If you aren't familiar with the term "The Paradox of Choice" please allow me to provide a grossly over-simplified definition:
When you have more choices, say with menu items or mutual funds, you will not only be less likely to make a decision at all, but when and if you do, you will be significantly less satisfied with your choice afterwards.
(Barry Schwartz wrote a book of the same name and then gave a very popular Ted Talk)
This ideology is often discussed in marketing meetings and Wall Street circles, but how does it pertain to the health and wellness industry? Or to the idea of food and diet?
Quite honestly, I see the 'paradox of choice' VERY clearly displayed day after day, in my own life, and in the lives of my clients.
Think about it.
When you could literally choose to eat anything, at any time, in almost any place, the weight of that choice becomes almost unbearable (whether you realize it consciously or not).
I assume that those who are reading this right now do indeed have access to nearly anything they could desire to eat:
- Bananas in January in Minnesota? Yep.
- Pad Thai on a Thursday night in Salt Lake City? Yep.
- Grass-fed beef burgers on gluten free buns? Yep.
- Protein shakes with no chemicals and no sugar and no net carbs??! YEP!
The point is: we actively choose our food, meal after meal, day after day, week after week and therefore what we choose to eat becomes one of the most repetitive (and possibly boring) experiences in our lives.
Other choices can seem so exciting and special by comparison:
- Deciding who to marry is HUGE, but you may only do that once (or twice!).
- Where to go to college, once (or maybe twice, or maybe not at all).
- Where to live or what job to take, a handful of times at best.
- Even smaller things like what to wear, once a day, MAYBE twice for a special occasion.
- What movie to see or what haircut to get, happens every month or two.
- What to eat??? 3-4 times a day... every day... FOREVER.
No wonder we want to make things special, make every choice count in some significant way, spice things up and try the new food fad.
No wonder so many seek the help and guidance of a diet book or a health guru or a fancy & fun meal planning program.
How are we supposed to figure this all out? What if we make the wrong choice? What if what we choose is actually killing us?! What if we could be doing better??!
And that last bit is the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Because when we fear that we could be "doing better" and we feel the entirety of that responsibility to our health, our bodies, and our environmental footprint... what we choose to put on our plate becomes SUPER intense.
I'LL SAY IT AGAIN: No wonder so many seek the help and guidance of a diet book or health guru or meal planning program.
The 'paradox of choice' has left us all feeling a bit out of control around our food and health. We don't know who to trust or what to believe. One day it's gluten-free the next day it's vegan. One day we should fast for 12 hours a day the next day we should eat 6 small meals.
IT IS ALL TOO MUCH! Our brains cannot handle the choice, and the weight of the precieved or real consequences.
So we freeze, we shut down, we outsource our intuition to the lowest bidder.
If someone was willing to tell you what was 'best' to eat... then plan, shop for, prepare all of your food choices would we do it?
As we have seen in recent history, with the rise of ready-to-eat shakes and bars and delivery meal prep boxes... yes, yes we would.
There is nothing wrong with helping ourselves out, by making a hard thing easier. Shortcuts and take-out and canned soup for dinner are all very real and very valid ways of getting through the day.
What I am saying is this: let's take some time to reflect upon the craziness around us. What we are being sold. The idea that there is an Answer (with a capital A) to our food/health stress.
We are seeking the "Answer" because we are overwhelmed with the question.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I explain some of the things that helped me get a clearer head regarding my food choices. AND why I don't take it nearly as seriously as I once did, which resulted in me being happier, healthier, and less stressed out than ever before.