Ten Questions With Glenn Mackintosh

What I love most about Glenn is his passion for helping people and the way he delivers evidence-based and weight inclusive insights with genuine care and love. You’re going to love his fun zen vibes!

1. Glenn you are a leading psychologist specialising in eating, physical activity, weight and body image, you are the founder of the Weight Management Psychology and you’ve devoted your life to helping people find peace with their bodies – why is your work so important to you? What’s your why?

Taryn! People ask me this all the time. I guess that my real why is just that I find helping people change so fun! The psychology of eating, movement, weight and body image is just such a complex puzzle, and what many people do to try and work on these things (e.g., diets) is ineffective at best, and can be downright harmful at worst. There is so much great science out there pointing us towards a new way of doing things, and I love when I can translate that science into workable strategies to help people overcome challenges they’ve had for decades – what a buzz!

2. You are one of the most genuine people I know and deeply passionate about promoting positive body image, you also appeared as the consultant psychologist on The Biggest Loser: Transformed. Did you cop any flack from anyone for being part of this show?

Awww Taryn thank you!!! Yes, I am deeply passionate about spreading messages of intuitive eating, joyful movement, and positive body image – I feel we need to bring them out of our therapy rooms and into public awareness, so that’s why I do a lot on social media, and why I ended up in the most unlikely place – the Biggest Loser: Transformed taking up the tricky task of sharing them there. It was a very big decision, which came with a lot of consideration and reflection. In the end I went with my heart, trusted the producers of a reality TV show that they would allow me to share evidence-based messages with the contestants and viewers – and did my best to get them out there in a compassionate and non-stigmatizing way.

Surprisingly, I didn’t cop anywhere near as much backlash as I expected. It heartened me that many people in the non-diet community had positive responses to my inclusion on the show, and faith that I could share good messages with integrity (at least in my segments)! We ended up having segments on mindful eating, positive body image, and “zooming out” from the scales to consider holistic health and wellness – so I was proud of the messages that people received who may otherwise never have heard them.

3. You’re an advocate for health at every size, what does this mean to you and what is your best argument against a pelican who argues that you can’t be healthy AND live in a larger body?

I AM! And speaking of pelicans – and bear with me – one way I like to think of us all is like being dogs in the dog park. If you go to any dog park in the world you will find dogs of all shapes and sizes. Now some are pretty little toy poodles and some are big beautiful mastiffs, some are kelpies who run around with this crazy joyful energy and some are the most beautiful-natured and loving labs. If you try to make a mastiff look like a toy poodle, it’s going to run into trouble.

Say you underfeed it and put it on the treadmill for two hours a day – It will never be as tiny as a toy poodle, and starving it and punishing it with exercise is just going to make it unhappy and unhealthy, even if it does lose a bit of weight. And even if it loses weight, as soon as it stops the crazy regime it’s going to regain it, as its body is smarter than we who are trying to control it, and knows it’s still a mastiff after all. The mastiff is much better off enjoying its food, playing with all the other dogs in the dog park, and being the very best mastiff it can be. Luckily, that’s exactly what dogs do. They don’t worry about all this losing weight stuff – they’re smarter than us. We need to be more like dogs and less like pelicans!

4. My weight never fluctuated as much as it did when I was filming Embrace. I was often travelling overseas alone, working ridiculously long hours and stressed, so I ate. So many people emotionally eat, how do we not use food as a reward for our behaviour or a soother for our feelings?

This is a really great question. First thing’s first – it is NORMAL that food soothes us emotionally. Our brains are wired to get pleasure from things that keep us alive and well – like sleep, sex, and food! Our brain’s reward and satiety (fullness) centres talk really closely. And of course food is associated with the giving – and receiving of – love, so it’s totally natural and healthy to love food. A little emotional eating can help you navigate your way through life’s sometimes difficult waters – maybe it helped you keep your head above water when you were making Embrace. The trouble is, like with any coping strategy, when we over-rely on it, it turns into something more harmful than helpful.

There is a lot to overcoming emotional eating, but I think realizing that it doesn’t actually make you feel any better is the first step. Often (after the temporary pleasure) you end up feeling worse – it’s like double-dipping on a bad mood! So if you’re feeling like emotionally eating, but know deep down the food won’t actually do what you want it to, it’s worthwhile considering that there’s rarely a nutritional solution to an emotional problem. As a human being you will always want to feel better, so if you close the door to something that won’t work, your mind will automatically begin to open up to what will. Try it – you’ll be surprised! Maybe you’ll end up rewarding yourself with a nice warm bath, having a much-needed conversation with someone, or becoming a comfort tea-drinker…

5. We know diets don’t work and yet people keep going back for more – why?

I know right! Research suggests around 97% of diets fail in the long-term. As well as regaining the weight you lose, often with interest – what researchers call the “Nike Swoosh’ of weight loss – your self esteem takes a hit (because you blame yourself for failing the diet and not the other way around!) Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. I call our continued attempts at weight loss without ever finding lasting success Thinsanity.

