Get Off of the Tightrope and Onto the Path!

By Michelle May, M.D.

Nik Wallenda Tight Rope WalkerNik Wallenda made that tightrope walk over Chicago look easy. It reminded me of a point that I’d made during a recent mindful eating retreat that you may find very helpful during the holidays.

Dieting is like walking a tightrope. One misstep and it’s all over!

On the other hand, mindful eating is a wide path that’s nearly impossible to fall off of. You have the flexibility and options so you can make decisions based on what you want and need in any given situation. When you make a choice that doesn’t work out well, you simply observe the consequences, learn from your mistakes, and keep going.

It sounds simple—and it really is—once you’ve learned some new skills and had some practice. The hardest past for most people is letting go of the long pole—the rules—that they’ve been clinging to for so long. While they were walking the diet-tightrope, those rules were essential for maintaining their balance: “What can I eat? When should I eat? How much am I allowed to have? How long will I have to exercise to burn it off?” Before they actually learn how to eat mindfully, people find it really hard to believe that it could “work” for them: “But you don’t understand. I am an emotional eater” or “I am addicted to sugar” or “I’ll just lose control” or “How will I know when, what, or how much to eat?” I get it; it’s really difficult to let go of something that was so crucial before.

alley of whitebeamOn the wide path of mindful eating, rules are simply unnecessary. In fact, they get in the way because those old rules keep you stuck in old patterns. Picture trying to walk along a path with that long pole getting lodged between trees or buildings!

The issue usually comes down to trust: “I can’t trust myself around food.” In other words, “If I don’t have rules, I’ll fall off the tightrope.” Exactly. So come down off that tightrope and we’ll teach you how to walk along this beautiful path instead.

For my readers who are health and wellness professionals: This analogy is really important for understanding the necessity of shifting away from a paradigm based on teaching people how to walk a tightrope. Sure there are a few who are able to learn that skill, while the rest keep falling to the ground. It is time to stop debating about whether umbrellas or poles work better, and start teaching people a more grounded, balanced approach!

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