The man who never says diet
Tuck in, have your chocolate. Just don’t judge yourself, a weight-loss psychologist implores
THERE’S no need to feel guilty about indulging in a little chocolate this Easter long weekend, says Dr Glenn Mackintosh. The Brisbane-based weight-loss psychologist, who you might recognise from The Biggest Loser: Transformed, has dedicated his career to helping people lead happier, healthier lives.
Psychology was originally Glenn’s back-up plan. As a child growing up in Victoria and, from the age of 12, Brisbane, he fell in love with martial arts.
“I wanted to be a full-time martial arts teacher,” he tells Weekend.
“But my mum, in her wisdom, said ‘You’ve got a brain on your head, why don’t you do something as a back-up?’ So I started studying for sports and exercise psychology.”
But Glenn soon found he was more interested in weight loss than working with professional athletes.
“I was the black sheep (in my classes); most people were in it to work with athletes,” he says.
“I felt myself really gravitating towards exercise psychology, which is about the relationship everyday people have with movement. I had a wonderful mentor from the States, Dr Victor Pendleton, who is an expert in the psychology of eating.
“For me the psychology of weight-loss is meaningful. You can see people transforming their lives.”
He was the Director of Psychology at the Wesley Lifeshape Clinic – and also lectured at the University of Queensland, Griffith University, and the Australian College of Applied Psychology – before founding his own private practice, Weight Management Psychology, in the Brisbane suburb Teneriffe.
Glenn believes weight-loss psychology is the missing piece of the lucrative fitness industry, which tends to focus on exercise and dieting – both of which tend to be seen as necessary evils.
“We tend to do eating and exercise all wrong for the everyday person,” he says.
“Most people are not athletes, but what they try to do on a health kick is to exercise as an athlete would. They’re working really hard but the average person generally doesn’t like that, especially not at the start. In trying to get fitter or healthier or lose weight, you create an unhealthy or unsustainable relationship with physical activity.
“What I say to people is just focus on developing a positive relationship with exercise, doing what you like and feels comfortable. From there it becomes something you want to do regularly.
“We’re not good at sticking with stuff we don’t like doing.” Glenn’s middle-of-the-road approach also applies to food; the word “diet’’ is a big no no in his practice.
“Many people are totally out of touch with their own bodies, and unfortunately the dieting process makes you more out of touch,” he says.
“Most diets break foods up into the ‘good foods’ I’m allowed to have and then the other foods are forbidden or bad. Psychologically this is a really harmful thing for most people to do because it creates deprivation or restriction.
“You also get the ‘what the hell?’ effect. You feel like you’ve eaten something wrong and because you’ve broken your eating plan you go out and eat more.
“You don’t need to feel terrible about yourself if you’re not eating well.”
Glenn’s solution is to take the judgment out of food and to embrace the concept of mindful eating.
“Part of this idea of mindful eating is about taking any judgment off foods. We have to see foods as morally neutral,” he says.
“A food I really love, what people would call naughty, is burgers. People will see me with a burger and I will be unapologetic about it.
“Why do we eat foods like burgers or chocolate? We eat them because they’re yummy. If you take away all the judgments and just focus on the food then you can really taste and savour the food, and – I know this sounds counter intuitive – you end up eating less.
Another big issue Glenn tries to tackle, both with his clients and on The Biggest Loser, is unhealthy body image.
“It’s so common for us to have a distorted view of ourselves; it doesn’t matter if you’re big or small,” he says.
“It takes a bit of time to learn to see yourself a different way. One of the things we try to do is help people distance themselves from that thin ideal and all the messaging we get today.
“We also suggest doing a cull of the person’s Facebook or Instagram accounts of messages that are potentially harmful. Teaching media literacy can also help you remove yourself from the messages in advertising.”
While Ten’s revamped Biggest Loser has been a ratings flop, and was relegated to an afternoon timeslot earlier this week, Glenn is still proud of the show.
“I definitely wouldn’t have been a part of any previous version,” he says.
“I’m happy to say Shannan (Ponton), Libby (Babet) and I are creating something people can take a lot of inspiration from and a lot of good information they can apply to themselves.
“On the show I also have the ability to create these cool exercises I could never do in the office to explain these key messages.”
So go ahead and eat that chocolate Easter egg, just make sure you savour every bite.
‘‘ Most people are not athletes, but what they try to do on a health kick is to exercise as an athlete would. They’re working really hard but the average person generally doesn’t like that...
◗ Dr Glenn Mackintosh is a weight-loss psychologist who currently stars on The Biggest Loser: Transformed.