The psychology of eating

The classic diet mentality of deprivation, restriction and cyclical periods of being good and then bad has failed 95 percent of those who have tried it. If you want long-term success with maintaining a healthy weight, you need to shift your thinking away from believing that just modifying your behavior around food will solve your problems. The key is not just how you relate to food, but how you run your life in general.

The steps to food freedom are: structure, regimentation/rituals/rules and choice. 


In this case, structure means setting rules. These rules are not dominated by traditional diet restrictions, but an abundance of planning regarding the foods that are allowed. Over time, structure can help you override compulsivity and impulses. This is very different from the usual diet approach of self-denial and self-deprivation.

Having structure in place for diet meals and food is backed by ample research. Regimens like using smoothies for breakfast or protein powders as meal replacements work because of the mealtime structure, not because of their calorie count. 


The three Rs (regimentation, rituals and rules) are stepping stones along the path of diet freedom. You can take away the power that food cues have over you by becoming more aware of your response to those triggers. Being an observer of your thoughts (you as the “watcher”) and of emotions and conditioned responses puts you in the driver’s seat, enabling you to make better and more supportive choices.

The key takeaway here is that mindset determines behavior — not the other way around, like the diet industry would have you believe.


Consider someone who is a vegetarian. No one imposes this lifestyle on him or her. He or she simply avoids a specific category of food. For vegetarians, no emotional energy is spent resisting meat because it is not desired.

This is the empowerment of choice.

This can work for you in terms of habit reversal and letting go of any indulgent food or weight issues. The brain’s cognitive power is used in the service of the vegetarian’s goal of not consuming meat or animal products.

Vegetarians embrace a lifestyle with a set of rules they’ve chosen based on their personal beliefs. They are using a higher level of cognitive awareness and association with a food regimen that reinforces their personal choices. Notice the difference in someone who is trying to follow the advice of Dr. Oz or Dr. Atkins or Mr. South Beach: These are rules imposed from an outside source that you try to fit into your life, and usually without success. 

The value of establishing structure, regimentation and rules in order to discard your diet dilemma cannot be underestimated.

Jim Hart, a registered personal trainer at 12th Street Gym, coaches individuals and groups on the psychology of eating and learning to change your thinking and behavior around food. He has maintained a 60-pound weight loss since 1978 by monitoring his food intake 80-90 percent of the time, a choice that has worked for him. Everyone has to find what fits for them and stay with it for the rest of their lives.

For more information, visit or contact Hart at [email protected]