Monthly Archives: December 2018

reflective brain and impulsive brain

I Know What I Want To Do… So Why Don’t I Do It? Part 2

In Part 1 of, “I Know What I Want To Do… So Why Don’t I Do It?”, you learned four reasons executive coach Marshall Goldsmith says are responsible for why we often don’t follow through with the things we say we want to accomplish. These four reasons have to do with our perception which often doesn’t match reality.

These reasons that Goldsmith described include:

  1. We believe in this “dream,” that at some point our future we won’t be as crazy busy as it is now, and then we can do the things we say we want to do.
  2. Then there’s “planner bias.” When we make plans, we are usually relaxed and comfortable, just creating the plan. We expect we’ll be in this same state when it’s time to execute the plan. But as Goldsmith explains, “The person that’s doing the planning is not the same as the person that’s doing the executing.” 
  3. We often underestimate the time it will take to follow through with what we want to do or we aren’t realistic about the effort required, or both.
  4. Inevitably, some crisis comes up while working on what we want to be doing, that stops or stalls our plan. As Goldsmith says, “Although the odds on any one low probability event occurring are slim, the odds on some low probability event occurring are incredibly high.”

While these issues are about our perception of what we want to do and what the circumstances will be at the time of working on what we want to do, psychologist Glenn Mackintosh answers the same question by looking at two systems at work in our brain.

Our Brain Has Its Own Agenda

I often talk about the research (along with anecdotal evidence from millions of dieters) that shows we really aren’t in control of our body weight, shape or size. We like to think we can control our size or our shape, and plenty of marketers still claim that you can have “the body of your dreams.” But it really comes down to our genetics. And the more we try to change our body to conform to what we want, it fights back, takes control and you end up with change in the opposite direction, gaining more weight.

A similar case can be made for our brain. While we do have control of our conscious mind (although it doesn’t always feel like it!), the subconscious is in the background, running much of the show, regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish with your conscious mind.

Glenn explains the role your brain plays in whether you follow through or not with something you want to do in his YouTube series, Thursday Therapy, episode #29, “I know what I want to do, but I can’t do it!” But in the beginning, he does share some comforting news:

…this is super normal, you’re not crazy. I get the frustration, it is frustrating… but I want you to try and have a bit of self-compassion because this is a very, very normal thing.

And then he tells us what’s actually going on when we don’t do what we say we want to do…

…we actually have two parts of our brain that are making the decisions around what we want to do and what we don’t want to do simultaneously.

If you’ve ever felt like you had two minds working against each other, keeping you from accomplishing something important, in a way, you did!  But there’s no reason to beat yourself up because, as Glenn tells us, this is normal. According to Glenn, these two systems in our brain go to work when we are thinking about what we want to do (or what we don’t want to do).

These two systems are the reflective and the impulsive systems.

Your Reflective System

The first system Glenn describes is the reflective system. Glenn compares it to Mr. Spock from Star Trek:

…the reflective system is quite logical, it’s a very slow thinking system. And it’s kind of related to willpower. It takes a lot of effort, so I think of this like a “Spock”-type thinking and this is the part that makes all of the plans.

Keep in mind when Glenn refers to willpower, he’s not talking about willpower related to dieting. Willpower is part of mr. spock reflective brain“diet mentality” and not appropriate for decisions around food and eating, but in other situations, it can be a very useful tool. Using the reflective system, including willpower, can be effective in getting yourself to do something worthwhile that you just don’t feel like doing at the moment.

According to Glenn, the reflective system

  • is more logical
  • gives a lot of thought to situations before reacting
  • doesn’t pay much attention to emotions

Your Impulsive System

Here’s how Glenn describes the impulsive system:

…this is a like a fast and intuitive kind of a system. It happens without a lot of conscious thought at all. It’s impulsive and it’s related to our emotions. I think of this system as being like Homer Simpson.

Homer Simpson impulsive brainBecause the impulsive brain is triggered by emotions, it’s responsible for quick “reactions” that we often regret. The comparison to Homer Simpson illustrates this system at work. Homer is well known for acting on his emotions and for being quite impulsive, especially around food. Put a sad Homer around a box of donuts, and you’ve got an impulsive system’s dream!

Characteristics of the impulsive system include…

  • fast thinking, doesn’t take time to think through situations
  • childlike and emotional
  • more unconscious than the reflective system

Using the Systems For Better Follow-Through

Glenn suggests the best results – following through with what you want to do – comes from transforming the relationship between the two systems. This involves changing the impulsive system to want what you want so you don’t need to use more willpower (and the reflective system) or end up arguing with yourself.

