One of the most common diet saboteurs is the idea that improving our health means adopting an all-or-nothing lifestyle. This illusion that diet and health perfection can be achieved often ends up being the one thing that keeps us from reaching our health goals.
I am constantly reassuring clients that one imperfect or poor diet decision does not mean that their other efforts are worthless. In fact, one poor decision will most likely not make that much of a difference in their progress, especially if they approach each situation as an opportunity to make the best decision they can. When my clients change their perspective and make the best choice with what they have, their health goals feel more achievable. And they actually move closer to their goal without the feeling of guilt or deprivation.
What are the practical steps that actually help to change their perspective? What actually gets them there? I usually recommend the following:
1. Make small diet and lifestyle changes as you go along, rather than completely overhauling everything all at once.
2. Remove extreme language and principles from your vocabulary. In other words, remove language that refers to cutting out whole groups of foods or committing to extreme behaviors for an indefinite amount of time. Example: “I’m not going to eat any carbs from now on” or “I’m going to work out every day for an hour”.
3. Allow for about 2 small indulgences weekly. This could be a serving of dessert, a cocktail or a meal at a restaurant. Planning and allowing for these indulgences provides flexibility, sustainability and balance for your new lifestyle. It also trains you to think about diet and lifestyle in a more moderate way than an all-or-nothing approach.
4. Decide to not make a perfect decision, but rather to make the best decision you can. This principle ties in with the language you use to describe your commitments. It allows you to view each situation with promise and opportunity, rather than limiting your success to “perfect” circumstances.
5. Finally, commit only to things you can stick to indefinitely. If it’s something you’ll abandon in two weeks, look for a more moderate option. At the end of the day, health is about sustainability and balance. Sticking to a no-carb diet for two weeks in the name of health does close to nothing for you in the long run. But, committing to something more moderate and sustainable, like protein and veggies for dinner, will help you reach your goals.
Forget the illusion of perfection. Breathe a little. Live a little. And embrace the opportunity to do your best with what you have.