(Chapter 1, Excerpt from Dr. Daniel Amen’s new book “Unchain Your Brain.”)


I’ve had my share of relationships. Some of them have been wonderful relationships that put a pep in my step and made me feel like I was on top of the world. But some of them have been bad relationships that made me look and feel awful.

I’m talking about my relationships with food.

There was Diet Coke. For a certain period of my life, I felt like it was my best friend. It perked me up for a while, but eventually let me down. And the aspartame gave me pain in my joints that made me feel like an old man.

There was fudge. Sweet, sweet fudge. Eating a piece of fudge could instantly transport me back to my childhood, conjuring up happy memories of me standing at the stove making fudge with my grandfather who was a candy maker and my best friend. Whenever I felt nervous, frustrated, or sad, eating fudge could take me back to those happy times and make me feel better. Plus, I thought I was honoring my grandfather’s memory by eating fudge. But as a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, I knew that the sugar, fat, and salt were working on the heroin centers of my brain and giving me brain fog, in addition to making me gain weight.

Then there was Rocky Road ice cream. The chocolate-y richness, crunchy almonds, and those cute little marshmallows were always there for me at the end of a long day. I would eat it at night as a way to reward myself for a hard day’s work and to help me unwind. We spent many nights together, but I always felt guilty about our trysts because I knew it was contributing to the extra 25 pounds I was carrying around.

I knew I had to break up with all of these foods.

I traded in Diet Coke for green tea and almost instantly felt more energetic and eliminated the joint pain.

Breaking up with fudge was really hard for me because it felt like I was breaking up with my grandfather. Indulging in fudge was what I did to feel close to him long after he had passed away. I had to find another way to feel that closeness to him without the fudge.

As for the Rocky Road ice cream, I tried giving it the boot several times but I kept letting it creep back into my life. It had become an automatic habit like I talked about in the Introduction. If it was nighttime, I needed my bowl of Rocky Road. When I finally admitted to myself that I was stuck in a bad relationship and couldn’t get out, I went to Larry for help. Using one of the techniques in this program, Larry helped me recruit my unconscious mind to say good-bye to Rocky Road ice cream for good.

With my unconscious mind on board, breaking up was so easy to do. It can be for you too. But first you need to ‘fess up to your food relationships.

Are you having a relationship with your food?

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you are. Relationships with food can take many forms. Becoming aware of the kind of relationship you have with food, what it means to you, and why you can’t get out of it is very important.

Food affairs can be very similar to personal relationships. For example:

  • When you feel blue you may turn to one friend who always makes you laugh.
  • When you feel anxious you may reach out to your parents who calm your nerves.
  • When you feel angry you may head straight to your next-door neighbor to vent.
  • When you want to reminisce about the good ol’ days you may call a childhood friend.
  • When you want to feel loved you may seek out the opposite sex.

If you’re like a lot of people, food may be the “friend” you turn to in order to help you cope with any or all of these emotional needs. When these emotions start to bubble up, it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you use food to stuff them back inside you so you won’t have to deal with them.

And unlike friends, neighbors, lovers, or even spouses who may eventually go their separate ways, your favorite food will stick by you through thick and thin. You can always count on that pizza, cheeseburger, or soda to be there for you to fill that emotional need just like it has every other time before.

It’s just like being stuck in a bad personal relationship. You probably know people, perhaps yourself included, who stay in a rotten relationship even though they know it’s no good for them and even though all their friends keep advising them to get out of it.

Why do people do that? Some prefer any relationship, even a bad one, to no relationship at all. Some find comfort in the familiar, no matter how bad, and are so afraid of the unknown that it keeps them coming back for more.

It’s the same thing with food. You know on a conscious level that the cheesecake, doughnuts, or chips are harming your health, making you fat, and making you feel worse about yourself. People around you, like your doctor, your mother, or your best friend, are urging you to just say no to the foods that are making you miserable. But you just can’t kick them out of your life.

When your unconscious mind is working against you, breaking up with food can be so hard to do.