…you can transform the relationship between those two systems, so you can actually do more of those things that you say you want to do.

Because the impulsive system involves the subconscious mind, to change it to want what you want, Glenn recommends what he calls the “Alternative Therapies.” These are tapping (EFT) and hypnosis. Over time the subconscious mind can be changed… Homer may actually want to exercise rather than eat the donut. It turns out, the effects of these therapies actually increase over time, according to Glenn, so…

…because they’re working on that impulsive system and changing the impulsive system, you don’t need as much willpower to fight with yourself to make those decisions that you want to do.

Glenn still recommends taking measures to transform the reflective system as well. He suggests, instead of attempting to boost willpower (which isn’t always easy to do), brains working togetherto look for those things that may weaken it – and remove them. Keep in mind an improved impulsive system will keep us from having to rely on willpower alone. But there are several factors that can weaken willpower which we need to be aware of, including:

  • not getting enough sleep or quality sleep
  • drinking alcohol or using other illicit substances
  • not eating enough
  • getting dehydrated
  • negative emotions you aren’t feeling or processing

The last factor Glenn recommends considering so you are able to follow through is your environment:

…set up your environment for success so that impulsively you’re making the right choices for you and it doesn’t take as much willpower.

Think about the self-care activities you want to be doing. This may include making sure you have the foods at home that you enjoy eating and make you feel good, figuring out how to make it easier to get some activity (put your exercise clothes out for the morning, join a gym that is close to home, etc.), or having cold water on hand that’s easy to grab when you’re thirsty. Whatever it is you want to be doing, there will be ways of making it more accessible or more automatic to keep the willpower requirement as low as possible, especially while you’re strengthening your impulsive system at the same time!

Glenn Mackintosh is one of my favorite people on YouTube for information on Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating – especially from a psychological point of view. I highly recommend his videos, especially Thursday Therapy. You can watch episode #29 below and follow Glenn on YouTube. He is an expert on hypnosis and tapping (EFT) as well.

Let me know what you think of these ideas and what you’ll be working on first in the comments below!

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, coming soon!

1 poodle-science

This Is Why Health At Every Size® Makes Sense

I’ve been an advocate for the Health At Every Size® approach for some time now. I know the research that very clearly proves that people in larger bodies can be just as healthy as anyone in a smaller body.

The more recent research on weight stigma also makes so much sense. There’s no proof that being “obese” or “overweight” causes diseases like heart disease or diabetes. But people in larger bodies have been made to feel like second-class citizens because they are a “burden on society,” they supposedly aren’t taking care of themselves, and the list of unsubstantiated claims and downright cruel insults go on and on.

It turns out that this stigma, which can come from doctors, other medical professionals, insurance companies, airlines, family members, employers and the average bigot on the street, may be the cause of these diseasesnot the size of the person. This stigma has a physical effect on the body, not to mention one’s stress level. It can drive unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating to soothe negative emotions.

Someone engaging in these behaviors may have never had any issues with food or overeating until the stigma began and continued. Yet it’s commonly assumed that people in larger bodies are simply lazy, gluttonous and don’t care about their health.

And these assumptions are making people sick, who never were before – regardless of their size or weight.

I came across an excellent video that explains why the current bias against those in larger bodies, and the assumption that they are unhealthy simply due to their size, is ridiculous. I had heard about this video, called “Poodle Science,” before. But this is the first time I’ve watched it. It does a great job of explaining why trying to force all people to be thin doesn’t work, and it does so with humor, which hopefully holds even a skeptic’s attention for the almost 3 minutes it runs.

Whether you know about or believe in Health at Every Size®, check it out. It’s well worth 3 minutes of your time!




move beyond resistance

I Know What I Want To Do… So Why Don’t I Do It?

“I know what I want to do… so why don’t I do it?”

This common question is usually followed by, “What’s wrong with me?

You’ve probably asked it as well… maybe after falling off the ‘diet wagon’ and subsequently polishing off a half-gallon of ice cream. Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?

“I want to cook a healthy dinner, but I’m so tired after work so I have a bowl of cereal instead.

“Every morning I plan to exercise after work. But I usually drive past the gym & promise I’ll go tomorrow.”

These statements don’t directly accuse you of being lazy because you aren’t cooking or you didn’t go to the gym. But I bet you can feel the judgment and shame in them. You can almost hear the unasked question at the end of each statement… “What’s wrong with me?”

