Different Shades of Grey

By Michelle May, MD

Shades of grey has changed the lives of countless individuals – and can change your life too. No, I’m not talking about the blockbuster book series!

Between black and white
You may have noticed a false “either-or” dilemma that plagues our culture’s approach to eating – and most other things: good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing, in control or out of control. Psychologists call this “dichotomous” or “black and white” thinking.

This extreme thinking has characterized yo-yo dieting for decades. At first, dieters are highly motivated to adhere to a strict diet of “good” food. Eventually, feelings of deprivation set in, leading to preoccupation and cravings for “bad” food, increasing sensitivity to temptations, giving in, guilt and consequently, overeating. I call this predictable pattern the eat-repent-repeat cycle. One version of this cycle is upon us: holiday overeating followed by New Years resolutions.

Ironically, it is the false dilemma – on the diet, off the diet – that reinforces the guilt and fear that fuel the eat-repent-repeat cycle. The reality is that, unless you know some fancy tricks, a yo-yo never stops in the middle.

But a healthy lifestyle is a long-term process, not a short-term pledge of perfection. Therefore, I prefer to think of eating and physical activity as a pendulum instead of a yoyo. It’s easy to picture what happens when you draw a pendulum in one direction and let go: it swings to the opposite extreme.

Rather than seeing your choices as either good or bad, right or wrong, or all or nothing, small changes practiced consistently allow the pendulum to gradually find a smaller arc in between the extremes. An eating and physical activity plan that takes into account your health concerns, preferences, schedule, goals, cultural and other personal matters makes it possible to establish a healthy lifestyle that’s flexible enough to withstand the realities of daily life in our abundant food environment.

From grey to great
Contrary to what some claim, healthy eating cannot be reduced down to a rigid and overly simplistic prescription for what to eat and how much to exercise. Further, health doesn’t require perfect eating (whatever that is) anyway. It does, however, necessitate mindful eating.

Mindful eating is a dynamic, flexible approach that embraces curiosity, non-judgment, and the grey areas. The Am I Hungry? approach to mindful eating encompasses the entire decision making process, including: paying attention to hunger and fullness cues; recognizing emotional and environmental triggers for eating; using nutrition information as a tool, not a weapon; choosing food that reflects balance, variety, and moderation for optimal nourishment and enjoyment; appreciating the appearance, aromas, and flavors of food; noticing how different foods, ingredients, and quantities affect satiety, energy, and pleasure; learning from mistakes rather than shaming, blaming, or judging; engaging in regular, joyful physical activity; practicing consistent self-care that decreases vulnerability to stress and unhealthy behaviors; giving up the dichotomy of being in control or out of control, and choosing to be in charge instead.

When you look for the shades of grey in place of old black and white thinking, you will discover how colorful your life can be!

Michelle May, MD is a physician who wants to empower her patients to take charge of their life and end chronic dieting and overeating without deprivation and guilt. She is the founder and CEO of Am I Hungry?® mindful eating workshops that guide participants to eat intuitively, live more active lifestyles, and balance eating for enjoyment with eating for health. She is the author of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How To Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle” and “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes,” among others. Michelle is a Board Certified Family Physician with 14 years of clinical experience in Phoenix, Arizona. For more information, please visit http://www.AmIHungry.com

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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