Be Light and Healthy

Embracing Imperfect Behavior

Posted on: February 20, 2011

Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.”  Anne Wilson Schaef

All of my attempts at perfection have failed miserably.  I spent a good portion of my life in pursuit of the perfect diet and exercise plan, a plan that would quickly transform me into a thin person.  Part of the perfect eating plan was the denial of certain foods.  As soon as a food was prohibited, I couldn’t get enough of it because I feared I’d never be able to eat it again.  After gorging on my forbidden foods, I’d enthusiastically embark on my newfound plan with high hopes.  Unfortunately, my expectations were completely unrealistic and predictably, I’d slip eventually.  My failure would stir up the chastising voices in my head leading to complete abandonment of my healthy intentions.  All forms of exercise would be forsaken, a bingeing backlash would ensue, and I’d end up disheartened and feeling doomed again.  What I’ve come to learn is there is no perfect plan for any area of my life.  Trying to achieve perfection is an invitation to self-abuse.  Taking a kinder, gentler approach by striving to improve the choices you make every day can lead to long-term success and sustainable lifestyle changes. 

Attempts at perfection are often born from committing to rules created in your mind.  Breaking rules leads to emotionally abusing yourself and wallowing in guilt as a result of a perceived failure.  This rigid form of thinking repeatedly set me up to fail.  The quality of my days was judged by how perfectly I had followed the impractical rules I was trying to live by.  Failing to live up to my unreasonable goals, an indiscretion had the potential to blow the day, which often evolved into blowing the week and catapulting me back to my unhealthy habits. 

Every individual is unique and has his/her own distinct lifestyle needs.  What works for one person will not work for everybody.  Furthermore, what worked for you at one time in your life may no longer serve your best interests.  Many “experts” may have ideas on what will work best for you, but ultimately, you are the only expert you need.  There is no perfect plan.  In addition, it is important to consider your current lifestyle and what sustainable changes can be effectively incorporated into your day.  As you experiment with making diet and lifestyle changes, be gentle with yourself.  It can take time to overcome all the dieting and exercise information you’ve absorbed and attempted to live by through the years. 

Striving to improve my choices by following guidelines radically improved my chances of success and helped me adapt to a new way of thinking.  Guidelines offer a spectrum of choices and are more forgiving than rules.  Instead of panicking when I was unable to eat my idea of the healthiest selection, I was able to choose from a range of options and make the good, better, or best selection.  There were no prohibited foods so I never felt like I had to binge on something I would never eat again.  This method of thinking enabled me to be imperfect, alleviated any feelings of stress and guilt associated with making the wrong choice, and empowered me with the flexibility necessary to realistically thrive within my existing lifestyle.      

I also started substituting the word could for should.  Should implies rules; could implies choices.  Giving myself permission to make a decision allowed me to be imperfect and freed me from having to stick to a set of rules.  This very minor change in my thinking helped to profoundly change my life.  If I was thinking I should have a salad for lunch and didn’t have the salad, I felt like I hadn’t lived up to my expectations.  By thinking I could have a salad, I was allowing myself to make a choice.  If I chose to forego the salad, I was able to let it go and move on without dwelling on a broken rule and feeling guilty.       

Be realistic and consider how to successfully incorporate healthy changes into your busy lifestyle.  You could decide that the best choice for you is to eat fresh vegetables every day; however, having access to fresh vegetables every day may be unrealistic.  Having frozen and canned vegetables on hand will allow you to live within your guidelines by opting for the better choice of frozen vegetables or the good choice of canned vegetables. The feeling of successfully choosing any one of the options will help to build momentum to continue improving your choices.    

Consider the different choices as a personal experiment.  Pay attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods.  You will find that some foods give you energy and make you feel great while other foods will leave you feeling sleepy and sluggish.  In addition, notice how eating at different times of the day affects you.  Do you ever wonder why some mornings you wake up feeling awful?  If you connect these feelings to what and when you ate, the foods and behaviors that work best for you will become evident; and your desire for the unhealthy foods will naturally fade.  On days when you wish you had made better choices, chalk it up to a learning experience.  Get out of your head and think about how your body felt if you overindulged or ate something unhealthy.  Your body is instinctively trying to keep you healthy.  It is always sending you messages to keep you in balance and is far more trustworthy than your mind, which is inclined to berate you for any perceived indiscretions.  When you consciously choose to indulge in a special treat, savor it without guilt.  This is a huge accomplishment for some people who have been denying themselves their forbidden foods for most of their lives.  I’ve found that by giving myself permission to eat and savor foods that I had previously categorized as bad, my desire for them slipped away.   

When it comes to exercise, be realistic and incorporate activities into your life that you enjoy and want to make a part of your life.  A lot of people have the “no pain, no gain” mentality when it comes to exercise.  When people embark on exercise programs, this mentality often causes them to crash and burn.  By gradually incorporating a small amount of exercise into your day, you will build momentum.  As the momentum builds, you will naturally want to increase the amount of exercise you are doing.  I enjoy taking spin classes at the gym.  Admittedly, I’m not the most intense spinner in the class.  However, I get a good workout and really love the classes, which is why I keep doing it.  I also love walking, which I do almost every day, can do almost anyplace, and can see myself doing for the rest of my life.        

I invite you to embrace imperfection and build a foundation of healthy living that is realistic, flexible, and in alignment with your lifestyle.  Making small lifestyle changes and providing yourself with a range of choices will gently take you in the direction of good health.   As you slowly incorporate positive changes into your life, you will feel like you’re floating downstream towards a healthy, new, sustainable lifestyle.  In addition, I invite you to tell your friends and sign up for weekly e-mail updates to get informed and inspired to Be Light and Healthy.  When you sign up, you will receive an e-mail requesting you confirm your subscription.  After you confirm, you will begin receiving weekly updates.


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