Nowadays, our social feeds are dominated by beautiful images of artisanal acai bowls, sponsored ads for home delivery services offering fresh, organic produce, and an endless stream of influencers dishing out advice on the latest and greatest diet.
I’m proud to contribute to a culture that is changing its mindset around food by moving toward holistic, healing nutrition. However, while our bodies are sacred and should be deeply cared for, there is a fine line between nourishing your body with the right food and obsessing over food perfection.
It’s about progress, not perfection
Largely as a result of the social media effect mentioned above, our lives are constantly inundated by the healthiest moments of the people that we follow. We see that they (apparently) get up every morning and start their day with a green juice, eat a perfectly balanced lunch consisting of healthy fats, fiber, protein and greens, and always seemingly have time to prepare a fresh, home cooked dinner packed with nutrition.
What we don’t see are the in-between moments. The 9PM chocolate craving, the 2 glasses of chardonnay that accidentally turned into 4, or the late night Chinese food delivery. We are surrounded by what looks like food perfection and it has created a culture that has become obsessed with an all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating.
While maintaining a proper, balanced diet is incredibly important (I’m a health coach so this is core to what I do), it’s also really important to let go of rigidity and allow yourself to experience the true pleasures of food. Seeking food perfection and creating rigid rules around what you can and cannot eat can have extremely negative effects on your health and set you back in your health goals. The journey to health is about progress, not perfection.
The long term effects
Science now says that a ruthless quest for food perfection can have negative health effects. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Food Perfectionism puts it perfectly, “The real problem is not the occasional piece of chocolate. The real problem is forgoing the sweetness of life in an attempt to reach 'perfection' and beat your true appetite into submission." When your thoughts are constantly focused on planning, purchasing and eating your next healthy meal, food can take on an excessively stressful role in your life.
Here's just one example: a recent study shows that the stress and anxiety created by maintaining 100% adherence to a perfect diet plan can actually raise your cortisol to levels that cause a slowing of your metabolism, ultimately leading to weight gain (1). Perhaps that little piece of dark chocolate or that glass of wine could actually be a health-booster when viewed in this context.
Here's a quote that I love. It's from Kelly LeVeque's book Body Love. "Balance isn't when you stop moving and live a rigid, overly planned, supposedly perfect life. You are human. None of us is perfect. You will swing a little from time to time. We all do. Balance is found with intentional movement to eat clean, sweat often, and even enjoy a glass of wine with friends . . . build a lifestyle focused on health, not some abstract idea of perfection."
We are meant to enjoy our food. Food is what helps us rebuild our bodies, feel strong, think clearly and feel happy! Food is also social and brings together the people that we love. When you’re seeking 100% food perfection, it’s nearly impossible to go out to dinner with friends or enjoy holidays and special celebrations, which are the joy of life!
Ostracizing yourself and not fully engaging in these special moments in an effort to seek food perfection slowly squeezes the life and energy out of us. It takes a toll on our hormones, metabolism and even our cèst la vie! While this is not an open invitation to eat cake every night or down a whole bottle of your favorite bubbly, it’s a reminder that we are human and health is about progress, not perfection.
So lean into progress, celebrate your small victories and sometimes, eat the damn cookie!