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Diet Ditcher

Perfection isn't such a perfect idea

I backed away from the scale feeling stunned and betrayed. I had followed all the rules: exercised every day, meticulously tracked my food and kept my calories within the target range and chosen healthy foods full of nutrition. It didn't matter. I was up five pounds. Five pounds!

My month-long honeymoon with weight loss was over.

You know the honeymoon phase. That's when you can do no wrong. You feel strong, empowered even, because you are taking positive steps to get control of a part of your life where you've been feeling out of control. You lose weight quickly, feel healthier and generally feel the world is your oyster and you've found the secret key to success.

Inevi tably, though, something brings that powerful feeling crashing to an end.

"How could I possibly have gained weight?" I raged inwardly. "I had done everything right!" I berated myself, my body and the scale. I went away angry and reached for the cookies. I went on a half-day sulk, eating anything and everything I pleased until I was uncomfortably full and my head hurt from too much sugar.

Then I got hold of myself.

Through diet after diet, this is where I had hit a brick wall. It might be 10 pounds in, or 20, 30 or 40, but inevitably I would reach a point where my expectations were violated, spurring a self-pity binge followed by full-on diet derailment.

But wait a minute. This wasn't supposed to be a diet. This was supposed to be a lifestyle change. How would I be able to make true lifestyle change if every time I ate something ill-advised, or every time the scale didn't go my way I spent the rest of the day beating myself up over it? I would never, ever dream of saying the things to someone else that I say to myself in moments like that. Shouldn't I be able to be as kind to myself when I am struggling as I am when others struggle?

"The tendency to leap from minor, trivial problems to overblown, unrealistic conclusions is something that everyone struggles with to some degree," writes behavioral psychology expert Dean Anderson in "3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking" on the sparkpeople.com website. "This type of negative thinking is one of the reasons that people have difficulty sticking to their weight loss plan - and why small problems can cause stress and misery that is often avoidable."

Anderson says, rather than worry about the underlying reasons why individuals get caught up in negativity, you can change the internal conversation by taking a look at what you are doing.

Chronic negativity can be a sign that your hidden thoughts and assumptions are inaccurate, Anderson writes.

In my case, I was considering the scale the only measure of success in my ef fort to improve my health and lose weight. And I was considering my diet blown because the scale was uncooperative.

But looking more objectively about my efforts, I realized that I was feeling much better than before I started exercising and eating better. I may not have lost weight that week (I remembered later that I had eaten some very salty foods the night before that probably contributed to temporary water weight gain.) but when I broke out the tape measure I realized I had lost more than six inches in overall measurements. My knees and ankles were also feeling better and I was getting less winded when I took walks. And despite my scale setback, I was eating more healthful foods than I had in quite some time.

By challenging my underlying false assumptions, as Anderson suggests, I realized that I had made qui t e a bi t of progress in one short month. I gave myself a mental pat on the back and vowed to continue to work at making good food choices and getting regular exercise.

So have I been perfect since I made that promise to myself? No, of course not. I've eaten things that aren't very good for me. I've skimped on exercise from time to time. Overall, though, I've made good progress toward weight loss and better health and that's better than shortterm perfection doomed to failure.

If I want to make a real and long-lasting change in my life, I have to admit that I'm going to foul up every once in a while. And then I have to forgive myself when I do and keep moving forward.

Perfection is highly overrated in the quest for health.

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