The guilt, shame, and judgment we put on ourselves when we don’t follow through create internal resistance. This resistance triggers your inner rebel, who screams, “Make me!” All of a sudden you’re back to playing the old self-sabotage game.

The truth is much more complex than something is wrong with you. How can this be true when everyone has gone through similar experiences?

There are several reasons why it’s difficult to follow through on things you want to do. In the next few posts, you’ll learn from a variety of experts about how to stack the deck in your favor so you experience less frustration and more success.

Our Dream of the Future vs. Real Life

Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith is asked the, “I know what I… “ question all the time. His private clients are already big players, well-known and respected business people, some in positions of great power. Yet he gets the same question!

In his video, “Triggers: Why don’t we do what we know we should do?” Goldman addresses this question.*

Goldsmith says the reasons why have nothing to do with our ethics, values or integrity, nor is it because we aren’t smart. He shares four reasons and makes some very interesting observations.

The first reason we don’t do what we say we want to do is because of a dream many of us have experienced. Goldman describes it this way:

It sounds like this: “You know, I’m incredibly busy right now, given pressures at work and home and new technology that follows me everywhere… Sometimes I feel over committed… every now and again my life feels just a little bit out of control…

Pretty typical, right? But here comes the actual “dream” part:

I’m working on some very unique and special challenges right now, and I think the worst of this is going to be over in about four or five months. And after that, I want to take two or three weeks and get organized… and… begin my new healthy life program and after that everything is going to be different, and it will not be crazy anymore.”

This is the “Tomorrow will be different!” dream. The specifics of the dream are different among different people, but they have the same framework. In the world of dieting and weight loss, you may have experienced the dream this way:

“As soon as the kids are back to school, I’ll get all the sweets out of the house and then I can focus on intuitive eating and not binging.”

Have you said something similar? You want to stop binging and eat intuitively, but you believe you need to wait until your life is different in some way. Has that ever happened? I say dump the dream and start now, you aren’t starting a diet, you’re starting to learn how to enjoy food again!

The Planner Bias

Another reason we don’t do those things we say we want to accomplish is what Goldsmith calls, “Planner Bias.”

The person that’s doing the planning is not the same as the person that’s doing the executing.

When we make plans for what we are going to do in the future, we’re usually relaxed, comfortable, not under stress or pressure. But the “doer” as Goldsmith calls the ‘you’ that will be executing the plan is often stressed out, overwhelmed, tired, or overworked.

The person doing work is not the same as that person making a plan. The person doing the work may be tired, hungry, bored. There’s a term called depleted. The person doing the work is just out of gas. Well, the planner doesn’t count on that because the planner is not the person doing the work.

We all do this – all the time.the diet-binge cycle

It’s fun to plan the future, especially when you know it will be better than the present. We rarely make plans when we’re tired, stressed out or upset.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe like the diet-binge cycle?

You get excited while planning the diet (the dream of weight loss and a perfect life)…

Then you begin and it doesn’t take long to fall into old behaviors – you’re hungry – the weight doesn’t come off fast enough – you feel surrounded by temptation whenever you’re outside your home – and life always gets in the way somehow – you’re back to overeating, binging and hating yourself for having no “willpower.”

Time & Effort Exceed Expectations

This is a classic mistake we make when attempting to lose weight.

…it takes longer than we think. We almost always underestimate how much time it takes to get anything done… [and] it’s harder than we think.

So many people simply assume it will be just as easy to take off weight in their current attempt as it was in an earlier diet. It would be helpful if they considered how long they could keep it off, rather than how long it will require to take it off. It can take longer to lose it then it does to gain it backplus more!

Not to mention the additional pain and suffering that comes with dieting. The hunger, irritability, and light-headedness that comes from a low intake of food are quite uncomfortable. And while you’re experiencing all that, thinking you’re doing something good for yourself in the name of weight loss, you’re actually doing damage to your body, your mind, and your metabolism.

The Odds Are Against You

The final reason why we don’t do what we say we want to do, according to Goldsmith, is that there’s always a good chance that something unexpected will happen that interferes with your plans.

Although the odds on any one low probability event occurring are slim, the odds on some low probability event occurring are incredibly high.

There are so many things that could go wrong at any given time. Goldsmith gives a few examples, including a car accident, someone getting sick or dying, or a company being sold.

