Today’s diet culture, with it's focus on food & fat, can be really overwhelming!
Scrolls of instagram feeds that showcase:
- the perfect body
- eating the perfect (gluten free, dairy free, paleo and plant based whole-30) diet
- living in the perfect house
- in the perfect city
- with the perfect partner
will always make us feel like we’re not enough ... especially when it comes to deciding on what to eat and feeling empowered by our choices.
But this is just 21st century advertising that has shaken so many of us to our core and has thus bred a generation of perfectionists. The problem with ‘perfectionism’ is that success is based on external measures rather than self-acceptance.
Brene Brown refers to perfectionism as a shield that protects us from being hurt and feeling ashamed (see video attached - she is an absolute genius). I often see this shame and fear as overcompensating in the diet - whether it is binge eating or fixations on weight and calories - they are different manifestations of the same issue.
Food is a powerful tool in helping the body heal - but not if we have a negative relationship to it. A healthy body includes a healthy mind, which is why I am so passionate about helping others create a kinder internal dialogue regarding their bodies and food choices.
Regardless on the nutrition doctrine you prescribe to, here are some thoughts of how we can recover from a perfectionist-diet mentality:
When you’re working to set your health goals, ask yourself what is it that you really want to achieve? All too often we set goals based on other people’s version of success - to lose a certain amount of weight, getting flatter abs, a more lifted butt, thighs that don’t touch, etc. While these are OK goals to have, it’s important to dig a little bit deeper to get in touch with what will make nurturing yourself motivating.
When it comes to nutrition and internal motivators I think about what you want to cultivate in your life? This might be in relation to your self confidence, energy levels, mood, personal relationships and productivity at work or it could be something that’s completely different (because this process is completely unique to you!).
I find this exercise so helpful because it also helps to release “the shoulds”. How many times have you thought “I shouldn’t eat that ...” or “I should be working out ...” and so on? This is usually someone else's’ voice rather than your own. Although I am certainly guilty of this kind of thinking, I find it helpful to take a step back and re-define what direction I want to move towards.
The journaling prompts below help set your health goals on your own terms. When you end up reaching for the cookie, rather than thinking “should I be eating this?” the question becomes “Do I want to be eating this?” or “How will I feel after I eat this cookie?”. This is so much more empowering and will serve as a stronger motivator in your health journey.
Journaling prompt - What does health mean to you? What does success mean to you? What can you do to make the process of achieving your goals more enjoyable?
STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE
Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself or are you able to find compromises (in both life and food)? Life can get really messy and striving for perfection can be a really daunting task.
One of my clients wanted desperately perfect her diet - so much so that she ended up building a lot of fears around food. When she couldn't find organic produce she would opt out of vegetables entirely because she viewed their conventional counterparts harmful. In reality I much rather her getting the vegetables on her plate and then choose the organic ones (when possible). Her focus on finding only organic produce was actually compromising her ability to make healthy choices! Being able to bend and create compromises helped lighten her experience and make her more confident regarding her choices.
Every day we wake up with a choice - I choose the ability to strive for excellence rather than perfection. Although it sets the standard high it makes the process more fluid and achievable.
Journaling prompt - What does it mean for you to strive for excellence versus perfection?
LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
Making mistakes is a natural part of life and although it feels painful and embarrassing at times, it is what makes us human! We learn best by messing up, brushing ourselves off and moving on rather than dwelling on our own inadequacies.
Think about babies who are learning how to walk - they fall a million times before they can get up and take their first steps (and then they start running away and it feels like you’ll never be able to catch them).
We often feel ashamed and guilty when we ‘fail’, but what would happen if we tried to learn from these mistakes? Let’s say you’re feeling bad because you had a stressful day and ate a piece of chocolate cake for dinner (whoops!). Rather than beating yourself up, a more productive question would be: what is the lesson in this? Maybe you need to look into other ways to relax and unwind, maybe you need to prepare your food ahead of time. This is a way more productive use of brain space than dwelling on this internal turmoil.
These moments can be our best teachers - it’s just important to exercise awareness, be open to what comes up for you and then move on!
Journaling prompt - What is the lesson in this? How can I learn from this experience? What can I take with me that will serve me better?
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
When it comes to eating, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Not only does each body have different needs but YOUR body has different needs every day, week, month, etc. - we are constantly evolving creatures!
It can be tempting to jump on the fad diet chain, but the reality is what works for you will be different than what worked for Beyonce or Oprah or even your friend Katie from work. And what worked for you a few years ago might be different than what you need at this moment in time.
Learn to listen to your body’s signs and signals is essential for creating a healthy body. A combination of critical thinking and intuitive eating can teach us so much about listening to what we actually need, and becoming more fluid with our food choices - while making the best choices for your body.
FIND BEAUTY IN YOUR IMPERFECTIONS
We often see imperfections as ugly, but is there a way we can spin this? I think it’s important to re-frame how we see our flaws because it can help you get out of a negative thought pattern in regards to your body. For example, if you feel like you have big thighs can you think of why you are grateful for them? They are probably very strong and can help you walk, jump and run through the world! That’s certainly something to celebrate.
Journaling prompt - what is a part of yourself you have criticize or pick at? What is the hidden gift here?
Subscribing to the perfect diet mindset can make you a little crazy because perfection is unachievable. What can you give yourself to shift your experience? The human body is incredible - what can you do to stop, listen and practice a little bit more kindness?
If you need a little extra nudge, follow the above journaling prompts to help you create more space, exercise awareness and practice more kindness to yourself.