The Reason I Think

9I read the bestseller, “Love Is Letting Go Of Fear” when it first came out, way back in 1979. Its strength is in the clear and direct way it’s written, and one chapter title stayed with me: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m always on board with this idea. When I’m upset I feel sure I know exactly why – but I find that simply being curious about it has always paid off. It can, for example, change “How dare they!” into “Maybe there’s some misunderstanding here”.

This is simply about not always accepting your first, automatic thoughts and feelings as necessarily being the most sound, trustworthy and accurate. This can be a transformational habit to acquire.


A number of years ago, an earthquake gave me a lesson about this. In England an earthquake is a very unusual event, at least on a scale you’d ever notice. But this one rattled houses for a couple of seconds, waking many of us in the East Midlands in the middle of the night.

Everybody was talking about it the next day, and what fascinated me were the immediate explanations everyone had come up with for this very peculiar noise and shuddering vibration.

One woman decided her husband was doing some home improvement drilling downstairs – even though he was asleep next to her. A friend assumed the army was on a training exercise, driving huge tanks down the road outside – even though she lives nowhere near an army base. Someone I spoke to in a shop thought somebody upstairs had fallen out of bed – even though she knew there was no one sleeping upstairs.

My thought was that the plumbing was breaking apart, and then I immediately went back to sleep.

Everybody needed to give it a meaning, because this is an immediate, automatic and inevitable survival strategy built into our brains. If we hear a noise in the dark, or see something we can’t quite identify, our attention is held and we try to explain it. Is it safe or harmful? Can I approach or should I run? Even if there’s clearly no threat at all, an explanation helps us to make sense of the world, and understanding it could make it a bit more predictable and reliable.

However, you might have noticed that the explanations given to the earthquake were spectacularly wrong. As ‘earthquake’ was the very last thing to come to our minds, in the absence of the accurate meaning, flights of fancy took over.

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    Hello Gillian.

    I wanted to say how great the new website looks (and your new hair ‘do’!)
    A couple of years ago, after finding your books, I did your workshop in London. You introduced information so different to anything I had found in my long quest to change disordered eating behaviour that had been getting progressively worse and all the accompanying emotional issues that ensued.
    For me the changes have been gradual and sometimes inconsistent but using the information and techniques that you write about and following up your direction of eating an anti inflammatory diet my relationship with food has changed entirely. I have researched paleo, sugar free, low carb /high fat ways of eating and am gradually practising the commitment to eating for health…..for me this means low carb, wheat and sugar free, no processed foods and lots of healthy fats and some supplements. I still go astray but I know when I eat right my brain changes and I can detatch from the food cravings, as soon as refined carb and sugar laden foods return it all goes crazy again. I do not have to join the commercial diet mentality and buy in to those awful diet regimens that worsen the diet binge cycle.
    I always enjoy getting your newsletters and just wanted to wish you well for this new year and thank you so much for the work you are doing and the information you are bringing to light.

    Best Regards


    Thank you so much for another very useful article, Gillian. It’s great to see a new updated website! Your book “Eating Less” has really changed my life. I first read it about seven years ago and I keep coming back to it from time to time to help me maintain a healthy relationship with food (as well as your monthly articles of course). It’s the most precious gift anyone could get: a technique, so simple and yet so effective, that gives you freedom you never thought would be possible. I’ll always be grateful to you for your wisdom and help. Unfortunately, I live in Belarus and can’t visit one of your workshops in London, but I hope one day I will 🙂 You are amazing!

  3. Chancery

    Exceptionally interesting post, as usual. Given the amount I read on diet, I can’t believe I’ve never encountered any of the research you mention on depressive states possibly being inflammatory in origin. I find this exceptionally interesting as all my life I’ve suffered from inexplicable ‘black dog’ states and have racked my brains trying to find a psychological reason for them only to come up short. Also, a lot of modern obesity related diseases are inflammatory in one way or another, so there is obviously the possibility of a connection there.

