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The Abundance Paradox

By Michelle May, M.D.

Father and daughter shopping in supermarketHo hum… another news report about the abundance of food in America causing an obesity epidemic. One of the explanations given is that during centuries of scarcity, we evolved to store fuel more efficiently to survive; therefore, our modern food-abundant environment causes us to gain weight more easily.

But wait… When food is so abundant, shouldn’t it be just the opposite?

The abundance paradox is that the more food we have access to, the less reason there should be to overeat it.

What these news stories often overlook is that it isn’t just our biology that causes us to eat too much, it is our psychology. We have internalized outdated scarcity beliefs from parents, advertising, and dieting that drive us to over-consume even though food is plentiful. For example:

  • Enjoy it today for tomorrow I’ll diet.
  • It’s a special occasion.
  • I never get to eat cookies!
  • I paid for it so I want to get my money’s worth.
  • It’s free.
  • Be a good boy and eat all your dinner.
  • Don’t waste food.
  • Clean your plate or you don’t get dessert.
  • There are starving children in _________.
  • I better get my share now before someone else takes the last piece.
  • I deserve this.
  • It’s a better value.
  • I might not get another chance to eat until later.

To illustrate the point, consider this common tip: “Use a smaller plate when you go through the buffet.” Of course this strategy works; you learned to clean your plate, so the smaller it is, the less you’ll eat. The problem is that unless you change your underlying belief, when you’re served on a large plate, you’ll still feel compelled to clean it!

The key to thriving in this land of abundance is to recognize the paradox and relearn to use your natural cues of hunger and satiety to guide you. I like to introduce people to mindful eating by teaching them to ask the question “Am I hungry?” before starting (or continuing) to eat. This creates space between the impulse and the action so they can ask the critical question, “Why?” By first examining the beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that drive their behaviors, they can then work on replacing them with more effective beliefs:

  • There’s plenty of food so there’s no need to eat it all now.
  • If I keep eating, I’ll feel uncomfortable and I prefer to feel great.
  • Save room for dessert.
  • When I’m hungry again, I’ll eat again.
  • If this occasion is so special, why ruin it by feeling stuffed at the end of the eating?
  • Food is abundant and will be there when I need it.

About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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