Many of us are familiar with the idea of “progress, not perfection.” In fact it is one of the slogans at my gym and I think it’s the right idea. The problem with slogans however is that too many of us spout them and repeat them to others without stopping to think about what they really mean. One example from my own life (sooo embarrassing!): when I was learning to drive, an older experienced driver told me that before I pull out into traffic, no matter which way I am turning, look left right before I pull out because those are the drivers that will hit me first. I followed his advice, although I never really thought about it and years later when I was teaching my cousin to drive, I repeated the advice to her. Her face lit up: “Oh yeah! That’s smart advice!” Me –thinking: “It is?? Why?? [pause] Oh, yeahhhh….” Translation: “Duhhhhhh!”
It is smart advice and it’s too bad I’d never considered it until my younger cousin made me think about what it meant! But this is how ideas can be passed around and not put into practice, despite being repeated on a regular basis. Too many of us see pithy slogans, repeat them to ourselves and others and then go on our merry way doing things the way we’ve always done them, and if that’s not the way that works for us, we get frustrated. “Why does X work for everyone else but me?!” Umm.. are you sure that it’s right for you??
There are a lot of us who fall into the “I can’t do XYZ” category. As in, “I can’t eat Primal/ Paleo because I need a certain amount of carbs each day or my blood sugar drops too low;” or “I can’t be keto because my doctor wants me to limit my fat.” Whatever your doctor told you, listen to your doctor! But when you use the ‘doctor’s orders’ for your excuse for not losing weight, there’s a problem!
No one begins at a perfect starting point! Even fitness gurus like Chris Powell and Jillian Michaels started out less than perfect! While they look amazing now, what we are seeing is the Final Product, not the First Draft. No one- in weight loss or anything else– started out perfect their first time around. The hang-up comes when we want to be as perfect as possible the first time out or even before we start. We want to begin from a perfect starting point so we can get to the Final Product as soon as we can. It’s an admirable sentiment, however unrealistic it is. There is no Universal Perfect Starting Point; there is just where we choose to start!
While I realize I might be making some enemies here, I don’t believe either Chris Powell or Jillian Michaels are perfect. They look great and are in great shape, but I’m sure if you ask either of them to point out things about themselves they wish were better, they’d have a few items on the list! Each of us excels at pointing out our flaws. When we stand in front of a mirror and our friends and family tell us how great we look, we still think “yeah, except for my hips/ my chest/ my neck/ my butt/ my thighs/ my whatever.”
This is where the idea of perfection has gotten stuck in our heads. We want to eat perfectly. We want to work out perfectly. We want to look as perfect as we can. Those are very admirable goals, but again, how realistic are they? Is anything or anyone in this world perfect? Who is eating the perfect diet? Who is doing the perfect work out? Even if they are ‘perfect’ most of the time, what they are doing is ‘perfect’ for them! There are people who eat a lot of veggies like leeks and kale and tomatoes. That’s great, if you aren’t sensitive to allium veggies, cruciferous veggies or nightshades! Some people have trouble with the excessive sulfur in allium veggies like leeks, onions, garlic, etc. People with thyroid conditions are sometimes told to limit their cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. For some of us, we are just sensitive to nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes). So when you look at someone else’s ‘perfect’ diet, it might be worse for you than the diet you are following now! The same with their ‘perfect workout’: what works for them might hurt you!
[What sparked this particular post might seem fairly far afield. As a ‘recovering English major,’ I was reviewing John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Talk about a heavy unrelated topic!) But the commentary I recall most from my classes about this epic poem is that while God made humans flawed and imperfect, He made them as perfect as they need to be. Adam and Eve had everything they needed to exist forever in Eden. They were lacking nothing but through their own choices were cast out of Paradise. Their choices were not imperfections.]
Whether you are Christian or not, the fact remains that each of us has the skills and ability we need to lose weight, eat better and be more active. We don’t need to start at perfection and perfection as a goal remains relative. What works great for me might not work at all for my sister or my friends. Each of us needs to begin at our own starting point and move forward. Some of us might be starting at a much lower benchmark than others and some of us might not ever reach as high as someone else’s midpoint! We need to seek our own perfect eating plan and fitness plan and stop comparing ourselves to others. It’s okay to try something someone else is having success with eating or doing, but if it’s a huge failure for you, it’s not your failure! You did not fail- this particular tool just doesn’t work for you. One of my favorite podcasters, Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) has a favorite recipe that she eats often. She calls it her ‘cabbage bowl’ which has raw shredded cabbage, bacon, an egg and usually avocado. She leaves the yolk runny and uses it with the avocado to make a kind of dressing. If I had to eat raw runny egg yolk, I would seriously throw up! It’s one of the few foods that I have detested all my life. (I only eat really hard cooked egg yolk with enough hot sauce on it to kill the taste!) I eat a lot of the other stuff in that recipe but not the egg! Does that mean my diet isn’t perfect? Not at all! It means the bacon avocado coleslaw I have is what works for me.
There is no reason to compare yourself against anyone else. You are unique and while there are some basic healthy human guidelines to follow, no one else can tell you that you’re a failure for not eating or working out like they do. Are you eating healthier, according to you? Are you being more active than you used to be? If the answers to those are yes, then you are doing just fine, and if you think you can make improvements, great! As long as they work for you! If they aren’t working out for you, find something that does, and odds are, it won’t be someone else’s eating or workout plan!