Is the idea of 'perfect' eating sabotaging your health?
When it comes to health, are you either 'on' or 'off'? Is food either 'good' or 'bad'? Do you ever wonder how everyone else seems to do it but you can't stick to the plan? Do you go from healthy eater to tub of ice-cream demolisher after a bad day?
I used to be the same. When I was struggling with my body and always trying to lose weight, I believed that I needed to eat perfectly to be healthy and skinny (and happy). After a weekend of eating the 'wrong' food or eating too much, I'd wake up on Monday morning, resolved that this time would be different*.
I would create a list of banned foods that I couldn't eat anymore. Instead of allowing myself some treats, I'd cut out all sugar, refined foods, alcohol, coffee, dairy, gluten, carbs, etc. None of the food I believe to be 'bad' would pass my lips.
I tried this tactic many times. Some times, I would eat perfectly and train hard for weeks or months on end before failing. Other times, I barely lasted a few days or hours because 'falling off the bandwagon' again. Each time I tried this strategy, I actually thought to myself "this time will be different!"* and blamed myself, instead of the diet.
After a big weekend of overeating, it's very tempting to want to cut out every thing you can think of... But it is a trap. It is self-sabotaging to go to extreme measures.
As someone who has learned that perfect eating doesn't work, here are the very important things you need to know about the perfect eating myth and how it is sabotaging your health and weight loss attempts.
1. Perfection doesn't last long
After a few weeks/months of going full pelt and saying no to fun things, you start to feel deprived and restricted. Next thing you know, you aren't exercising at all and don't care about how much veggies you have eaten or steps you've taken that day. Everyone can maintain 'extreme' and 'perfect' diets for a bit, but can you maintain it for the rest of your life?
2. Perfect eating isn't healthier
It's hard to believe that eating the occasional treat and enjoying everything in moderation is healthier for you than 'perfect' eating - but it is. Why? It's more consistent. When you eating everything in moderation, you can maintain it far longer. Health is about consistency rather than being good for a few weeks only to end up bingeing on the entire kitchen.
3. Perfect eating leads to guilt
... which can lead to emotional eating. If you believe that eating chocolate or bread is bad and not allowed, then you're likely going to end up feeling guilty after you eat them. What happens when you feel guilt around food? Food becomes even more emotionally linked to what we eat.
Next time you feel emotional, you're going to find something that makes you feel good. And what is better than having something 'off-limits'?
4. 'Perfect' news feeds are fake
When your news feed is filled with salads, smoothies, workouts and abs, it's easy to think healthy fit people eat perfectly all the time. Trust me - they don't. People love to show off what they are doing well and keep the less-than-perfect choices on the down low.
As social media isn't going anywhere soon, I suggest we become aware that our news feed isn't a real reflection of what people are actually eating. There is a lot more 'treat' food being eaten than the newsfeed suggests.
5. You are allowed to eat junk food, sometimes.
Cutting out all junk food can actually increase your cravings for those foods. Give yourself permission to eat junk food occasionally. The best way to do it is when you're out with friends and family celebrating special occasions (rather than sitting home alone watching TV). That way you avoid feeling deprived because you can't eat what everyone else is having.
6. Healthy eating doesn't have to be perfect
There is nothing wrong with having some pizza every so often. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a treat sometimes. You don't need to eat 'perfectly' to have the perfect body or be healthy. In fact, sometimes you need to give yourself permission to eat that treat because it prevents you from feeling deprived (which can lead to out-of-control or emotional eating).
7. You can't fall off the bandwagon
...If you aren't on a bandwagon!
You can only ruin a diet, if you are on a diet. If you don't diet and you just eat everything in moderation, you can't 'ruin' anything. You don't need to aim for perfect or create 'black and white' rules around your eating. When you are more fluid with your eating and listen to your body instead of counting calories or macros or following a meal plan, than it's actually impossible to fall off the bandwagon.
What does 'eating everything in moderation' mean?
It's different for each person.
For me, it means that I can enjoy small treats when I like. Right now as I'm writing this, I'm eating two squares of milk chocolate. I also ate chocolate last night. If I had eaten a lot of treats of the weekend, then I might not be having the chocolate now.
For me, it's about frequency, how my body feels and portion size. There are no hard or fast rules - You need to find what moderation means to you. But it starts with giving yourself permission to enjoy those foods again.
I'm not sure why I believed "this time will be different" because I kept using the exact same strategy I had before ('perfect' eating/restriction/diets/willpower) and expected a different outcome.
Instead of trying something new like, like not dieting and eating everything in moderation, I believed that if I just tried harder, ate perfectly, had more discipline or willpower - I would finally lose the weight. It took me 10 years to realise this pattern of thinking was failing me.