The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 3 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 10

What Was the one Moment That Changed Your Life?

I tell my sons and granddaughters that they are here today because the Navy Recruiter had gone to lunch.

Let me explain.

I graduated from high school in 1974. Geez, I’m getting old, yay.
I went to work with my father and Jackson Engineering after high school. He was the vice president and recruited me.

I loved working with Jerry Neese. I loved everything about my father, and in all my life, I never had a cross word with him. I never had a cross word with my mother, unless you count the time she smacked my face. It was the summer of 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated. My mother was heartbroken and glued to our only little black-and-white TV. I wasn’t very sympathetic and wanted to watch something else, probably Star Trek. Mom refused to change the channel and I told her I was glad he was shot! She stood up and smacked me. I sat down and watched the news about JFK. At least that’s what I hope I did.

Going to work with my father was a no-brainer. I had a new 1974 Chevy Nova, new business-casual clothes, but I wasn’t there but a few weeks and the urge or desire to do something else slowly grew within me. It wasn’t a decision to leave, rather it was a decision to explore. There was a push and pull. The push was the thought of never leaving Southern Indiana, and the pull was all the people, places, and things in this big, beautiful, exciting world we live in. It was an urge that nothing seemed to soothe except the thought of leaving.

So, I decided to join the Navy. My older brother had joined the Navy. My dad was a Marine and served on a ship at the end of World War II.  So, I took a lunch break and went down to the Civic Center overlooking the dingy Ohio River to visit the Navy recruiter. I can feel my heart rate increase thinking about that day in July, two weeks before my 18th birthday. The hall was lined with other recruiting offices. Besides the Navy recruiter there were office for the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard. When I arrived at the Navy Recruiters office, there was one of those “be back at” clocks that showed 1 pm. I wandered around the hallway for a second or two and the Air Force recruiter saw me looking a little frustrated and invited me into his office. With Staff Sergeant Burke’s help I enlisted in the Air Force.

In that moment, my life was changed. It changed because I went for training in San Antonio Texas instead of Michigan. It changed because I went to my first assignment, which was Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where I would meet my sons’ mother and my granddaughters’ grandmother.  My sons and by extension my granddaughters are here today because the Navy recruiter had gone to lunch.

I can come up with a half a dozen other moments that have changed my life. Some educational. Some made about employment. Some made on basis of relocating to a new state.

What about you? Think about those life-changing moments that you’ve had.

Gemma Dale and Her Moment of Change

This brings me to the fourth Obesity Memoir that I’ve read this season. “Memoirs of a Former Fatty: How one Girl Went from Fat to Fit,” by Gemma Dale

Gemma went from a size 22 to size 8, lost 80 pounds and ended her for your journey of weight loss with a half marathon.

Everything I’ve written about this season on how to break up with the food is in her book. There is a push and a pull in her life to break up with food. The push was the shame, the knee problems, poor health, gall stones, and the problem with walking stairs. The pull was as she said, “I lost weight and gained a new life.“ She writes that she doesn’t have a magazine, perfect body, but learning to love exercise, “There is power there is freedom, in your feet.” The pull was being strong.

“Somewhere along the way, in the middle of 2014, something shifted. I’d lost about four and a half stone by this point. And this is when it stopped being just about a number on the scales and started being about how strong I was; how strong I could possibly be. It was about being toned. And what my body might be capable of.”

Gemma writes that you must change the way you think about yourself and about food. If you want to change the way you act. That change, she writes, starts with simply thinking about making a change. “You’ve got to have a dream.”

Where have you read this?

“Fitness,” she writes, “is as much a mental process as a physical one.”

Gemma doesn’t word it exactly the way that I worded it, but changing your eating habits, and your health often mean breaking up with food. It means, “breaking old habits, and making newer, healthier ones.”

Everything changed about her life. Her friendships. Her family relationships. Where she hung out, and who she hung out with.

And she has some wonderful slogans in her book. I love slogans.

“If you want to do something badly enough, you will find a way, if not, you will find an excuse.”

And her racing slogan is “Better last than did not finish, which is better than did not start.”

