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Different Shades of Grey

By Michelle May, M.D.

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!

Pendulum2Ironically, 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!


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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