by Michelle May, MD
In my last post, Work of Art or Paint-by-Number, I told you about a dangerous “meme” or idea gene. This meme is the belief that restriction is healthy. In this post you’ll see how you can tell if you have the meme and I’ll share some ideas for ways to rid yourself of the meme if you have it.
Have you been affected by the meme?
Remember, this meme is so common and insidious that most people don’t even realize they have it. To see if you might have this meme too, take a look at each of the following statements and ask yourself if it is true for you some or most of the time. (To see if you might be a perpetuating this meme, ask yourself if you are intentionally or inadvertently teaching others these things.)
_______ I use labels to decide whether I can eat a particular food.
_______ I weigh, measure, or count just about everything I eat.
_______ I usually pass up foods that are high in certain ingredients, like fat or carbs.
_______ I avoid certain places or situations where there will be a lot of “unhealthy” food.
_______ I sometimes just give in and eat “bad” foods but then make up for it by exercising more.
_______ I answered yes to one or more of the above and I’m proud of my self-control.
_______ I answered no to all the questions but I admire people that do and I believe that if I just had more willpower I’d be able to control my weight better.
_______ I feel guilty when I eat certain foods.
_______ I feel bad about myself when I eat foods I believe I shouldn’t.
How to Get Rid of the Meme
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.
If you want to rid yourself of the “restrictive is healthy” meme, here are some specific steps you can take.
- Expose the meme. 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!)
- Begin to monitor your thoughts. When you notice restrictive thoughts, gently replace them with thoughts that respect your current size(This meme is sneaky so it may be helpful to journal so you capture the real essence of your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and choices.)
- Find support. Remember, the meme may have you convinced that you are incapable of eating and exercising without rigid rules. Find role models, health care providers, and non-restrictive messages that don’t propagate the meme. Check out the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
- Use nutrition information as a tool not a weapon. All foods fit into a healthy diet.
- Make the healthiest choice you can without feeling deprived. The keys are balance, variety, and moderation.
- Let go of the belief that you need to eat perfectly. That is the meme talking. Accept that you’ll sometimes regret certain choices you make—that is part of a healthy lifestyle. When you don’t get caught up in guilt and shame, you’re able to learn from your experiences.
- Repeat often: It’s just food and I can trust and nourish myself without restriction and Physical activity is not punishment for eating.
- Discover joy in creating your own masterpiece!