    One of the biggest troubles with sugar, in particular, as an inflammatory agent is that the results are not often felt immediately. The body can take quite a bit of punishment before it registers discomfort. I was sick with very bad gallstones for a year and a half, while undergoing (ineffective) drug treatment. During that time I ate a very low calorie diet of fish, fruit and a little bread, with a rare piece of chicken and no fats. Subsequently I lost a LOT of weight, but, more interestingly, I lost the pains I had in the joints of my hands and feet. I only ate naturally-occurring sugars during this time, so there is some definite connection.

    I wish someone would take this research on board and do a book on the inflammatory/obesity connection. It’s long overdue. Perhaps one for Malcolm Kendrick, since he did some of this work in his The Great Cholesterol Con? Or one for Gary Taubes?

    • Gillian Riley

      The Times today carries an article on this subject, “Feed your brain: what to eat to beat dementia and depression.”


    Hi Gillian, I like your analogy about the earthquake being given a different meaning to different people depending upon their own experiences. In the past (before becoming familiar with your books) I would make assumptions about other people; how they behaved towards me, what they said etc. Always I would assume the worst; “they don’t like me”, “I have offended them”, etc. I would feel bad and then maybe go on to dwell on other ‘examples’. I never questioned these thoughts and, through reading your books and attending a seminar a few years ago, I have realised that my low self-esteem was getting in the way of any hope of recovery with food (this realisation took a long time in coming, for a while I could not get my head around it.) This had to be fixed first. I did/do this by confronting and questioning my initial negative assumptions to things that happen in my life. It is a slow process but then, I am not in a race. This is a long-term strategy.

    Last week a colleague did something (or rather did not do something) that caused me to initially think the usual negative thoughts. Immediately I countered them and challenged my initial assumption. I realised that I was projecting my own (still deeply held) insecurities on to a situation. Doing this has made such a difference to my outlook generally and has a knock-on effect on other aspects of my life too.

    Gillian, your continued research into the role of the brain in how we behave, react, think, is very exciting to me. I truly believe that, as research continues to provide evidence, one day the penny will drop in the wider world. I know that it’s the answer to me finding a better relationship with food and more importantly improving my self esteem showing me that my health IS worth fighting for. I AM worth it!!

  5. Eugenia

    I have just found this website, brought to it from your Tedx Talk I found in youtube when doing some research. I was actually trying to make sense of a phenomenon I have identified last week regarding food and mood. I haven’t eaten any gluten for 2 years (after realizing that I was extremely tired after any high gluten meal) and have been trying to gradually shift to a more natural diet in the last couple of months. Lately I got to a point where I barely eat any processed food. The reason for this shift was that I found that my mood was improving as I lowered the amount of junk food I ate. Yes, weight loss came as a nice side effect, but actually my focus was on improving my mood.
    And that brings me to my latest discovery. Last week I had an evening party and ate many sweet treats (M&Ms, gummy bears, and many other sugar-laden stuff). I went to bed, everything was fine.. and for no reason I felt extremely depressed for almost 5 days afterwards. Nothing bad happened in my life lately (actually, during those 5 days I received great news) and yet I was feeling extremely down for no reason. I didn’t want to go to work because “I hated my job” (which is certainly not a general truth, of course some things about it are not great but I actually love it), I didn’t want to go out because “I am the only one with no boyfriend and I will die alone” and I didn’t even enjoy getting the news that my sister in law was pregnant because “I will never have a family of my own and it’s unfair”!!
    What I mean is that my life right now is objectively really good, and since I modified my diet I am more able to appreciate it. And it took only one day of junk food to put me back to my depression. Which makes me think that maybe all those years of feeling bad about myself (I was bulimic for 11 years) were in part the product of my eating. Of course, like you explain over and over, there is no individual cause for this kinds of problems.. but I can see by conducting this kind of research on myself (I’m actually a scientist) that the effect of food in mood is huge.
    PS: I actually have been considering doing a posdoc in the behavioural effects of nutrition after my PhD.

    • Thanks so much for this; it’s especially good for me to hear that my TEDx Talk made the connection. I’ve had similar reactions to those you’ve described; it’s physical, well researched and the mechanism established and understood. I recommend the book “A Mind of Your Own” by Dr Kelly Brogan, or at least search for her on YouTube, etc. You’ll want to know about her work if you do that PhD, for sure.

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