Shades of grey have 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
There is a false “either-or” dilemma or duality 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 thinking or black and white thinking.
On the diet or off the diet
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 familiar version of this cycle is holiday overeating followed by New Years resolutions.
Ironically, it is the false dilemma—on the diet or 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.
A balanced lifestyle is a long-term process, not a short-term pledge of perfection.
A pendulum instead of a yo-yo
That’s why I prefer to think of eating and physical activity as a pendulum instead of a yo-yo. 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, all or nothing, small changes practiced consistently allow the pendulum to gradually find a smaller arc in between the extremes.
An eating and activity plan that takes into account your health concerns, preferences, schedule, goals, cultural, and other personal matters make it possible to establish a lifestyle that’s flexible enough to withstand the realities of daily life in our abundant food environment.
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.
From Shades of Grey to Great!
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 coping 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!
This article is updated from a previous version.
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