How did she lose weight? This was a very common theme in the other obesity memoirs that I’ve read. She simply ate less and moved more. There is something very simple about the way these writers lost a large amount of weight. They simply ate less and began moving and exercising.

She talks about the diet industry or what some call, The Fitness-Industrial Complex, and it’s one purpose to sell a fantasy. A fallacy, she explains. She calls what they sell as garbage.

“There is no quick fix. No matter what the latest guru or carefully edited celebrity yells at you.“

And there’s more in her book. It’s an easy read. But what about that moment, that life-changing moment, that changed her forever. I’ll share a lengthy section of her book in her words.

“Most overweight people who go on to lose a lot of weight, have generally had a moment. A moment in which something happens, something shifts and changes, and they finally decide to do something about it.
I had a few moments along the way. Several false beginnings. But there was one moment that moved me from vague mutterings and half-hearted promises, all of which had historically led to not very much at all, to actual action with tangible results.

My moment was New Year’s Eve, 2011. I was at a black-tie dinner at my dad’s golf club. Already significantly overweight, with the Christmas quality street factored in, I was bigger than ever. My long, black evening dress was straining at the seams. A pair of spanks was doing its best to keep everything in place but failing to deliver. I felt, and probably looked, like an overstuffed sausage. My ankles were agony because of all the excess weight pushing down on them. There would be no dancing for me. Just an attempt to hide as much of my bulk as possible underneath the table and my giant wrap. During the evening, I went to the lady’s room. I sat in the cubicle and had myself a little cry. A pity party all by myself. And then that moment I decided. Something was going to change for definite this time. It would be no more false promises.”

She ends this section by writing, “The journey of weight loss is really a journey to a whole new life.”

I thought of my life as I read this obesity memoir.

I still need to grow. I have things that need to change. I’ll take some time this weekend in the Smoky Mountains doing a solo backpacking trip. No talking, just listening to that still small voice.

Open to change, wanting to change and expecting another moment of change in my life.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase Memoirs of a Former Fatty: How one Girl Went from Fat to Fit, by Gemma Dale, click here.

The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 2 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 9

Breaking Up with Food by Using Self-Binding Strategies

“Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in an Age of Indulgence,” by Anna Lembke

My wife and I love to use bed and breakfasts when we travel. We stayed in one called Cactus Cove in Tucson on one of our recent trips. We had a desert view of the Catalina mountains and Saguaro Cacti and visited the Biosphere. Pretty cool. Tucson also has great restaurants.


Prior to the Pandemic, we stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast outside Berea, Kentucky that was an old farmhouse built with a wonderful view of an open meadow. On our way to Berea, I noticed the Boone Tavern. We wanted to wake up the next morning, explore, and then finish it with a pint of beer at the tavern. While visiting a pottery shop on the outskirts of Berea, I asked the owner if there were any cool pubs near Berea College. He looked at me and smiled and then said that the county, which included Berea, was a dry county. It didn’t ruin my trip, but needless-to-say I was a little disappointed. By the way, the bed and breakfast had complementary drinks that had been donated by past guests.

Blue Laws

In Louisville, you can’t buy alcohol at liquor stores until 1 pm on Sundays. Having said that, you can order a drink with your brunch on Sunday after 10 am. It seems silly. At the worst, it’s inconvenient, which is exactly what these laws are  meant to do.

These laws are social binders. They are barriers to buying alcohol.

Breaking up with Food Using Self-Binding Strategies

This season is about breaking up with food. This blog is about Self Binding as introduced in Anna Lembke’s book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in an Age of Indulgence.” She describes Self-Binding as “willfully and intentionally creating barriers between ourselves and our drug of choice in order to mitigate compulsive over consumption.”

Lembke goes on to describe three types of self-binding.

  1. Temporal Self-Binding or Time self-binding.
  2. Spatial Self-Binding.
  3. Categorical Self-Binding.
  4. I’ve added one or teased out the categorical type to include:
    Social Self-Binding.

I’m going to expand on these as they relate to breaking up with food.

