While health information is often shared with the best of intentions, it’s often mistaken that we must follow them as rules to a tee. Here’s why eating isn’t meant to be perfect.
It’s easy to get caught up in perfection with nutrition. We are constantly bombarded with messages making it seem like it’s necessary to consume specific amount of calories, grams of fat, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, servings of fruits and vegetables, and on and on.
While this information is typically put out there with the best of intentions to help us live healthier, for some people, these recommendations can trigger extreme behaviors that lead to disordered eating or even full-blown eating disorders.
The truth is: you can’t eat perfectly.
Healthy eating isn’t perfect eating, and perfect eating isn’t healthy eating. Perfection with food simply doesn’t exist, and the mere idea of expecting perfection with eating is often the very thing that causes chaos and dysfunction with food.
Even if there were a clear-cut definition of perfection with eating, it wouldn’t be perfect at all. A little slice of cake here and there really enhances my life, although it might not be the “perfect” thing to eat. You feel me?
Here’s what I’m trying to get at: consistency over time is what really matters with nutrition. There is great value for doing the best you can with your eating. But when you fall short and have a day where you overdo it, forget to eat your fruits and vegetables, or even under eat, remember that your body likes averages.
We are biologically set up for imperfection with our eating.
This idea can be so helpful and freeing. Some days, you might find yourself eating a huge salad with all kinds of greens and veggies. That day you might eat well over your need for vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate. The next day, you might under eat some of those nutrients. One day of not getting enough vitamin C won’t cause scurvy. One day of not doing the best at honoring your hunger and fullness cues won’t make you a failure.
Here’s the thing: our bodies like averages.
Your body naturally takes into account what you’ve provided it with on average over the last week or so. It can hold on to excess calories or excess vitamins or minerals if needed to prepare for days where those nutrients might be unavailable. Our bodies are amazing and have a built-in mechanism for allowing us to be imperfect.
Or in other words, human.
We have this idea that our bodies are so fragile that they need math, numbers, and perfection to function — but this notion simply isn’t true.
On any given day, your body will naturally find the average as you do your best to honor your hunger and fullness cues. Spend your efforts using common sense about balance, and take good care of yourself generally with sleep, movement, stress management, and hydration.
Consistency is what matters over time and your body doesn’t need micromanaging to find that balance. Remember that principle and you will do just fine.
If you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day, and honestly say that you are doing your best, let that be good enough. Just like everything in life, you can really only do your best. Try your best to get a good balance of foods, get adequate sleep, manage your stress, and stay connected to your values.
And on the days you fall short of “perfection” with your eating, remember this:
Your body doesn’t expect or need perfection to thrive.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: BROOKE LARK
Paige Smathers, RDN, CD is a nutrition therapist based in Salt Lake City who helps individuals find positive ways to overcome struggles they experience with food and body image. She specializes in practical, down-to-earth solutions for those in eating disorder recovery and chronic dieting through a weight-neutral positive approach. Paige hosts the popular Nutrition Matters Podcast and runs her private practice, Positive Nutrition.