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Allow yourself to fully blossom: Remove a few protective petals

By Michelle May, M.D.

IMG_0788For as long as I can remember, my stepfather and mother have sent me flowers on my birthday and other special occasions. The gorgeous flowers come carefully packaged in a box delivered to my door. When there are roses, there’s a note inside that says, “Remove the outer 2-3 petals which were left on to protect the rose during shipping.”

As I was arranging the beautiful bouquet I received this year, it was obvious that some of the outer petals were bruised or torn. However, others looked perfectly fine so it was tempting not to pull the petals off. It seems counter-intuitive to “fix” something that isn’t obviously “broken.”

However, I’ve learned through experience that if I don’t remove those outer petals, the rose won’t open up. It’s as if those protective petals restrain the healthy petals underneath from revealing their full beauty.

I often share this metaphor when I am talking about how important (however challenging) it is to uncover the issues that drive overeating and over-dieting. My psychologist friends sometimes refer to this as “peeling the onion.” I like the rose metaphor even better because it suggests the potential for beauty that awaits us.

Peeling Back the Layers

Sometimes our triggers for eating when we’re not hungry (or continuing to eat when we’re full) are obvious and easily dealt with. For example, when we notice that we clean our plate to avoid wasting food, we can decide to take less to begin with or save the extra for another meal (and get to enjoy it all over again!).

Sometimes we have to peel back a few layers to figure out what lies beneath the superficial stuff. A helpful way to go a little deeper is to ask, What else? For example, I might first realize that I overeat certain holiday goodies because I think of them as a special treat this time of year. What else? They remind me of my childhood. What else? They remind me of the comfort and joy of those simpler times. What else? I wish I didn’t have so many adult obligations to deal with; the holidays just add more to my To Do list. Ahhh. Now we’re getting somewhere. What else, in addition to enjoying some of my favorite holiday treats, could I do to experience comfort, joy, and balance in my life? With awareness comes the opportunity to open to new possibilities.

Sometimes those outer layers have served as protection during our journey. We cling to them out of fear of what might happen when our protective layers are taken away. For example, maybe we clean our plates because long ago, that’s how we got dessert, earned approval, or even prevented abuse. But when those layers no longer serve their purpose, they become a limitation. Now cleaning our plate leads to undesireable consequences like feeling uncomfortable or causing a spike in blood sugar. Without awareness that the underlying reasons no longer serve us, we feel powerless to change the habit.

IMG_0795Other times everything looks good on the outside so it’s tempting to avoid disturbing the illusion that everything is fine. Until we’re willing to go a little deeper, we’ll stay stuck right where we are. For example, many people are stuck in chronic dieting or their eat-repent-repeat cycle because they believe it’s their only option. The idea of learning how to eat what they love and love what they eat seems too good to be true – so why risk it?

They simply don’t know how beautiful and full their life would be without the restrictive and consuming rules they’ve been taught to follow. Fear prevents them from discovering the freedom, trust, and pleasure that comes from peeling back the next layer and allowing their life to blossom!

As for me, I choose to just enjoy and trust the process!


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.


  1. This is really powerful. So often, we hear the onion analogy. But petals are so much more beautiful. I’m forever changed because of this post. Looking forward to more.

  2. lori says:

    I love the rose analogy, and the “what else” analysis.

  3. Cristina Mayers

    Im thankful for the blog article.Really thank you! Really Great.

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