Self-Binding Strategies

1. Temporal Self-Binding (TSB).

TSB means using time limits and finish lines. Time-Restricted Eating or what some referred to as Intermittent Fasting is the use of time limits. You pick an eating window. Let’s say eight hours. You can fast from 8 pm until noon the next day. You break your fast at noon. Of course, you can’t over consume during your eating window, but limiting your eating window is a way of intentionally putting up a barrier to overconsumption.

On most weeks, I use this strategy 2 to 3 times a week. By limiting my eating window, and engaging in exercise activity during the fast, I create a calorie deficit, which helps maintain a healthy weight. There isn’t really anything magical about fasting, except that it tends to decrease your caloric intake throughout the day. The Whole 30 Diet is another example of TSB. You limit your intake of foods like sugar, grains, dairy products, and alcohol for 30 days.

Many of you have been following this blog, and some of my blogs have shared my reflections from Obesity Memoirs. One of the constant variables in these memoirs is eat less/move more. Time-Restricted Eating is a Temporal Self-Binding procedure that helps you eat less.

You can use Temporal Self Binding to limit sweets to only weekends or special occasions. There are some that limit alcohol consumption to 25 or maybe 50 times a year. That would be 2 to 3 times a month. Temporal Self-Binding means structuring your day by putting up barriers that make access to food more difficult. During the pandemic, a therapist friend told me that she decided to only drink alcohol on the weekends. She noticed that she was drinking more because she was home all the time. Temporal Self-Binding is necessary because willpower is unreliable.

2. Spatial Self-Binding (SSB).

Here we are talking about rearranging your space by limiting where we go, limiting what we have in your cabinets, and creating an environment where food is not center stage. I use SSB by not bringing in foods, like sugars and sweets into my home. I try avoiding Panera in the mornings. It also means that I have a healthy snack food in the fridge or cabinet that limits my ability to overconsume. SSB means staying out of the process-food section of the grocery store, you know, the center section.

SSB involves looking at your home, your car, your neighborhood, the route you take to work, your office, where you shop for clothes, where you eat out, where you stop for coffee, and then come up with a plan for making it difficult to relapse back into over consuming and into a dysfunctional relationship with food.

Imagine breaking up with a partner you spent lots of time with hanging out at Sunergos Coffee. It was a tough break up. One of those “I love you, but we aren’t good for each other” break ups, like the kind of relationship you have with food. I think you’re going to want to do some Spatial Self-Binding by finding another coffee shop to avoid running into “you know who.”

Spatial Self-Binding means finding new places to hang out and avoiding the places where you overconsume.

3. Categorical Self-Binding (CSB).

CSB means finding things or categories of things to replace the food that you’ve broke up with. For me, I need to replace sugar, alcohol, and bread. Those are the demons that I want to excise out of my life. So, I need replacements. Some replacement categories include real foods that will help you feel more satiated and more activity that is incompatible with eating processed food.

I remember working with an adult with an intellectual disability who was constantly annoying his housemate. Nothing seemed to decrease that until I asked the staff at his residence “What is he doing when he’s not annoying his housemate?“ They came up with a list of about 20 activities. I said, “Keep him busy doing these things. Offer him a menu of activities.” The behavior stopped immediately. He was too busy, enjoying his life to annoy his housemates.
Ask yourself, what am I doing when I am not overconsuming processed foods like sugar, bread, pastries.

CSB means adding things and structuring things into your life that make it nearly impossible to engage in consuming highly processed food.

In my jeep, I have squeeze fruits that include vegetables and proteins. There is no junk food or fast food in my Jeep. Nuts and dried fruits, that’s it.
I like writing in the evenings. That’s what I’m doing right now instead of eating processed food. It’s silly, but I try to avoid food-shows in the evening.

When willpower is low during the evenings or over the weekends after a grueling week, CSB will make it more difficult to consume, or overconsume foods that I’m trying to avoid.

