Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dialectics: Awareness, Acceptance and Change

I've been reading about a relatively new behavior theory called dialectics recently. Greatly simplified, dialectics is grounded in radical acceptance; that is, being fully aware and accepting oneself, others, or a situation, without judgment, blame, anger, or justifications. Once we radically accept, we can move along to the heart of dialectics, which is grounded in finding a perfect balance between acceptance and the need for change.

I'll be the first to agree that both radical acceptance and balancing acceptance and change are challenging skills. That said, both are ideas that are essentials in our weight management journey.

How? Being fully aware is at the core of mindfulness--and mindfulness is at the core of healthy eating. Although you can lose weight by following a strict diet instead of being aware of hunger and fullness, it's hard to eat that way indefinitely. In fact, that's a major reason most people end up regaining weight after dieting. When people learn how to eat mindfully -- being fully aware of what, when, why, and how much they are eating -- weight management becomes a comfortable lifestyle, rather than a painful temporary change.

The core of dialectics -- the ability to balance acceptance with change -- is inherent to other elements of successful weight maintenance. The most obvious example is body pride. Many people neglect their body until they become fed up with their appearance, then plunge into a strict diet, as though they deserve to be punished for their appearance. It makes more sense to accept that your body is an amazing and wonderful creation, while simultaneously recognizing that a healthier lifestyle would show respect for that creation -- that is, finding a balance between acceptance and change.

A less obvious connection is the relationship between dialectic thinking and motivation. Simply put, motivation is the answer to the question, "Why bother?" When you're trying to juggle a long workday, an hour-long commute, three kids, a dog, and two cats, squeezing in a workout and a healthy dinner demands some motivation! If we can't find a balance between why we need to change and accepting our body as it is right now, it can be all-too-easy to say, "Why bother? I'm already fat and dumpy. I've always been overweight. It'll always be this way!"

Dialectic thinking allows us to think, "Well, right now I'm fifty pounds heavier than I've ever been, and I accept that. I wasn't eating healthy or physically active for many years. But now, today, I'm taking better care of my body, and one way I'm doing that is by eating more meals at home, and walking the dog with the kids every evening." In other words, dialectic thinking helps us be more patient -- with ourselves, with others, and with the process of weight management.

How can you put dialectic thinking to work for you? Good question! Here are some ideas:
  • Practice mindful eating: Forego distractions (driving, TV, Internet, etc.) while you're eating. Observe what, when, why, and how much you're eating. Enjoy your meal!
  • Look at your body in the mirror, and choose a particular body part or area to focus on (your stomach, thighs, buttocks, etc.). For every negative thought or emotion you notice, come up with a positive thought or emotion about that same body part or area.
  • Take a few minutes to sit down and just breathe. Then, ask yourself what you're feeling, and what you most need. Make a plan to nurture yourself -- without using food (unless you're actually feeling hungry).
There are more ways to put dialectic thinking into play as we make our weight management journey, and we'll explore them next year. For now, I encourage you to experiment with radical acceptance, and with balancing acceptance and change. Next week, we'll take a look at a recipe for New Year's Eve. Until then, I hope you enjoy a happy, healthy holiday season!

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