THE BLOG
04/17/2013 01:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

New Shades of Grey

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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. The reality is that unless you know some fancy tricks, a yo-yo never stops in the middle. 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."

Ironically, it is the false dilemma -- on the diet, off the diet -- that reinforces the guilt and fear that fuel the eat-repent-repeat cycle. It is a false dilemma because, 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.

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 yo-yo. It's easy to picture what happens when you draw a pendulum too far 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, and 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 food-abundant environment. Mindful eating helps you discover your grey zone.

From Grey to Great!

Mindful eating is a dynamic, flexible approach that embraces curiosity, non-judgment, and the grey areas. In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat , I introduced the "Mindful Eating Cycle" (download it free here) to describe 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'll quickly discover how colorful your life becomes!

For more by Michelle May, M.D., click here.

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