The Psychology Of Exercise & Dieting You Need To Know

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting down to talk to Dr. Margaret Yufera-Lietch, via computer of course. Dr. Margaret is a psychologist who specializes in obesity, diet and exercise (and a fellow runner).


Basically, she’s discovering what is going on in our noggins that makes weight gain so easy and weight loss so hard.

What is it about junk food that has us always coming back for more? And more importantly, is our desire to overeat just as strong, if not a tad big stronger, than our desire to be fit, trim and healthy?

Those are just a few conversation topics you can expect to have with Dr. Margaret. So of course I was excited!

From the second she said “Hello” I knew you and I would be in for a treat.

This lady is so passionate about healthy living. To her, exercise and diet isn’t a means to drop weight and slide into a pair of skinny jeans, it’s about creating a lifestyle that contributes so much more to our wellbeing.

I definitely recommend you listen in to this What The Fitness episode if you’ve ever needed motivation… and let’s face it, we all have. Right?

What The Fitness:

Exercise Is More Than Just A Means To A Smaller Dress 

Going into the New Year, it’s important to get our priorities and goals set. Without having a clear image of what you want to achieve will only lead to short comings.

When it comes to exercise, it takes more than a desire to be slimmer. If that’s the only motivating force then like 95% others wanting to lose weight, the journey will end before the destination is achieved.

You need more. You need somehing inside to “click” that says, enough is enough. I’m ready for a change. I’m ready to make a real commitment.

Dr. Margaret went into detail with each of these, but these are the 5 “inside” benefits that exercise has to offer. The benefits that will have you carrying on with the program for months, even years to come.

The Most Important Benefits Of Exercise

  • Anxiety/Depression relief. It’s the best natural medicine to help control stress, anxiety, depression and other mood related ailments.
  • Sleep. Better, deeper sleep! Did you know that going to be earlier is better than sleeping in later?
  • Meditation. Our brains are thinking just about every waking minute. Take an hour out to exercise to give your brain a break. Let it go blank, let your mind recharge while you’re sweating.
  • Pampering. The feeling after a good workout is indescribable. Pamper yourself. You deserve it, and if someone says you should be spending an hour doing something else, fight back. That’s your time.
  • Confidence. The increased strength that comes with exercise has shown to help individuals feel more independent. You can take care of yourself! Exercise isn’t just about looking confident in the mirror but feeling like a strong, successful woman. Hold your head up and do a workout!

Basically, if you sum all the benefits up into one word… sanity. Exercise (healthy doses) keep us sane! I know they do me at least.

Is walking enough? Not according to Dr. Margaret. To get the most psychological help from a workout routine, it needs to push you outside of your comfort zone. For a lot of people, walking doesn’t do that. Think total body workouts that include intervals and a balance between strength training and cardio!

Exercise First, Diet Later

Dan and I have big advocates for this idea so I was thrilled when Dr. Margaret shared the same opinions.

Exercise is a keystone habit, by implementing it into your life, you’ll likely make wiser decisions (which apparently exercise helps with impulse decisions) in other aspects, not just fitness.

A keystone habit is a habit that leads to other habits.

When it comes to diet, it might be more beneficial to first begin a workout regiment prior to cutting the calories or making huge changes to your diet.

Why? Because those changes may come naturally with exercise. Suddenly you’ll start to think…

“I don’t want to eat that pizza, I just worked out hard. I would rather have chicken and broccoli.”

We see this all the time, and I am a HUGE advocate in following this approach. After all, who can really change their diet overnight and be successful with it long term?

Not many.

While we’re talking diet…

Why Do We Want Sugar And Fat? 


Why do we wake up craving a slice of cake for breakfast? What is it that gives food such power and control over us? Are we weak?


The combination of sugar and fat found in junk foods has a drug-like affect. They cause our bodies to release dopamine and opiates both of which are crazy narcotics. Of course, a chocolate cake won’t have you acting as if you just did heroine, however it is enough that it will cause the body to crave more and more.

Dr. Margaret’s tip? 

Avoid the cravings by keeping the food out. If you love cookies, get a cookie not a box. Who can stop at just one without feeling the pull back towards to carton? Not me! That’s why when I bake I only bake small batches.

Also, don’t avoid food either. Food is meant to be enjoyed and if you never allow a sweet treat then you’ll only be depriving yourself. Instead of feeling in control you’ll feel deprived.

Eat the cookie! Just not 12.

–> After a hard workout, do you ever reward yourself with junk food? <–

I want to thank Dr. Margaret Yufera-Leitch for coming on the show today. What an awesome lady! Make sure that you head to her website, the to find out more and to learn more about yourself. She’s got some pretty amazing quizzes to help you learn more about your personal food habits and impulses.

And finally, if you’re in Canada, look for her book Lose It Right coming out in 2014!

Liked this podcast? Check out the rest of the What The Fitness Podcasts at iTunes, and please give up a rating 😉


  • Cynthia Volkmar

    After just leaving the doctor’s office and being reprimanded for my weight, this is exactly what I needed to read (I pulled off the road so I could read it right now!)

    I am the person who often wakes up craving sweets and becomes obsessed with it. I usually keep sweets out of the house but find that difficult between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    I need to get my goals and priorities in check and realize I am just as important as everyone else in my life.

    Thanks for another great article, Kindal!

    • You are important! You have so much responsibility that you deserve so much self pampering. Don’t ever discredit yourself what how important you are to everyone around you.

  • EXERCISE IS MY CURE for ALL MY PROBLEMS!! Seriously! The great thing is, is that I wake up every morning and work out, and then I feel as though I have NO PROBLEMS all day long, works like a charm! And if anything were to come about, because of exercise, I would be calm and rational about it and not flip out! 🙂

    • So right, it is the cure for just about anything!

  • DeannaA

    Thank you Taylor. This was incredible. I appreciate the practical advice. Trying my best to keep up the exercise and it helped me realize I need to put it FIRST.

    • Absolutely! Get moving more and all the pieces will fall into place. Good luck!

  • this is great! so glad you introduced us to Margaret. You gotta understand the desire to exercise, the benefits, and the why behind our cravings. YES!

    • Margaret rocks! Glad you liked it 🙂

  • Great article, and good food for thought, too! I always thought that if someone was going to focus on something first, it should be their diet. My thinking was this: since weight loss is about (give or take) 80% diet and only 20% exercise, it only made sense to me to focus on the habit that would make the biggest difference. However, I never knew that regular exercise could make making healthy dietary choices easier! I’ll have to rethink my entire perspective on this. Thanks for sharing!

    • True Ashleigh, but changing diet is SOO hard for people but adding in exercise is somewhat pretty easy to get going for most. Making it an easier kick starter, ya know? Thanks for commenting!

  • Elizabeth

    This was such a helpful article! The points made here really put things into perspective for me. I was actually just thinking last week, am I addicted to carbs? Can that happen? Once I read this I felt more empowered to be able to say no because I knew that it was something that actually existed and I could fight it. Thanks!

    • Yes! Be aware and then you can change it up!

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  • Taylor,

    It was an absolutely massive privilege to chat with you, and Happy 2014!

    Here’s to celebrating goal achieved, putting a few new ones on the horizon, and celebrating life.

    Thank you for your incredible passion for wellness.


    • Happy New Year Dr Margaret. Thank you for your inspiration and passion as well. Our conversation influenced several recent talks and posts. Best of luck to 2014!

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