Why would anyone want a half-assed plan for anything? Shouldn’t we be aiming for quality, be the best we can be?
Sounds good, and certainly would be the goal you would want a neurosurgeon to have if he were operating on your brain, but what about goals for healthy eating habits? I would argue that people who tend toward perfectionism actually eat better when they don’t take it so seriously.
I met recently with a very bright young woman in a high-powered job, which she actually doesn’t really like much and causes great stress on a daily basis – the American dream, right? Since college, she has gained and lost about 20 pounds over and over again, and she came to see me at a low point (not in weight, but in mood).
With her head bursting at the seams, overloaded with way too much nutrition information, she was at her wit’s end. She had pretty much just given up altogether. Fast food, candy, no groceries at home, . . . a dismal state of dietary apathy.
She had also grown weary of the dieting cycles that had become habit. Losing weight on about 1200 calories a day was always followed by gaining it back on ??? calories a day. I have seen this pattern enough to recognize the black and white attitudes and thought processes that go hand in hand with the scale flip flops.
Hunger, fatigue, and cravings when calories are way too low are the predictable precursors to overeating, guilt, and a stuffed feeling. That sets the stage for the next cycle of deprivation and overeating, and on and on (up and down) the roller coaster ride continues.
I have to admit that I love helping people who feel lost and kind of at rock bottom, because they are so very open. After repeating an ineffective pattern for a long time, I find that they absolutely gobble up truth when they hear it. Sometimes they just need someone to speak out loud what they already know in their gut – that this pattern has not gotten any more effective with each repeated attempt. In fact, it’s probably more likely that it is less effective each time as frustration escalates.
While I have gotten pretty good at guessing the attitudes that drive different eating styles, I can never predict what will turn the lightbulb on in someone’s head. In this particular situation, the light switch turned out to be what I thought was a reminder (which turned out to be a completely new thought for her) that emotional eating substitutes do not – and will not – ALWAYS work.
After telling me that she has tried deep breathing and a couple of other things, none of which worked, I realized that “working” by her definition meant completely solving the problem. I suggested that maybe improvement was really the goal, not perfection.
Instead of giving up if a technique doesn’t work the first time, why not try multiple times and define success as any positive outcome from any of the attempts? I will admit that her reaction did make me feel good. There is nothing like being able to actually see that I have made a difference.
She visibly lit up. I could tell she got it. This truly was a new way of looking at eating for her – so different from how she approached most of her life! She may have even felt a sense of relief at the thought. ‘Imagine that’, I could (almost) hear her thinking, ‘I don’t have to look at each challenge as a pass-fail test!’
I knew she felt better and had renewed hope. I felt valuable. It just doesn’t get any better than that.