Lembke stops with three, but I’ve added:

4. Social Self-Binding (SoSB).

SoSB involves the people in your life that affect your breakup with food.
People can affect you in many ways. They can affect you by inspiring you to grow and inspiring you to overcome your addiction. People affect you by being the reason you need to start or stay with your recovery from drugs or food. The love that people show you can help create an inner self-love which fuels your recovery. The people in your life can also weigh you down, affect your moods in negative ways, and can cause you to have an “I don’t give a shit“ attitude about your life and about life in general. And they can also cause a relapse in your recovery. SoSB involves managing the relationships in your life and assessing the influence they have as you attempt to break up with food. Unlike Spatial Self-Binding, where are you simply avoid the places where you overconsume, you can’t always avoid the people in your life that are catalyst for overeating, overdrinking, or overconsuming.

Social Self-Binding is a tool. It’s not a hammer that we used to break things up but maybe a sieve that allows you to sort out your relationships into more purposeful or intentional encounters.

The barriers that you create with Social Self-Binding are there, but more permeable than the other Self-Binding procedures. You let people in, partly, but you know their influence, and you prepare for letting them in.

Before letting them in, you practice letting them in. You practice your encounter. You rehearse your connections with people. People are complicated. At times they help, and at times they disrupt your plans. Seek out the helpers.


These are the Self-Binding Principles for helping you break up and stay broken up with food. They are very behavioral and strategies that you typically set up before you encounter food.

Self-Binding is a tool, along with the other strategies, that I’ve presented in this blog.

I’ve read several Obesity Memoirs, and I’ll share some of the Self-Binding principles that they used on their journey to lose weight and break up with food.


Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 8

Why Can’t I Stay Broke Up? Because You Got Issues!

I’ve been a therapist for almost 30 years. It’s hard to believe.

In those early years, I trained as a Child and Family Therapist. Lots of parent trainings. For many of the children, I became a surrogate father. I would take them on walks through the city parks and throw frisbees. We would often stop for lunch or snacks at McDonald’s. Some of these children are in their late 30s/early 40s now. 

I remember one of my young client’s name was Nick. Nick was nine years old, and I had been working with him for a couple of years. We would go to McDonald’s for lunch, and on one outing, he was eating his chicken-nugget happy meal when he noticed another little boy running through the McDonald’s. 

“Mr. Mark,“ he said, “That little boy needs a therapist.“

“Why do you say that, Nick?” I asked. 

“Because he’s got issues,” He responded.

Geez. I wondered where he had heard that, but also remembered that Nick had been in therapy himself for years even at nine years old. 

I have thought a lot about what little Nick said and I think he’s right about lots of kids and lots of adults. When it comes to food, we all have issues, and those issues affect our breakup with food and makes it difficult to stay broke up. 

We’ve been examining ways to break up with food and stay broke up. We’re going to look now at strategies for breaking up in 6 separate parts. In Part One, I’ll share some cognitive strategies, changing how you think about food and about yourself and dealing with your issues. 

In Part Two (Episode 9), I’ll share some behavioral strategies called Self-Binding, because after all, I am a behavior analyst. 

In Parts Three and Four (Episodes 10 and 11), I’m also going to share another obesity, memoir, entitled, “hunger: lessons learned on the journey from fat to send,” by Alan Zatkoff. Here’s what the dust jacket says: “instead of employing, the diet, du jour, and other weight loss foods, he began to focus less on what he ate, and more on the physical and emotional underpinnings of what he came to understand as a disease.”

In Parts Five and Six (Episodes 12 and 13), I’ll share about a Twelve-Step Program called, Overeaters Anonymous.

Let’s get started!

1. If you’re going to break up and stay broke up with food, you must change the way you think about food.

I want to introduce you or re-introduced you to book I wrote about back into 2019. The book is, “The Beck Diet,” by Judith Beck. It isn’t really a diet book. It’s a book on strategies for following a diet using Cognitive Behavioral Strategy. “Cognitive therapy,“ she writes, “helps you identify your sabotaging, thinking, and effectively respond to it, so you feel better, and can believe in helpful ways.“ 

I call these sabotaging thoughts my “Inner Demons.” Several years ago, I was talking to my good friend, Sam, about working out five days a week at Premier Fitness, which included using a personal trainer, kickboxing, powerlifting, and spin. “Looks like you’ve become addicted to working out,“ He commented.  I informed him that I already have plenty of demons that I wrestle with, and I don’t need to worry about whether I’m becoming addicted to exercise. 

