Interviews / August 16, 2012

Paul McKenna

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Diet Detective: Hello Paul, thanks for answering our questions. First question is how and why you focused your skills on weight control?

Paul: I help people with all kinds of problems, but weight loss is an area that fascinates me and I believe I have made a significant breakthrough in this area. I noticed that I was getting extraordinary results with my clients in this area so decided to focus on it.

Diet Detective: Who is Paul McKenna – what’s your background?

Paul: I started working as a hypnotherapist back in the mid 80’s and then I studied NLP and many other psychological technologies. I do not come from a conventional institutional psychological background, my doctorate is from a UK business school. I think it’s fair to say I am somewhat of a maverick. I am interested in people and particularly how they do the things they do.

Diet Detective: What are the major principles of your program?

Paul: All your decisions about what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat take place in your mind.

Your mind is like a computer, but it’s only as good as the software it’s running. So if you are overweight, it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of your programming and through my system I can show you how to reprogram your mind.

So my system is a psychological and behavioral approach to weight loss. I use a number of psychological techniques such as hypnosis. However, there are four golden rules that are the basis of the system, that involve simple changes in behavior:

Golden Rule #1: When you are hungry, EAT

If you starve yourself you will end up bingeing. That’s how your body gets thrown off balance.

When you starve yourself your body goes into ‘survival mode’ it slows your metabolism and your body starts to store fat. When you eat when you are truly hungry you tell your body there will always be enough food and it speeds up your metabolism.

When I say eat I am referring to real physical hunger which comes on gradually, which is different to emotional hunger (which I will refer to later). Emotional hunger is different, it comes on suddenly when we feel, upset, bored, lonely etc.

Golden Rule #2: Eat what you want, not what you think you should

As soon as you tell yourself to not eat certain foods, (usually because you’ve been told they’re bad for you), you upset the natural balance of your relationship to them. Rather than wanting it less, that ‘forbidden food’ instantly becomes more attractive to you. The inner battle between your positive intention and your resistance to being controlled (even by yourself) can be exhausting. As you begin to make peace with food and learn to listen to the wisdom of your body, you experience freedom from the tension and guilt that comes from NOT following your intuition.

Also, as you stop resisting and start to follow your natural intuitions about what to eat when, you may notice your tastes changing. You may even find yourself naturally attracted to the very foods you’re ‘supposed’ to be eating now.

Golden Rule #3: Eat CONSCIOUSLY and enjoy every mouthful

People that are overweight often shovel food in to their mouths as quickly as possible in order to get high from the happy chemicals we release in our brains when we eat. Unfortunately, because they are eating unconsciously, they never notice the signal from their stomach that lets them know that they are full. So they keep on stuffing their faces, expanding their stomachs and putting on weight.

The problem is that even though they feel temporarily high from cramming in lots of food, they feel fat and guilty afterwards. In fact, they feel so bad that they repeat the whole ritual of unconsciously stuffing themselves again in order to anaesthetise the bad feelings they just created!

Here is perhaps the single most important key to success with my system:

You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, so long as you fully enjoy every single mouthful.

I cannot emphasise this enough. Put the knife and fork down whilst you are chewing you food and really enjoy it – savour the taste, and enjoy the wonderful textures and sensations as you thoroughly chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times!

If all you did for the next two weeks was to slow your eating speed down to about a quarter of what it used to be and chew each mouthful thoroughly, you will find it easy to leave food on your plate.

Golden Rule #4: When you think you are full, STOP eating

The natural design of the human body is to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re satisfied, but many of us are conditioned to eat until we think we’re full – or even worse, until whatever food we put on our plate is gone.

When you’ve eaten enough, your stomach sends a signal – a sensation that says “I’m satisfied – that’s enough.” Most people experience this gentle, clear, satisfied sensation in their solar plexus (the area below your rib cage but above your stomach).

Of course, if you miss this warm feeling of satisfaction when it first occurs, you’ll notice that each subsequent bite of food becomes a little less enjoyable than the one before. The more you pay attention to it, the more obvious it becomes. If you are not sure whether you are full or not, just guess. You will soon find it becomes easier to tell.

Diet Detective: How did you develop this program?

Paul: It has taken me about 20 years to develop the system to where it is now. I come from an overweight family and I began working with individuals about 20 years ago then with groups. I have lived inside the minds of overweight people for years and observed the difference between them and naturally thin people and figured out the difference, which is for the most part surprisingly simple.

Diet Detective: There are so many diet and weight loss programs today that most people are starting to get skeptical, cynical and tired of seeing new ones. What makes your program any different than the rest of them?

Paul: It really is not a diet. Diet’s are all about the external; eat this food and not that, have this size portion, etc. My approach is an internal calibration, I am not interested in the food, but how you feel about it. Particularly the ones you feel out of control around.

Diet Detective: Do you have a good technique for overcoming cravings? Please explain.

Paul: When you can’t have a piece of chocolate without demolishing the whole bar the chocolate is in charge and not you. Any compulsion is simply a neuro-chemical equation, just as we all have a feelings of compulsion we also have feelings of repulsion. So I ask people to think of a food they feel compelled to eat and one they feel repelled by. Then I ask them to think of the two at the same time and one cancels out the other. It’s not that you shouldn’t eat chocolate, but you need to be able to take it or leave it.