I’ve never coached anyone for 18 months that didn’t have a crisis…

Life happens – and when it does, it becomes impossible to maintain whatever diet you may be on.

On the other hand, I’ve had several people tell me they need to wait until the time is “right” to begin making peace with food. I tell them they’ll probably never do it unless they just start now. The time will never be right and unexpected things happen all the time.

It’s better to start making peace with food and learn how to deal with the unexpected while working with me, rather than everything be just right the entire time and a crisis come up after we’re done working together.

Goldsmith tells us to be aware of these possibilities when making plans. By keeping them in mind, if and when you run into one of them, you’ll know it was something other than your own laziness, stupidity or inability to accomplish anything that got in the way. Then you can move forward and keep going after what you want, instead of letting guilt or shame drag you down, keeping you stuck.

For more information on the four reasons why we don’t do what we say we want to do, check out Marshall Goldsmith’s video.



* Goldsmith actually addresses two different questions in the video, but with the same answer. One is, Why don’t we do what we know we want to do? And the other is, Why don’t we do what we know we should do? He doesn’t differentiate between the two. However, in the world of dieting, weight loss, nutrition, etc., there is a distinct difference. The word “should” is a judgment, which often brings along guilt, shame and other negative emotions and beliefs. For our purposes, I’m only interested in why we don’t do what we WANT to do. The judgment tied up in the word “should” isn’t useful or welcome in the making peace with food and body world. However, his advice is still helpful regardless of which question he mentions.

The Diet-Binge Cycle: © Gillian Hood & Healthier Outcomes

1 10 Reasons Not to Focus on Weight Loss

Better Than I Can Explain It… 10 Reasons Not to Focus on Weight in the New Year

The truth about weight loss has finally been exposed. Sadly, the news isn’t what most want to hear. It’s certainly frustrating for me, but the longer I’ve worked with clients on making peace with food, the more obvious the real problem: We are not able to choose our weight, let alone try to control it.

The way I explain this fact is there are two parts of every person: there’s the conscious mind that makes decisions, learns, thinks, attempts to solve problems, etc. (I refer to this as “me” or “you”), and there’s the body, which controls everything else (AKA, “your body”).*

The bottom line: weight loss is your body’s job. Your body controls your weight and it will do everything in its power to keep you at your genetic setpoint. If you continue to yo-yo diet, that setpoint may even rise and your body will fight to keep you there. What do you (we) have control over? Reconnecting to your body and learning how to hear its signals againwe were all born this way. When you take care of your body based on its requests, you’ll never need to attempt to take control over your weight again.**

The amazing women from Be Nourished have written a post all about why NOT focusing on weight loss is a much better approach. It’s a must-read prior to the New Year!

Hilary and Dana’s post, “10 Reasons Not to Focus on Weight in the New Year,” is excellent and I encourage you to read it. I’ll share just a few key points. First, how many times have you tried to lose weight and beat your body into submission? Their very first point, while sad, really says it all:

It likely won’t be different this time, and this is not your fault… Participating in dieting culture supports the illusion that weight loss leads to happiness and health. Honestly, for most people, weight loss just tends to lead to more worry about weight re-gain.

Under this same point, they quote Anne Lamott, talking about her experience with dieting and weight:

…I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, “Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”

In another point, they remind us when a diet fails, the disappointment leads to a typical cycle of “…self-blame, comparison and disconnection from yourself.” They suggest:

The dieting mind causes stress, cruel inner dialogue, and pain. Let’s vow to blame the diets this time, yes?

I love everything they have to say and I agree with it 100 percent. But I have two favorite lines I’d like to shout from the mountain tops so everyone can hear it and even better, take it in and understand these truths:

Your body is not a problem to be solved.

This is my other favorite line from the post:

Hating on our bodies and only conditionally loving ourselves inadvertently supports a limited set of acceptable ideals that have been established by industries that want to sell you stuff.

This is something I’ve recognized for a long time and it makes me so angry every time I see a commercial for a diet, weight loss, fitness or beauty product. Listen carefully to those messages, you’ll hear the underlying message that you’re simply not good enough without our product. Sure, it’s marketing. But it’s disgusting, too.

Now that’s something to get mad at the next time you’re beating yourself up or wishing you were more (thin, tall, attractive, smart, social, etc.). Anger can be a catalyst for change. Feeling desperate to lose weight or despondent because you can’t, keeps you stuck in this very low energy.