Here are some of my demons! 

  1. I work out so I can eat whatever I want.
  2. That one cookie isn’t going to ruin my diet.
  3. I can have a breakfast sandwich from Panera just this morning.
  4. I shouldn’t deprive myself from everything, YOLO!
  5. “I’ll work it off tomorrow.”

These are my demons. Beck’s book is splendid and helps you change how you think about food.

2. If you’re going to break up with food and stay broke up, you’re going to need help.

I used a Personal Trainer throughout most of my 50s. There are other professionals, Certified Health Coaches, that have trained solely for the purpose of helping people lose weight. There are support groups and 12 step groups that focus on overeating. Weight Watchers or WW offers weekly or monthly meetings, both in person and via online. And there are many therapists that focus on the body-mind connection and offer support for exercising nutrition.

There are churches that offer classes and support groups for weight loss and nutrition. Beck recommends that you find a Diet Coach. According to Beck, here’s what they can do for you:

  • Keeps you motivated.
  • Builds your self-esteem.
  • Helps you solve eating problems.
  • Keeps you accountable.
  • Helps you take a more positive perspective.

Ask, what would my coach say?

The Overeaters Anonymous Program includes a sponsor, or diet coach. Beck suggests recruiting a diet coach from close friends or family members. Or maybe someone that has been successful losing weight or breaking up with food and staying broke up.

3. Focus on Incompatible Behaviors.

Incompatible behaviors are behaviors that make it difficult to engage in what we generally call target behaviors. Target behaviors in this sense would be overeating or eating food that is inconsistent with your diet plan. What are some of those incompatible behaviors?


It seems to me that if you’re exercising, you’re not eating. There are lots of things that you can do that are incompatible with eating. This means first looking at your eating patterns. Where do you eat, when do you eat, how much do you eat, and what do you eat, and then, develop a plan to change these variables.

In the Applied Behavior Analysis world, we call these contextual variables for eating your “trigger” foods as some define them.  If you know Behavior Analyst, they can do a mini Functional Behavioral Assessment that will help you uncover your contextual variables.

If not, just start writing down and looking at where, when, What, who and yes why you eat and then write a Behavior Plan.

If you find that you snack at night while watching TV, break up with food by doing something else at that time. Like learning to play the guitar or practicing Mario kart. Change it up in some way.

4. If you’re going to break up and stay broke up with food, you will need to develop a written plan and revise it often.

This isn’t a diet plan, but a lifetime. You’re going to look at all the aspects of your life and change them. If you’re going to change your relationship or break up with food, you need to change your whole life. Don’t think you can read a diet book, like a Mediterranean diet, and think that your relationship with food will change. Let me say something very important, a major takeaway from this blog: You are following a diet as we speak. I’m following the Mark Neese diet. You’re following the: fill in the blank diet. And you are deeply entrenched by it. It is a way of life for you. Your diet is a way of life!

Read that again, and if it is a way of life for you, then you will need a plan to change your life. The biopsychosocial model that we use as therapists looks at all aspects of your life. Relationships. Education. Health and physical aspect. Spiritual and mindfulness approach. Social aspects. Employment.  Hobbies. Recreation.

Compare this with it with the list of contextual variables that evoke or increase the risk of toxic eating. Develop a breakup plan. Example: my plan is 8 to 10 hours of exercise per week. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Decreased eating out. Increase time spent with time restricted eating. Increase fruits and vegetables. I use squeeze fruits and vegetables when I’m driving throughout the city. I have a life planned that guides me. I am revising it even now.

5. If you’re going to have a breakup with food, or with your old, toxic lifestyle, you need to practice this principle: Easy Does It.

Throughout my years of practicing as a Family Therapist, Personal Trainer, and throughout my personal life, I have used the principle of Easy Does It. Slow things down. Don’t push too hard be gentle.

Changing Your Life

Strategies for breaking up with food are basically strategies for changing your life, because your diet is really a reflection of your lifestyle.

I’ve suggested five strategies that will make breaking up more likely. I have a few more to share in part two of this blog. Stay tuned.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.