  • Think of a food you feel out of control around and gauge your desire on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Think of a food that repulses you, and imagine it covered in hair from a barber’s shop floor.
  • Now, vividly imagine eating the food that repulses you until you feel disgusted.
  • As soon as you feel disgusted imagine trying to eat a little of the food you crave at the same time. Imagine combining the tastes in you mouth and swallowing them down.
  • Now check your desire level it should be significantly lower. Keep doing this process until you feel in control around your craving food.

Diet Detective: You work with a lot of celebrities and athletes, what can we learn from them – something that we wouldn’t expect?

Paul: They may have a exceptional ability in one area, but they are human just like everyone else. Many of them are much nicer than the media portray them.

Diet Detective: What makes it so difficult for people to lose weight and keep it off?

Paul: The overwhelming scientific evidence suggests one thing: yo yo dieting ! The average success rate of diets is about 9%, because people cannot keep the weight off over time. However, the majority of people put on more weight when they come off a diet than before they went on. Diets work in the very short term (it’s not always the right kind of weight it’s muscle mass not fat) but because the body thinks there is a famine on it slows metabolism, so it’s easier to gain weight when you come off the diet. The body has then become a more efficient fat storage machine. The main reason more than half of Americans are overweight is simple – decades of dieting. Going from one diet to another, getting better and better at slowing metabolism on the way.

Diet Detective: What was the most interesting weight loss concept you’ve found in the last few years that would surprise us?

Paul: In a fascinating study at the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Ben Fletcher achieved spectacular results by teaching people to respond to their ‘hunger pangs’ by going out and doing something in the world – turning off the TV and going for a walk, speaking with a friend, or even going out to a movie. This fed their emotional hunger, and allowed them to quiet the emotional signals their body was sending them. As those emotional signals quieted, it was easy for people to hear and respond to the physical feelings of hunger and fullness.

Diet Detective: What’s in your refrigerator right now?

Paul: Mostly things that would be banned on any diet.

Diet Detective: What will we never find in your fridge?

Paul: Anything with the words ‘low fat’ whenever I see that I think ‘Chemical rubbish’

Diet Detective: What’s your fitness routine?

Paul: Move your body! On my seminars I ask people “who doesn’t do any exercise?” and most of the hands in the room go up. So I say ‘Were you carried in here today? Any movement counts as exercise. You don’t have to run on a track or pump iron, although obviously that is good for you. However, many people who are overweight are embarrassed to go a gym, or they join a gym and go at it too hard then give up thinking that ‘it’s not for them’.

In an interesting study, researcher and author Dr James Hill discovered that the average number of steps taken per day by women between the ages of eighteen and fifty was only a little over 5,000. (For men, the average was closer to 6,000 steps a day.) Even more intriguingly, the study revealed that people who were overweight took 1,500 to 2,000 fewer steps a day than those who maintained a healthy weight.

Think about that for a moment – only 2,000 extra steps a day can make the difference between being overweight and being slim! That’s about the distance it would take for you to walk four city blocks. The more steps you take, the more calories you use up, and the increased speed of your metabolism from those extra steps will continue to burn away your fat while you rest or sleep.

While some doctors recommend you maintain at least 10,000 steps a day, I have known people to make remarkable strides with their weight loss by increasing their step count to as much as 20,000 a day.

If you’d like to figure out how many steps you already walk each day, you can purchase a simple pedometer (step counter) at almost any sports shop for about one pound. Just attach it to your clothing when you get started in the morning and find out how many steps you currently take in a typical day. Aim to increase the number of steps by 2,000 a week until you hit a comfortably maintainable target.

It’s important to remember that no matter how much you want to change, it will still only happen one day at a time. You don’t need to start a formal exercise program (unless you want to clear up your skin, be less moody, and have better sex), but you do need to move your body. Do it whenever you get the chance. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Park further away from the office and walk 2,000 extra steps to work.

There is only one way to lose weight – eat less and move your body more – so move, dance, play sports. Have fun. You only have one body, so you might as well enjoy it!

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite “junk food?”

Paul: Chick-Fil-A

Diet Detective: What’s your morning routine?

Paul: It depends where I am in the world. However, it usually consists of a cup of tea, if I am hungry I eat, if not I don’t. I go through my emails and then when I am fully awake I start making some decisions. My friend Simon Cowell never makes a business decision before midday, rather than rush in to one he would rather wait and make a really good one. The rest of the world has agreed to shuffle paper between 9 and 5. It’s not about working hard, it’s about working smart.

Diet Detective: Who do you respect most, or who motivates you?

Paul: Of course I respect and admire the great geniuses of all time, Einstein, Leonardo, Mozart, Goethe, Shakespeare, Tessla, etc. I respect many different people for many different things. Nearly everyone has something you can respect in them. Certainly, those who dedicate their lives to helping others, Doctors, nurses, aid workers, etc. I particularly respect people who have taken a stand in the face of adversity for the benefit of the greater good of all. It inspires me seeing my friends achieve and succeed in life, but it also motivates me because I am secretively very competitive. I get motivated when I see something in my particular line of work done badly, it makes me want to do it better.

Diet Detective: If you weren’t a self-help guru what would you be?

Paul: I don’t think of myself as a guru, in fact the label scares me a little. Gurus are usually put on a pedestal and are supposed to have all the answers. I don’t and am rather ordinary. I would be a police detective.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Paul: I have been a store detective, painter, DJ and enjoyed them all.

Diet Detective: What’s your motto?

Paul: Give more than you take in life.

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