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Yoyo dieting? It’s Time for a Radical Shift

By Michelle May, M.D.

I remember reading an article years ago about peptic ulcer disease (PUD). In medical school we had learned that PUD was caused by stress and that the treatment was antacids and a bland diet. The treatment didn’t work very well, but we didn’t know any better. The article explained that many cases of PUD are actually caused by a bacterial infection that can be cured with a round of antibiotics.

Aha! No wonder the treatment didn’t work: We were treating the symptoms not the cause.

My paradigm was radically shifted. I never looked at PUD in the same way.

A Radical Turning Point

YoYoA similar shift took place in my own life 13 years ago. After 20+ years of yo-yo dieting, I realized that I was treating the symptoms, not the cause. Even worse, the treatment was making the symptoms worse.

Since then, I’ve been teaching, writing, and speaking about this radical shift. Those who are motivated by frustration or their own painful eat-repent-repeat cycle, take the time to really listen and read more in-depth and experience their own radical paradigm shift as well.

Unfortunately, some prefer to stay trapped in their old paradigm simply because it is comfortable and familiar. They filter what I say or write through their old paradigm, take what fits, and ignore what doesn’t – so it pretty much comes out sounding like the same old thing.

For some reason, it’s hard for some people to see the need for a radical shift:

  • If thinking certain foods are bad doesn’t stop us from eating them – and causes cravings, guilt, and more overeating – then maybe that approach makes the symptoms worse.
  • One of the (many) drivers of weight gain is restrictive eating – but most people blame themselves despite the fact that diets eventually fail 95% of people. Is it possible that the “solution” doesn’t actually solve the problem?

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I guess our culture is so entrenched in believing that if we don’t try to control our behavior, we’ll be out of control. But there is a third radical option: We can learn to be in charge instead.

This radical paradigm shift requires us to honestly look at what has and hasn’t worked in the past and consider the possibility that there is a completely different way to resolve this – even if you didn’t know about it before or don’t fully understand it yet.

Every day I wake up and recommit myself to this radical mission: It is not only possible to break the painful eat-repent-repeat cycle, it is essential!

I remind myself that for many, the thoughts and behaviors are deeply ingrained so it will take a more in-depth understanding and personal practice for the shift to take root. If you’re commited to your own radical shift, focus on chapters 1 through 8 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat to guide you through the process one step at a time. Reread them again (and again) if necessary.

Your paradigm will be radically shifted; you will never look at your eating in the same way again.


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. Connie says:

    The turning point for me was moving to South Korea. My husband and I both need to lose weight. We are both over eaters. However, in the past there were nutrition labels that could help us count points, or calories or carbs ad now, there’s Hangul.
    I had been looking for a way to get control of my eating when I found the Love what you eat book. I’ve been reading a little everyday, and learning about my eating habits. I am working on my intuitive eating, and using all the nutritional information that I can remember from past diet lives, eat your vegetable, fruits and enough protien to sustain you and don’y forget to get some exercise. After that, theirs mind hunger. I’m learning to do other things besides eat. I’mm not sure I’m losing weight, but I do feel good.

  2. Sunny says:

    Excellent! I’m back at this AGAIN, and I am -for the first time- approaching it this way too. Getting the weight off is relatively easy. The keeping it off has been the impossible. So I need to spend the next six months I’m losing it figuring out how to change my knee-jerk reaction that causes me to each junk…and un-learn it and replace it with probably more self-nuturing, un-food methods. Thanks for the reinforcement-today and in the future!

  3. Dear Connie,
    I love this! Because of your new environment, you were able to take the focus off the numbers – calories, grams, pounds – which are all EXTERNAL measures, and instead focus on your choices and how you are feeling. That is exactly what this radical paradigm shift is all about. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Dear Sunny,
    You are right – so much of the problem is in the knee jerk reactions. That is why mindfulness is so helpful. By simply pausing for a moment to become aware of what is going on, you discover that there are so many other options. Stay in touch!

  5. Tanya says:

    I desperately need a radical shift. I lost a lot of weight and after 5 months begin gaining weight back. I did a diet where I could eat whatever I wanted but it had to be tiny portions and I could only eat if my stomach was growling. There were many times when my stomach had an empty burning, knot feeling and I would even be light headed and unable to focus but I would not eat because I didn’t have a growl. If I gave into eating without a growl I would feel so guilty and starve myself. It was miserable. I felt guilty if I thought I ate one bite over politely full. I was more obsessed than ever before. It is so hard to change especially since I am gaining weight.

  6. Dear Tanya,
    YES! You do need a radical shift! You are definitely caught in the eat-repent-repeat cycle! In fact, you were apparently on a program that turned instinctive eating into a diet – yikes! That completely defeats the purpose.
    Please read the first chapter of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat to better understand what happened (if you don’t have a copy yet, you can download the first chapter free from https://amihungry.com/eat-what-you-love-book.shtml).
    In the meantime, whenever you want to eat, pause and ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” but remember, you are not asking this question to decide whether you are allowed to eat, but to understand why you want to!

  7. Tanya says:

    Dr. May,
    I did read the 1st chapter of the book and then I ordered it on amazon.com and got it today. I am reading it right now. It is hard to imagine not being obsessed with food! I have been overeating and dieting since I was about 5 years old. Now I am 36. I have failed 3 times at the intuitive eating thing but I think the diet I was on was very legalistic even though it mentioned hunger and fullness it was still a restrictive diet. I might stay up all night to read the book!

  8. You are right! Many other programs and coaches that teach hunger awareness just turn it into another diet because they don’t understand the problems that restriction causes.
    For many people, rules about when, what, and how much to eat cause feelings of deprivation, obsession, cravings, overeating and guilt – in other words, restriction leads to more emotional eating!
    I’m SO glad you found Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. I’ll look forward to hearing from you again.

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