When I wanted to accept my body the way it was so I could finally make peace with it, nothing happened as long as I was sad and depressed about it. When I realized that I had been taught to hate my body, I got angry at the people, the culture and the industries that perpetuated these beliefs, usually for their own benefit. This anger helped me decide that I was in charge of how I felt about my body and with time, I was able to change it for the better and reject these outside influences.

Remember, we weren’t born hating our bodies. In fact, babies are fascinated with their bodies! And, as Dana and Hilary point out in their post:

[Your body] is your home and regarding it as separate, problematic or disgusting can result in a type of detachment that interferes with your ability to hear its valuable messages to you… You inhabit it for this lifetime, and we believe body trust is your birthright.

Be sure to check out the entire post. If you’ve been entertaining the idea of setting a weight loss resolution in 2019, I hope this will change your mind. It’s not worth doing more damage to your body and how you feel about yourself.

How about resolving to find out how to be happier? Or to help other people? Or to find some way to make a difference in the world? Any of these will have a more positive effect on your health and how you feel about yourself than attempting to lose weight, I promise this is true!

* This is a very simplistic explanation and I realize there’s much more to it. When I refer to the body and its job, I’m aware that much of it is being controlled by lower parts of the brain. When I refer to the mind in this context, I am mainly referring to the prefrontal cortex, where consciousness lives.

** I am not against weight loss. I just know we aren’t in control of it, our body is, and when we interfere the outcome is almost always gaining even more weight.

2 Would You Trade Weight Loss for a Full & Happy Life

Would You Trade Weight Loss for a Full & Happy Life?

While scanning the daily digest the other day, this title jumped out at me: “What Is More Important Than Weight Loss?”

Now it could have gone either way… it could have been about how weight loss is the most important thing above all else and equate good health with weight loss (even though there’s plenty of good, solid research supporting Health at Every Size).

But this article, beautifully written by Emily Kate, actually brought tears to my eyes. It brought back memories of that dark, lonely place I existed for so many years, desperate to lose weight, and (delusionally) thinking if I did, the binge eating would stop as well.

I don’t know if my deeply ingrained diet mentality would have understood there are many things (most things!) more important than weight loss. What hit me right in the heart was a quote the author shared…

Those extra 5-10 pounds, that place where your body naturally wants to be – that’s your life. That’s your late night pizza with your man, that Sunday morning bottomless brunch, your favorite cupcake in the whole entire world because you wanted to treat yourself. Those 5-10 pounds are your favorite memories, your unforgettable trips, your celebrations of life.


Those extra 5-10 pounds are your spontaneity, your freedom, your love.

It’s worth noting the author is struggling with bulimia and actively working on recovery. I wonder how I would have reacted to the quote above when I was resisting the possibility of gaining weight in order to recover from binge eating disorder. Hopefully, it would have got me thinking about why a small amount of weight gain would be the end of the world for me.

If nothing else, it definitely would have given me a different way to think about that weight.

A List Worth Writing Down

The author goes on to create her own list of, “…things worth gaining weight for/things that are more important than weight loss…” While I definitely suggest you create your own list, it’s worth sharing a few of her gems. This was #1 on her list:

A steady, fulfilling social life. It’s not a secret that a lot of social scenes include food — dates, movie nights, brunches, even just getting coffee with a relative. If you’re constantly avoiding food, or jonesing for your next bulimic fix, you become isolated almost immediately.

This idea is really fundamental to eating:

Enjoying food, rather than just interacting with it.

Somehow the concept of eating as a pleasurable experience has been lost in our diet culture. You hear comments like, “Food is fuel. I must eat high-quality food to nourish my body so it runs like a well-oiled machine.” Oh yeah? Well, sometimes you just want a damn cookie… or two!

One more item on her list stood out for me, probably because I related strongly to it:

More ability and opportunity to help others through their struggles.

Even as I was recovering, I wanted nothing more than to help others caught in the diet-binge cycle. No one deserves to suffer like that. I would guess that about 80 percent of the professionals in this field that I personally know or that I follow have a background that includes an eating disorder or some level of disordered eating and/or body dissatisfaction. There’s a strong drive to reach out and help others when you can relate and empathize with them.

I encourage you to read Emily Kate’s entire article as well as others she has posted on Medium. You may not always relate to what she’s writing about if your experience hasn’t included bulimia. But I’m sure much of it will get you thinking or inspire you to keep moving forward.

I want to know what’s on your list! What’s more important than weight loss and/or worth gaining weight for in your world? Please share in the comments!