Take Janine, 26, for example. She came to see me because she wanted to break up with Cheez-Its. Janine had been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity, so she knew that eating the cheesy snack crackers wasn’t doing her brain or body any favors. But she couldn’t resist.

When I worked with her on giving up the snack, Janine started feeling very sad. I asked her why, and she said, “Because eating Cheez-Its reminds me of coming home from school and eating them with my friends. Those were really happy times for me, and I’m afraid I’m going to miss that now.”

I worked with Janine on those thoughts and helped her unconscious mind discover that her memories of her friends were not neatly encased in little cheesy snack crackers sold in store aisles. Her memories resided within her, and she could access them anytime she wanted. When her unconscious mind recognized this, it was no longer a struggle to give up the Cheez-Its.

My Food Relationships
Write down the foods you have relationships with and the type of relationship you have with it (fear, anger, sadness, guilt, happy, etc.)

Food Type of Relationship
____________ _____________________________________________________________
____________ _____________________________________________________________
____________ _____________________________________________________________
____________ _____________________________________________________________
____________ _____________________________________________________________

Is your relationship with food defining who you are?

Rita, 67, had been drinking one to two cans of Pepsi every single day without fail for 55 years! Talk about a long-term relationship! She loved the soft drink so much, the people in her office called her “the Pepsi lady.” And she thought of herself as “the Pepsi lady.” But she had no idea that every time someone called her that or she called herself that, it reinforced Pepsi’s grip on her unconscious mind.

That’s because the words you use to describe yourself ultimately define yourself.

The more people call you “the Pepsi lady” or “the pizza guy” or “the dessert queen” and the more you call yourself those names, the more you begin to associate with it. It’s suggestion from the outside and auto-suggestion, which is remarkably similar to the way hypnosis works on the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind hears the suggestion and then follows the suggestion and plays it out.

If you’re “the pizza guy” and someone offers you a slice of pepperoni pizza, well of course you’re going to take it. After all, you’re “the pizza guy.”

Be very careful with the words you use to describe yourself. The first step to getting away from such “name-calling” is recognizing the words you use to describe and define yourself.

My Food-Related Identity
Write down any ways you describe yourself that involve food.


Do you need to break up with yourself?

When you identify yourself with a food, breaking up with it can feel like you’re losing your own identity. Rita wondered, “If I’m not ‘the Pepsi lady’ anymore, who will I be?” This funnels down to very fundamental questions about who we are, how we see ourselves, and how others see us.

You probably thought that emotional overeating was only affecting your waistline. But it affects so much more than that. I’ll bet you had no idea just how much your relationships with food were impacting who you are and how you live your life.

Leaving behind your image of yourself is typically one of the hardest things to do and one of the biggest reasons why people remain enslaved to emotional overeating. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. With your unconscious mind on your side, it becomes much easier to shift your perception of yourself.

It worked for Rita. After 55 years of identifying herself with Pepsi, she quit drinking it and completely lost her desire for it after just one session with me. In a follow-up session, I asked her how she felt about ending her relationship with Pepsi and she told him, “Before, Pepsi was my friend, and now I can be my own friend. I’m a precious human being, and I deserve to take care of myself.”

What an amazing, life-changing transformation!

At first, it was difficult for Rita’s co-workers to come to terms with the “new” Pepsi-less Rita. But when they saw how easily she had transitioned away from her former habit, they became intrigued. Several of them asked Rita how she did it and admitted that they wanted help overcoming their own emotional eating issues.

When you change the way you view yourself, you help others believe that they can change their own self-images too. In addition, this shift in perception can help you do far more than just lose weight. It can also make you more likely to go for the things you really want in life, ultimately making you more successful and happier.

For me, when I stopped being the “fudge doctor” and the “Rocky Road doctor,” it led to a change in the way I view myself, which in turn, sparked a number of other changes that helped me lose 25 pounds and feel better than ever.

I am convinced that if my grandfather were alive today, and he knew what the fudge had been doing to my brain health, my weight, and my emotional health, he would be very happy that I had ended my relationship with it. Now I honor his memory by not eating fudge.

Who is the Real Me?
Write down positive ways to describe yourself that do not involve food.


Where to go for help: