I signup for a caloric or food-restrictive meal plan and intense workout plan. I see instantaneous results in the first few days and weeks but then….Progress stalls. A big holiday weekend approaches so I schedule a cheat day. Cheat day turns into cheat weekend. By Monday, guilt settles in. I go back on restrictive plan.
Rinse and repeat.
Dieting, or eating too little throughout the week while overdoing cardio and lifts, left me completely depleted — mind and body. I would feel weak after a few weeks of restrictive eating and overexercise, and even got injured. There was never a happy medium. Only an All Or Nothing attitude.
Maybe you’re a competitive athlete or a self-proclaimed perfectionist. You strive to win, to do 110%, to Go Big or Go Home. That all-or-nothing mindset might get you results in the short-term but will likely cause you to do nothing sometimes, which hurts progress in the long-run.
For me, I learned the All Or Nothing, the desire for perfection, as a child. My parents held high expectations for me to achieve. So, I pushed myself on a daily basis to work harder, be more disciplined, in order to earn their love. It felt awesome to succeed because I would receive their acknowledgment and praise in return. But, when I failed, I would secretly beat myself up, literally. Sadness, anger, frustration were Bad Feelings that I suppressed and never took the time to access. My self-worth was tied to my athletic performance, my grades, a perfect body, and how others, like my parents, perceived me.
What did that all-or-nothing mindset do to my mind and body? It created chronic stress and anxiety. By creating extreme and impossible expectations for myself, I setup myself up for constant disappointment. I was elated and proud of my rare achievements — like placing at a swim meet — but, more than often, I would see myself negatively, which often led to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
But here’s the thing. My parents were wonderful and did love me unconditionally. Somehow I created a story in my head that they were disappointed in me, which I would carry for years — this deeply pervading sense that I was unlovable and somehow flawed.
I think it’s grand to set goals for yourself. But, by overemphasizing success, I left little room for error, or for recognizing or measuring personal growth. Life is a self-paced, self-directed journey of self-discovery. I spent so much time beating myself that I had little time to learn from each slip, each stumble. And to take those learnings and use them to to become more self-aware and to create new healtier habits.
I’ve been embracing the mantra of progress not perfection. The idea of personal growth for me is an inward journey of self-awareness and acceptance, of the good and bad, and realizing my true physical, emotional and mental strengths.
The reason I don’t Cheat is because I don’t diet. Diets don’t work for me because they are usually unhealthy, not sustainable, and tend to result in cravings and binges on the very foods I try to avoid. The diet mentality is also full of judgments about food like bad or clean that just end up transferring to myself as a person. My physical therapist once told me that a little goes a long way. I do believe that now. Making small, sustainable changes to my meals and lifestyle works for me. So does lowering expectations to reasonable levels, stop punishing myself, and finding joy in nourishing my body.
I eat for my goals — either to cut, maintain or build — and not for personal validation. And when I slip, I like to reflect on how this happened, why this happened, and what you can do in the future to prevent it. Rather than expect perfection, I expect imperfection. It is really the only way for me to discover deeper insights about myself.
There is no perfect — no right way, no right answer — there is just YOU, that you develop over time, on your own, based on your own unique insights, experiences and growth opportunities.
Rinse and repeat that.