Is Perfectionism Keeping You Fat?
Today I want to talk about something that I see a lot of people struggling with when embarking on a weight loss or other health transformation, and that’s perfectionism. Perfectionism is a perfect way to set yourself up for failure, especially when trying to lose weight.
We’ll talk about three different ways this nasty tendency can rear its ugly head, so that if any of them happen to you, you’ll be able to recognize what’s going on and stop this self-sabotaging brain bug in its tracks.
Hi. This is Julie from Julie Saad Wellness, holistic weight loss coaching.
All right so perfectionism – first off what is the definition of it? According to Webster’s Dictionary, it’s, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable,” meaning, either something is perfect, or it’s crap. It’s 100%, or it’s zero. It’s all or nothing, and if I can’t get all, I’ll take nothing.
Perfectionism Leads to Black-or-White Thinking
I see this all the time, and I’ve lived through it myself. Here are some examples of things I’ve witnessed: A person decides it’s time to make a change in her health, so she starts gathering information from various sources. She hears that the best kind of beef is grass-fed, grass-finished, with a high fat content, like 30% or above. She goes to her local grocery store and can’t find anything that meets all that criteria. The beef she finds is not “perfect,” therefore it’s crap, therefore, why even bother? It’s going to be impossible to do, so eff it. It presents a very convenient excuse, doesn’t it? By the way, I’m in the States right now visiting family, and have not been able to find that kind of beef either. I settled on beef with a very high fat content because that’s more important to me, but I have no idea what the cow ate. Back home in Colombia, I usually order beef delivered from our local butcher. I have no idea what those cows eat either and I suppose I could ask, or I suppose I could go out of my way to find the “perfect” beef, but the truth is, I can order my delivery from my local guy in less than a minute and be cooking it later that day. My time isn’t infinite, and I’d rather use the time I save to further my health in other ways, by going for a longer morning walk, hanging out with friends to laugh and relax, or getting to sleep early.
Other excuses I hear: It’s too expensive and too time-consuming to eat healthy food. This mental block can keep you on the Doritos for life. I personally eat processed meat several times a week. It’s delicious and super easy to pull out of the fridge and chow down on. There’s a type of summer sausage that I’ve been enjoying this week that has - gasp! - dextrose listed as one of the ingredients on the label. Oh my God! It has added sugar! My diet is ruined! I’ve blown it! Where are the Doritos? I quit!!! No, it’s no big deal. The carb count on the label is zero, so I know that, even though they’ve likely rounded down, it’s still a very minimal amount, and I can still stick to the ketogenic diet that I eat and love. I’m a weight loss coach. I’m unabashedly obsessed with nutrition, and I eat summer sausage. You can too. It’s cheap, and ready-to-eat. Isn’t processed meat bad for you? I’ll go into that in depth in another episode, but for now, just know that it beats processed carbs hands down any day in a health competition. Sorry, Doritos!
Let me put it to you this way, if “getting healthy” were a class in school, what would constitute an A+, a perfect score? Becoming an Olympic athlete? Moving to the forest to become a hunter-gatherer? Never using an alarm clock again because you always got exactly enough sleep? Really think about it. I’m an optimist, and health and wellness are my passions, but I’m not aiming for 100% here.
I say, be a “B” student when it comes to your health. A “B” student is still scoring around 85% on average. That is not too shabby, especially if you’re a solid F right now, which I know I was for a long time.
So how does this look in real life? Where I live, I have so far found a grand total of one restaurant that mentions the type of oil it cooks with on its menu, and it’s butter. Yay. I love this restaurant and it’s my number one choice, but my husband would probably divorce me if I refused to go to any other place in the city to eat. Someday I’ll get up the courage to start being “that girl” who asks the waiter what everything is cooked in, but for now, I know that occasionally I will probably wind up eating something with industrial seed oils on it or in it, and I’m okay with that. I cook the majority of my own food, so it’s really a small issue for me. If I ate out a lot, I would place more emphasis on it. Is this a perfect situation? No. Is it enough for me to still get my coveted “B” grade on my health report card? Yes, and for me that’s sufficient. The simple fact of knowing that I will “mess up” on occasion, liberates me.
Here’s another one that I see a lot: You started the day with the best intentions and BAM! breakfast didn’t go according to plan. So now, the day is shot. Lunch and dinner will be, obviously, Doritos. Why? Why do we feel the need to write off the entire day just because we made one mistake? Yes, tomorrow is another day, but today is still a day! You can get back on track now.
And speaking of “now . . . “
Perfectionism Leads to Procrastination
This is a big one. Perfectionism and Procrastination are BFFs. They go hand-in-hand. We’ve heard people say, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow” so many times that it’s become a cliche. Other variations on this are, “I’ll start on Monday,” or “I’ll start at New Year’s” or “I’ll start after my birthday party.” Think about what you’re really saying when you say things like this to yourself. Yes, on one hand, you’re making a promise to yourself to change your habits on whatever day you’ve come up with, but aren’t you also making a promise to yourself to not change right now? Aren’t you also making a promise to yourself to continue doing things you know don’t serve you? And, might I suggest, are you also, in a strange, backwards sort-of way, potentially setting yourself up for at least a day of really unhealthy behavior? If today is Friday and I’m starting my diet on Monday, I’ve just given myself permission, or dare I say encouragement, to fill my bathtub with Doritos and dive in head-first for the next 72 hours.
