Just stop it with the perfectionism!
I joined several online social media groups dedicated to the Forks Over Knives principles as well as whole food, plant-based diet. You know what? There are a lot of critical, judgmental, miserable people out there, and I don’t want to be one of them.
Perfectionism Doesn’t Work for Me
A friend of mine involved in 12-step groups uses the expression, “progress, not perfection” a lot, and it’s an expression that’s near and dear to me because it’s exactly how I feel about diet, exercises, and health.
For many years, I was an all or nothing, black and white thinker. If I wasn’t “perfect” at something, I’d quit. I wasn’t the very best rider on the school’s equestrian team and after college so I gave up horseback riding, which I love and dearly wish I’d kept up. I beat myself up when I am not perfect on a diet.
I realized this year that my perfectionism gets in the way of progress. For Lent this past year (that’s the 40 days preceding Easter, a time of penitence, fasting and prayer in the Roman Catholic tradition) I decided not to give something up, but to do something instead. It was a simple but eye-opening experience.
For Lent 2018, I decided to track my food daily without judgment. I wasn’t tracking calories, fat, protein or fiber intake with a specific goal or purpose in mind. I wasn’t out to lose weight or anything like that although I thought I might lose weight. Instead, I wanted to simply acknowledge, with honesty, what I ate.
I realized early on in the 40 days of Lent that I was eating roughly 2,400 calories a day. Although that felt like I was eating like a bird, I wasn’t. I was eating at or just slightly above my caloric needs for the day. (A free tool that I really like is the Health-calc. It has calculators to assess basal metabolic rate or energy expenditures; that’s what I use to determine the baseline for weight loss.)
By tracking my food intake without judgment, I was able to see with clarity and compassion that I wasn’t just overeating, I was eating for comfort instead of nutrition.
I began subtle adjustments in my daily food intake, choosing nutrient-dense foods instead of empty calories. I cut back on wine. I ate more salads. The result? I lost about 3 pounds during Lent.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, but to someone convinced her metabolism was broken, it’s a lot. And it proved one thing to me: simply acknowledging what I ate let to better choices.
I gave up tracking my calories and regained a bit but then along came the fall of 2018 and my husband’s accident, which ended up sending us both to the doctor for checkups and for him to get the stitches out of his injury. And that ended up with Dr. B, our family doctor, recommending Forks Over Knives and the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
Perfectionism Kills Progress
One of the reasons why I think my Lenten journey worked to gently ease me into weight loss and better food choices is that I didn’t fall into the ‘perfection’ trap. If I ate 200 calories over one day, I just acknowledged it and moved on. I came to realize that our Wednesday night Italian dinner, a much-loved tradition in our family, is a calorie bomb, but Friday night vegetarian or fish night evens it out. It’s all about balance, harmony, and choices.
Now I fast-forward to this week. Over in the Facebook groups I joined in October, I’m seeing something creep into the posts that I didn’t see in Dr. Fuhrman’s books or in the other books I read that recommend whole food, plant-based diets.
Judgment. Criticism. Perfectionism.
People posting things like, “I’m eating about 80% WFPB” and people jumping all over them, beating them up like that’s not “good enough.”
Dr. Fuhrman makes it an important point in his book that any change towards a WFPB diet is a good change. It doesn’t matter where you start from or how slowly you make changes, just make them. It’s why we as a family chose to cut back on meat, eliminating it from lunches and eating smaller portions at dinner, as well as eating meat at dinner only 4-5 times a week instead of 6 days a week.
For me, it wasn’t a big change. During the spring and summer, as soon as my garden lettuce is ready to harvest, I eat a salad for lunch every day.
I don’t beat myself up on days when I have a second glass of wine or eat a giant portion of seeds that pushes my calories way over the limit of 2,000 that I have set for myself.
I can’t stand it when other people beat up on someone who goes to a support group for help. People join these groups for reasons known only to them. For me, it was because I was curious how other people managed things. How do you manage a brown bag lunch on this diet when there’s no refrigeration and a salad isn’t practical? How do you convince the meat lovers in your family to give it a try?
I was hoping for inspiration and knowledge, not judgment. I don’t post or share, so I spare myself the judgmental attitudes. But I hate reading them when someone innocently posts a question or makes a mistake.
What gives anyone in these groups the right to be the judge and jury of someone’s food choices? They think they are being helpful to the person; perhaps they were raised with the silly notion of ‘tough love’, as if being mean to someone ever got them to change.
I think back to the many times I went on a diet. I tried publicly shaming myself by reporting my weight. I tried weight loss clubs like Weight Watchers where you had to pay each week to weigh in, thinking that the money spent would motivate me. Instead, I spent more money on their “diet” candy bars and books and stopped coming to meetings because I was bored and never lost weight.
The only thing in my life that’s ever motivated me to change is love. I loved my husband so much that I changed a really bad habit I used to have (shopping) and became very frugal. I no longer enjoy recreational shopping, something that used to give me great pleasure.
I didn’t change because he yelled at me. I didn’t change because I yelled at myself. I changed because I loved him and he said, “If we are going to build a future together, I need to know I can count on you not to overspend on frivolous things. We need to follow an agreed-upon budget.” And we did, and we continue to do so, and I have changed.
I look at my food choices and my weight and realize that it has to be love, not fear or hate, that motivates me to change. I need to change what I eat because I love myself, my family, and my life enough to get healthy again. Perfectionism and judgment didn’t motivate me over the past 30 years; why would I even imagine they would do so now?
I have been enjoying the whole food, plant-based diet now since around October 26. I have lost 2 pounds. I started tracking my calories this week again using SparkPeople, a great free online tool, to get a rough idea of how many calories I’m eating. I’m pleased. It’s working again. I’m making better choices and feeling better because of it.
It’s not about perfectionism. It’s not about being judgmental or mean to someone who asks a question about the diet or questions their progress. Please, for all that’s good in this world, I beg you – if you’re in an online forum or group, be supportive. Remember that you haven’t walked a mile in anyone’s mocassins and you don’t live that person’s life. You don’t know what they are struggling with or what they grieve for in their lives.
It took me a long time to understand what motivates me, why I overeat, and to forgive myself for many years harming my body by making poor choices. But the good news is that today is the first day of the rest of your life as it is the first day of the rest of my life. We can make better choices, starting today, and learn to love ourselves with perfectionism or judgemental attitudes.
Progress, not perfection, in this and in everything.