hormonal picture. Low in thyroid or imbalanced testosterone or estrogen, that will affect your weight loss. If your liver is having any sort of dysregulation, that can impact calorie burning.
We have studies that show if your gut microbiome is compromised, that can impact weight gain. So can meal time. The body metabolizes food differently at different times of the day.
A 2000 calorie diet eaten in one meal at dinner, and they gain weight. Take the same one and eat it at breakfast and they lose weight.
Someone over here might need more exercise. Someone might need better macronutrient balance. Someone might need better meal timing.
Simply, if you’re overstressed and you can’t get out of that, that increased cortisol and insulin by itself will stimulate the body to gain weight despite the meager amount of calories you might be eating.
We have hit a wall collectively around this thing called weight. Our collective strategies don’t work so well.
Abel: One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that it’s as simple as eating fewer calories or exercising more.
That reductionist thinking leads us into trouble.
In my teens and early 20’s, I was reading running magazines and articles that said I needed to get all this Gatorade and glucose in me… because that’s what Michael Jordan does.
But the stories we’re sold are not the reality we live in.
The companies behind the advertising (and I’ve worked for some of these companies) – it’s a numbers game for them. They want to sell the most amount of breakfast cereal or cheap quality product for the biggest profit and your health doesn’t really matter.
You’re getting fat? “Eat less and exercise more,” they say.
“Oh, it’s my fault!” No, you’ve been eating like this since you were in the womb.
Abel, being a nutritional explorer, there was something in you that said, “This doesn’t seem to be working. What else?”
If you and I were creatures in the jungle asking what else can we eat, what makes you feel better? We’re learning how to evolve and it takes a willingness, an interest and a passion to learn. We know the possibilities, because we’ve seen our bodies and lives transform. You notice all these subtle changes when you change your diet.
Where To Find Marc David
You can see Marc’s videos, blogs, and free video series at PsychologyOfEating.com, check out his Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training, and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Before You Go
Are you struggling with changing your lifestyle or modifying your eating habits, even though you know what’s best? We can help.
Here’s a quick note from Shannon who completed the Wild Diet 30-Day Challenge in the Fat-Burning Tribe and lost 19 pounds!
Shannon says she’s gained confidence:
Alyson and Abel, Thank you for changing my life!!!! I feel so much better and have more energy. I feel like a more pleasant person, I have more confidence and I’m handling stressful situations much better. 30 days in and I can’t wait to see how far I get by 100 days.
Danica’s life is changed:
Finding this lifestyle has changed my life…in just one short month. I have lost 23 pounds and over 14 inches. My work relationships are better. I have so much energy, I tried racquetball and zumba for the first time. I started wearing makeup and making cute hairdos, that isn’t something I have done in years.Thanks Abel and Alyson!!!!!!
Danica, this might be the first time someone has linked eating Wild to making cute hairdos. But I totally support that. 🙂
So how do you get started living Wild?
It seems like every day there’s a new study, article, or paper that just adds to the confusion and conflicting information about health, food, and fitness.
So my wife, Alyson, and I created a private group called The Fat-Burning Tribe to share outrageously tasty Wild recipes, fat-burning workouts, and done-for-you Meal Plans all in one place.
Right now, you can join us for just $1 for your first month.
What did you think about this show? Leave a comment below and get in touch!