Here’s another excuse we use to procrastinate on getting started: I have a bunch of unhealthy food in my house. I need to eat all of it before I start my new diet. Do you really? Would you tell an alcoholic to finish all the whiskey he has in the house before getting sober? I wouldn’t. You can find a solution to this one. You’re smart.
And here’s another one and this one can be really sneaky and difficult to identify. Sometimes we think, “I have to have all the information before I start.” We think we need to read every single weight loss book, watch YouTube in its entirety, and hey you know what, I’ll go back to school and get a degree in nutrition! Yeah! Then I’ll be able to start. Umm, take it from me, as someone who’s devoted much of her time to studying this stuff. The body of knowledge surrounding weight loss is filled with contradictory advice, even in accredited programs. My mission on this planet is to uncover as much of the lies we’ve been told as I can. That said, it’s still a developing science. You will never have a definitive answer to all your weight loss questions, and neither will I. Based on my research and personal experience, combining keto and fasting is the best way to lose weight, and my recommendation to everyone is to do some form of that. But if we go nuts trying to find the exactly perfect number of carbs we can eat per day and the perfect number of hours for our fasting window by reading article after article online, we severely reduce our chances of ever getting started.
The diet plan you decide to do today is not set in stone. You will find what works for you, but only if you start. I’ll give you a personal example. When I began my health transformation, I had heard that I needed to eat 7-10 cups of vegetables a day. As many of you, I grew up hearing how important vegetables are for our health, something I no longer believe. Yeah, I said it, vegetables are overrated. Sorry not sorry. So when I embarked on my latest weight loss attempt, the one that actually, finally worked, at the start I was making these huge salads, and sauteeing pounds and pounds of mushrooms, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, you name it, every single day. I personally love vegetables, but 7-10 cups is really a lot, and wow was I spending a lot of time preparing them, and whenever I had to be out of the house for an extended period of time, away from by beloved salad bowl and frying pan, I would panic because I didn’t think I was going to get my veggies in for the day. Later by diving deeper into the topic, my studies showed me that it wasn’t necessary to focus so much on vegetables. In fact plenty of people do just fine not eating them at all. Yes, you heard that right. Today, I have a way of eating that really works for me, with a smaller amount of veggies, but the process has been iterative. The point is, even if you do exhaustive research, you likely won’t come up with the “perfect” plan for you right away. Even with my own weight loss clients, I never present something as set in stone. Yes, I base everything I do with them on core principles, but everyone has different bodies and different lives. So what we always do is try it, track it, and tweak it. Start. See what happens. See what works and what doesn’t. Take notes, and adjust accordingly. The only way to do this, is to start. By knowing that you’ll learn as you go, you give yourself permission to begin with what you have now.
Yet, often times, we allow our perfectionism to prevent us from even trying. And this sets us up for something else which I believe can be really dangerous, which is . . .
Perfectionism Allows Us to Live in a Fantasy World
Every serious change we make starts out as a dream, a desire, a fantasy. And in that fantasy, everything is perfect. We think about how wonderful our lives will be when we finally make the transformation, and hold onto this perfect vision as an ideal, as a “someday. . .” Meanwhile, we don’t take any real action, but allow ourselves to indulge in a luxurious whirlwind of imaginary perfection. Now I’m all about visualizing your future self, imagining what life will be like when you change, thinking about how you’ll feel, and so on. But then you’ve got to do something about it! A classic example of this is the person with the great business idea. We all know someone who has a brilliant idea, and 9 times out of 10 what do they do? They’re always talking about how amazing their business is going to be, how much money they’re going to make, how everyone else is doing it wrong, how they’re going to revolutionize the market, and then they never do anything. They live in this dream world where they’re wildly successful, but in reality, they haven’t even taken the first step to get their idea off the ground. Or, they take the first step, it’s hard or something goes wrong, they feel uncomfortable, and they stop and retreat back into Dreamland.
I would venture to say that perfectionism around weight loss can take on a similar pattern. We think about all the things we’ll do, all the clothes we’ll buy, the revenge body selfie we’ll post on Instagram when we finally lose the weight, and we allow ourselves to revel in this desired outcome, without taking the first step to actually get there. Be careful with this. Continuing to put your future body on a pedestal without taking action just serves to widen the gulf between fantasy and reality. Moreover, fantasizing about the process and how wonderful it’s going to be can also have the same result. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but sometimes, not always, but sometimes, repairing your metabolism can be quite unpleasant in the first few days or even weeks. You may go through carb withdrawal, feel fatigued, even have temporarily reduced athletic performance. By lying to yourself and thinking that the entire journey is going to be a walk in the park, you set yourself up for quitting at the first roadblock, when you encounter a mismatch between fantasy and reality.
So in summary, on your weight loss journey, remain vigilant, and don’t let perfectionism derail you. Don’t let imperfect circumstances be an excuse for not starting. Don’t wait until the perfect moment. And don’t let fantasy be the only world in which you take action. Instead, remember to focus on getting that beautiful “B” on your health report card, and know that it’s often a bumpy road, but it does get easier with time. I promise.
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Thanks so much for listening, and have a happy, healthy, and imperfect day.