By Michelle May, M.D.
I've been calling myself a recovered yo-yo dieter for years. Now I'm on a campaign to rid the world not just of the concept, but the phrase "yo-yo dieting."
The term yo-yo dieting is perfectly descriptive of the old paradigm of weight management--but it is completely outdated in terms of what I know works.
Here's my issue with this metaphor: a yo-yo is either up or down. You're either tightly wound up around rules and restriction, or you're unraveling toward the bottom again. I call this the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.
My Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle
You see, when I was overeating due to triggers like boredom or stress, I craved more of certain foods like chocolate or chips. Eating helped temporarily, but the temporary distraction or pleasure acted like an engine, driving my overeating, because the boredom or stress always came back (imagine that!).
When I went on a diet to regain control and stop myself from overeating, the boredom and stress didn't go away.
Instead of chocolate and chips, I ate the foods that were allowed on my diet. When I felt stressed, I still "binged"
on vegetable soup or light popcorn. Eventually, I'd feel deprived, hungry, or worn out by all the time and energy it took to follow the rules. So I'd cheat, feel guilty, give up, and go back to eating my favorite foods in response to the triggers I hadn't dealt with in the first place.
I always blamed the chocolate or the chips, but it was never really about the food.
In this addictive pattern of yo-yo dieting, I moved from one extreme to the other, feeling powerless to change without understanding why. I was either up and down over the course of weeks or months, sometimes in the same day, or even in the same meal. Most mornings I'd start out with good intentions but quickly lose control.
Think of a Pendulum Instead
Even if you decide you don't want to spend the rest of your life in one of these two extremes, there's no real in-between with a yo-yo. It can only be up or down. Ironically, even the common advice to "follow a healthy lifestyle" usually means exercise and watch what you eat--not terribly helpful if you've been trying unsuccessfully to do that for years.
Instead of a yo-yo, now I prefer to think of a pendulum.
Think about how a pendulum works. While still conjuring up images of extremes, as a pendulum loses energy, it finds a gentle arc somewhere in the middle. In terms of your eating, rather than expending so much of your energy trying to stay in control (dieting) or spinning out of control (bingeing), there is a gentler arc in the middle where you are in charge:
* You have the freedom and flexibility to eat the foods you love, without feeling guilty.
* You fearlessly choose a variety of foods that nourish and nurture you.
* You love what you eat, savoring every morsel mindfully.
* You are able to sustain an intuitive balance that allows you to reach and maintain a healthier weight without obsession and deprivation.
You were born with the natural ability to effortlessly manage your weight this way. When you finally stop wasting so much of your energy on overeating and restrictive dieting, you'll naturally settle into a more comfortable, centered space, freeing up your energy for more enjoyable, productive, and fulfilling activities. The goal is not to stop dead in the middle, but to make mindful choices as each situation arises.
Finding the Middle
Wherever there are extremes in your life, there are opportunities for you to seek balance and moderation. Could you benefit from more work-life balance? Do you yo-yo exercise? Could you allow yourself to be a less-than-perfect parent so you can focus on your relationship instead of raising a perfect child? Where else in your life could you let go of the need to do it perfectly or not at all? A pendulum's gentle arc requires much less energy to maintain, freeing you up to live a more fulfilling and vibrant life.
Eat Mindfully. Live Vibrantly!
Michelle May, M.D.
P.S. If you'd like to know more about working with us to discover a more balanced, pleasurable relationship with food, please visit http://www.amihungry.com/weight-management-programs.shtml.