I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. For some reason, making a mistake or disappointing someone often seems unbearable to me. In school, this always translated to over-achieving. In my personal health, though, for a while this translated to underachieving. When my mom used to nag me to eat better when I was younger, I think I resisted at first because I thought she wanted to take all the fun out of eating. When I began to realize that my overeating was actually a problem, I resisted because I was afraid of failing at making healthy changes and losing weight. That was my perfectionism coming out. Eventually, as you can imagine, I became an overachiever with my health too, for better and for worse.
Don’t get me wrong, my life is generally so much more positive since I lost the weight and changed my life. But any setback I experience can really throw me and hurt my confidence for a while. When I was in the process of losing weight, any pound that I gained would really stress me out. Anytime I indulged I would beat myself up about it afterward. I’m getting better at forgiving myself and moving forward, but I still struggle with defining myself by how many miles I run, how many servings of vegetables (or junk food) I eat, or the number on the scale. Having this mindset tends to make me irrational and inflexible, probably to my detriment.
For instance, last Thursday I went running and pulled my hamstring. I was in a lot of pain, but I kept running anyway because I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself for not finishing a workout. I’ve gone on two more runs since then even though my leg doesn’t feel completely better. Rationally I know that by running with an injury I’ll slow the healing and possibly worsen it, but I can’t shake the overwhelming notion that if I work out less, I’ll gain weight. And any time my weight goes above the range I’ve allowed myself in my head, I feel what my role model Jillian Michaels likes to call “less than.”
Like I said, though, I’m getting better. Weighing myself daily has actually made me more comfortable with fluctuations in my weight, because I can see that they aren’t permanent if I don’t allow them to be. The daily weighing has also allowed me to stop counting calories, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. I let myself indulge on special occasions with much less guilt than I used to feel, because that slice of chocolate peanut butter pie on my birthday is worth it to me. The cake and cookies available every day in the dining hall–not so much. I definitely still watch what I eat carefully and sometimes inflexibly, but I don’t worry about “falling off the wagon” anymore when I do indulge because I just feel so much better when I eat healthfully 90% of the time. In fact, this past weekend was my roommate’s last Sunday brunch of the semester, where we typically restrain ourselves from eating the high glycemic treats like pancakes, waffles, french toast, muffins, and croissants. But we decided months ago that for the last brunch of the year we would eat whatever we wanted. And boy, did I.
It was a disgusting amount of not-so-good-for-you food, but I didn’t beat myself up over it because it was really a once in a while thing, and I was proud of myself for letting myself enjoy it. The point of this post was to say that if you feel like you have to be perfect with your weight, diet, or fitness, you’re not alone. I’m really coming to see the value of pursuing balance in one’s life as the best strategy for wellness, and I hope you do too. We can balance occasional indulgence and relaxation with regular motivation and restraint. And if you learn delicious ways to cook healthfully, it doesn’t even feel like restraint. The thing is that perfection helps you to a point, but then it just gives you more stress which promotes chronic disease the same way that neglecting nutrition and exercise does. You know what they say: everything in moderation, including moderation. I wish I could get myself to believe this 100% of the time–but then I remind myself, it’s ok not to be perfect ;).