If you, like me, have tried but failed to stick to a rigid eating plan, then you know the emotions that can run through you when you give in to temptation: guilt, hopelessness, depression, and shame come to mind. Those emotions can then push you off the deep end. Have you ever slipped on a diet, eaten one Girl Scout cookie, and then resigned yourself to eating the whole darn box? I sure have. That’s why I’ve learned to make this my mantra: Aim for progress, not perfection.
Case in point: I just ate a piece of bacon.
If you follow me, you know I’m trying to eat less fat, lower my cholesterol, and go more-or-less plant-based for my health and also out of compassion for animals. I’ve been eating LOTS of oatmeal lately.
But that bacon was So. Darn. Tasty.
Now I’m feeling bad, of course. I know better. Bacon is void of nutritional value and full of fat. I have a cholesterol test coming up. And, I love pigs! What’s wrong with me?
Well, truthfully, nothing, unless you count being human as a flaw.
Look, most of us are just doing the best we can on a day-to-day basis. If you know you have a severe allergy or an addiction, or if you are totally committed to a particular lifestyle, you might have the fortitude never ever to slip. I respect you, admire you, and support you.
But for the rest of us, life is a series of compromises and gray areas. Once in a while, there will be birthday cupcakes. There will be glasses of celebratory wine. There will, occasionally, be a slice of bacon calling our name.
Luckily, our bodies are amazing machines, capable of cleansing a few grams of fat and cholesterol out of our system. Absolute perfection isn’t necessary (unless, again, you have a severe allergy or addiction). All we need is to do is be a little bit better today than we were yesterday, or last week, or last year. A tiny bit of progress, over time, is going to make a world of difference.
Rather than focusing on our “failure,” we are much better off acknowledging that there will be those occasional treats and having a plan in place to know what to do next. We’re not weak and helpless – we chose to eat a donut, and now we can choose our next step.
Don’t pretend that you are never, ever going to eat something less than nutritious ever again. Instead, decide here and now what you want to do when (not if!) it happens. Write it down in your journal, or even better, on your phone so that you always have it with you. Call it your “Progress, Not Perfection Plan.”
Here are some examples of what you might include:
- “When I eat something I’m trying to reduce in my diet, I am going to make my next meal more nutritious by adding an extra fruit or vegetable.”
- “When I eat dessert, I am going to do an extra mile on the treadmill.”
- “When I have a glass of wine, I will drink two extra glasses of water.”
Notice I don’t even like to use the term “slip up” or “mistake” here. That implies that there is “good behavior” and “bad behavior.” Food is not good or bad. Food is just food. We didn’t fail; we just made a choice that was not according to plan.
Think about the foods or beverages that tempt you most. Then decide how you want to incorporate them into your life. Make a plan. Take control, and take the guilt and other destructive emotions out of the equation. Aim for progress, not perfection. Just do a little bit better every day, and soon, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!