We strive day after day. Words like healthier, better sourced, pure, whole and organic become the goals. When it comes to eating healthfully, it can be easy to get caught up in the chase for perfection. We attempt to make every meal and every snack as balanced as possible. We try to buy the most pure – closest to the farm- ingredients we can get our hands on. And none of this is bad, or wrong until it just doesn’t work for you.
I’ve found time and time again that the person who gets caught up in the pursuit of the perfect diet finds it exhilarating at first. But, eventually, this pursuit leads to one of two places. The first end is burnout. The feeling that it’s just too much and too hard to get it all perfect. And if it can’t be perfect then it’s not worth it at all. Instead of heating up a frozen bag of veggies for our family when getting the local organic ones just can’t happen, we eat no veggies at all. Instead packing that cup of applesauce for lunch when those organic apples are just too expensive, we don’t eat any fruit. Because somewhere along the way, we start to feel like perfect is the goal and if it’s not that, then it’s not worth it at all.
The second place people tend to land is a little scarier. The occasional person continues with their pursuit of the perfect diet with ever increasing commitments of time and energy. The list of acceptable foods narrows. The standard of purity rises. It can even get to the point of an eating disorder called orthorexia. The dangers in this are that food can take over. Take over relationships and time and energy. Instead of enhancing life, food becomes the center of it.
When I work with clients who are recovering from eating disorders my job is to rebuild normal eating from the ground up. We never aim for perfect balance or perfect calories or perfect food choices. A healthy, competent eater allows for imperfect eating. In fact, the diets of most “normal” eaters contain about 10% fun foods. Foods with little to no nutritional merit other than that they are fun and delicious. What’s your fun food? Doritos? Brownies? The Halloween candy you steal from your kids bags? In fact, allowing for some of these foods is the first sign to me that a client is on their way to recovery.
So, whatever your health goals are this year, don’t let perfection be your aim. The perfect diet may seem like a noble aim but may land you somewhere you never intended to go. Allow for fun foods and balance and life and you’ll be able to sustain a normal diet year after year.