Now the diet industry have known diets don’t work for years, but now they know you know as well, so they’ve craftily created a range of not-a-diet-diets, which are exactly like a diet, but just not called one. That way they can continue to leverage their most powerful marketing tool – your internalized weight bias – to keep you locked into the machine. BUT, you can outsmart them. And it’s actually pretty simple – if a program, product, or person is making you think more about losing weight – it is a diet and should be avoided. Understanding this helps you notice the urges to get sucked into a dieting mindset (and they will come) and pull yourself back from the precipice – building what I call “dieting resilience”. The reality is, choosing not to diet may be a decision you have to make many times throughout your life.

6. An important element of body positivity is acknowledging that you are so much more than just your body. What are other ways we can nourish ourselves.

Totally, we get so caught up on our physical selves we can forget to see our health, wellbeing, and happiness from a holistic point of view. So rather than lazer-focusing on your physical self, it’s good to zoom out and try to take care of all parts of you. Maybe you can nurture your mind by reading a good book, your emotional self by taking some time for you, your relationships by making dinner plans with an old friend, your future by taking a course of study, or your spirit by hiking in the mountains. All of these things place your body in the position of the vehicle for achieving your dreams, not the dream itself. Somewhat paradoxically, a positive body image is about acknowledging you are SO MUCH MORE than your body.

7. We know the best way to give yourself a powerful food craving is to say “I’m not allowed this food”, can you explain the forbidden fruit effect?

Of course! There is a rebellious teenager inside all of us, and when someone says we can’t have something…we want it more! In the case of dieting, this person is often a health professional, well-intended loved one, or even just ourselves. The thing we can’t have is a certain type of food (it varies from diet to diet, but most diets have a list of ‘allowed’ and ‘not allowed’ foods). Forbidding foods awakens the sleeping dragon of rebellion in our minds. It makes us preoccupied and even obsessed with them, which we call the ‘forbidden fruit effect’.

And then when we do eventually eat them we feel guilty for ‘breaking our diet’ and eat even more – this is what we call the ‘what the hell effect’. These two psychologically rebellious effects are the hallmark of a dieting mindset, and the main reason why creating even seemingly sensible food rules often backfires. Thankfully, they can be overcome by doing the work of letting go of diets and cultivating some intuitive eating abilities!

8. What is your top 3 advice hacks for someone wanting to embrace and love their body more?

Oh my, only 3? Here goes. I’ll give you a tip, and two important things about the process.

  1. Spring clean your social media – this simple hack is often my first go-to with people looking to love their bodies more. How can you expect yourself to love your body when you’re being bombarded with messages of body-hatred every time you check your phone? Media is the main contributor to our body image issues, and psychologists love working on the causes rather than the symptoms. Deleting, unfollowing, and unsubscribing from harmful body messages is a powerful first step in uprooting the problem of internalized body shame.
  2. Have patience – learning to love your body is like learning a new language. You’re going to have tricky parts, slow periods, and even backwards steps. If you replace the harmful messages you freed yourself from in my first point with supportive people in your life, including friends, non-diet health professionals and the broader body positive community, you’ll be able to stay with it and eventually surprise yourself by how far you’ve come.
  3. Be true to yourself – While you need to open your mind to embrace a new relationship with your body, you also need to listen to yourself. It’s important to listen to others’ ideas, strategies, and solutions, but no one knows you like you know yourself. I always find in sessions when we make space for a person to listen to their own inner wisdom, we find the best answers. For one person it may be joining a curvy yoga class, for another it’s getting rid of their ‘thin clothes’. For someone it’s reading a book, for someone else it’s changing their GP. The answers are always there if you listen to yourself (even if they’re challenging to follow through with!)

9. I’ve heard on the grapevine that you like animal print, how many pieces of animal print clothing do you have in your wardrobe? (and don’t lie, any answer you give me will disappoint me)

You know I like animal print because we are fellow leopard-spirit-animals (is that a word? It is now!) According to social conventions I rock more leopard print than any straight male legally should – but that’s what embracing is all about right? Saying ‘stuff the rules’ and being courageous enough to express your inner self and style, no matter what people say or think (and believe me they say and think lots of things!) I have a leopard suit jacket, a snow leopard shirt, three sets of leopard leggings (one is aqua – I call this the sea-leopard!), leopard shorts and a white tiger dressing gown! I think we are all a bit weird and I’m all for embracing it! Oh, and a pair of leopard jeans…

10. If you could invite six people, earth side or the other side to your dinner party, who would you choose and why?

Holy moly! From this side I would invite you because you’re my homie, Louise Green (Big Fit Girl) because I’ve spoken to her on my podcast and she’s a total legend I want to meet in real life, and my old mentor Linda Bacon as I believe we non-diet health professionals sometimes spend too much time arguing over our differences than supporting each other and I’d like to talk to her about that.

From the other side, I would invite Funakoshi Gichin (the founder of modern Karate) as I am a lifelong student of the martial arts, Steve Jobs as I’ve just read his auto-biography and he’s just such an interesting man, and Judy Garland as she was my first ever crush! This would make for a very full-on event, so I hope there would be drinks.

Glenn Mackintosh is a facilitator on the Embrace You program. Embrace You has a 94% success rate. Want more time, energy, clarity, joy and fun? Join The Program!

Download Glenn’s FREE e-book ‘The Missing Piece’ for 7 mindset hacks for eating, movement, weight, & body image.

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