I often hear my clients saying that they had eaten something “by accident” or that they had forgotten that it wasn’t part of the plan that they were on.

This used to mystify me, I would think “you must know what you are putting in your mouth!”

12 years of experience has shown me that people who habitually over eat can genuinely eat something without realizing that they are doing it.

There is a very good explanation of this in a book called ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters. Steve Peters worked with Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendelton and also the snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan.

In his book Professor Peters explains that we have three distinct parts of the brain associated with our actions. The frontal cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain and is rational and intelligent, he calls this the Human.

This is the part of the brain which decides to look at calorie intake and eat healthily, drink plenty of water, start doing some exercise, what could possibly go wrong? Surely it is only a matter of time to achieving the goal of a healthy body?

The Human puts information into another part of the brain, which Professor Peters calls the Computer and we call the memory. As we all know memories can be good or bad, positive or negative.

Now here comes the interesting part, the third part that Professor Peters talks about is an area of the brain called the limbic system, which he calls the Chimp. As he says ‘it’s not good, it’s not bad it’s just a chimp!”

This area is responsible for instincts, emotions, reactions, it is an older, animalistic part of the brain and is there for our survival.

This part of the brain reacts many times more quickly than the Human, so all the while the Human is saying “I am going to eat healthy food, watch my calorie intake and follow my plan to lose weight.” The chimp sees a cake and says “Oooh cake, I like cake, eat it!” This explains why someone can truthfully say “I don’t know why I did it.” The problem then arises because the Chimp can also put memories into the computer, in this case “when you see a cake eat it immediately” so here you have a conflict. The cerebral cortex (Human) then may start to put negative thoughts into the memory, such as “I am so bad”, “I have no will-power”, “I may as well give up”. You are particularly vulnerable to the Chimp getting the upper hand if you are tired, not feeling very well, upset or angry, but as Professor Peters says “whilst you will never get rid of the Chimp, it is your responsibility, as an adult, to train the chimp”

His book has exercises to help you to do this.

One thing that I have found helpful for many clients is writing down everything that you eat and drink in a day, if every time something passes your lips you note it down on a chart it makes you aware of just how many times you have unplanned food or drink.

You can download a copy of the sheet, which also has a column for symptoms/feelings.

Click the image below to Download


You write down what you have had to eat and drink in the appropriate column for the time of day and list symptoms, emotional feelings etc. in the column at the side and give each one a number. Then you put the number alongside the time and day when you had the food or drink. So, for example, if you had a row with your boss on Wednesday and came home and ate a packet of biscuits before dinner you would put anger in the side column as number 1 and put packet of biscuits in the column before dinner on Wednesday and then write number 1 underneath. After a week of doing this you will be able to see how you are derailing yourself by unconscious eating.