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Paint Your Picture of Health

By Michelle May, M.D.


There is a harmful “meme” (an idea virus) that has become so widespread that it is accepted as normal. It has subtly integrated itself into our beliefs, our thoughts, our language, our behavior and our reality. It’s so pervasive that it has become “conventional wisdom” so almost no one questions it.

So What Is This Idea Virus?

It is the belief that restrictive eating is healthy eating. It usually starts with information about nutrition or diabetes self-management that mutates into rules and restriction. But the blurring of the line between healthy eating and restrictive eating is the difference between a work of art and paint-by-number. Either way, you end up with a nice picture-until you get up close to take a look.

Mindful Eating

Restrictive Eating

In Charge In Control
Nourishment Diet
Fuel Calories
Quality Points
Healthy Skinny
Aware Preoccupied
Conscious Consumed
Mindful Vigilant
Information Dogma
Guide Rules
All Foods fit Good or bad
Balance Perfection
Variety Temptation
Moderation Deprivation
Choosing Earning
Deciding Rationalizing
Flexible Rigid
Hunger Based By the clock
Comfort Portion size
Physical Activity Penance
Effortless Willpower
Trust Fear
Learning Failing
Self-Acceptance Condemnation
Enjoyment Guilt
Pleasure Shame
Freedom Bondage


The main reason that this meme is so powerful is that it has a built-in protective mechanism: the underlying belief that people with diabetes need rules and can’t handle freedom or choice. This belief ensures the survival of the virus because when you try to restrict yourself it actually leads to more cravings for the foods labeled “bad.” When you finally “give in,” you’re more likely to overeat, “proving” that you are incapable of handling freedom or choice, leading to more restriction. One of the reasons that this idea virus is so successful at replicating itself is that it initially appears to be beneficial to its host so people intentionally seek out. For many people that promote health, “lifestyle change” and “healthy eating” have become euphemisms for “you’re going to be on this diet for the rest of your life.” The virus is so subtle and so ingrained that they usually don’t even realize that restriction is at the core of their message.

How is this Meme Spread?

This idea virus spreads vertically through advertising, television, magazines, books, the Internet and medical research. It is propagated by marketers, models, celebrities, reporters, experts, bloggers, researchers and legislators. It then spreads horizontally from doctor to patient, dietitian to client, friend to friend, wife to husband and parent to child. This virus is also swiftly moving from the United States to the rest of the world.

How to Cure This Virus

Take a close look at the “picture of health” you’re painting. Is it constrained by rigid lines and someone else’s choice of colors? Or does it express your individuality, your preferences and your lifestyle? Choose now how you want to create your work of art. Here are some specific steps to rid yourself of the “restrictive eating is healthy eating” virus.

  1. Diagnose the virus. Filter everything you read, hear and say by asking, “Is this restrictive in nature?” (You might be surprised when you start to notice just how pervasive it really is!)
  2. Begin to monitor your little voice. (This virus is sneaky so it may be helpful to journal so you capture the real essence of your beliefs, thoughts, feelings and choices.) When you notice restrictive eating thoughts from the second column above, gently replace them with true mindful eating thoughts from the first column.
  3. The virus may have you convinced that you are incapable of managing your diabetes without rigid rules. Find role models, health care providers and non-restrictive approaches that don’t propagate the virus. With time, support and new tools you can do it!
  4. Use nutrition information as a tool not a weapon.
  5. Remember, all foods fit into a balanced diet. Make the healthiest choice you can without feeling deprived. All foods fit using balance, variety and moderation.
  6. Let go of the belief that you need to eat perfectly – that is the virus talking. Accept that you’ll sometimes regret certain choices you make – that is part of balanced eating. When you don’t get caught up in guilt and shame, you’re able to learn from your experiences.
  7. Repeat this often: “I’m in this for the long haul. I can learn to trust and nourish myself without restriction.”

Discover joy in creating your own masterpiece!


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.

One Comment

  1. genti piele says:

    wonderful points altogether, you just won a brand new reader.
    What might you suggest about your put up that you simply made a few days ago?
    Any certain?

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