Our society is obsessed with perfect.
The perfect body, the perfect hair, the perfect spouse.
The perfect diet.
Even though I’m a food professional, I’m by no means exempt from having wandering thoughts about how I could have ‘the perfect diet’. For example, when I look in the mirror in natural light, my thighs reflect each child I’ve been pregnant with. “ GAK!” I think sometimes. “If only I had the perfect diet, those ripples wouldn’t exist!”
Recently, that sort of situation got me thinking. What exactly do I mean when I admonish myself for not having ‘the perfect diet’? I eat really well, if I do say so myself.
I eat about 10 cups of vegetables/salad a day. Some fruit. A mostly plant-based diet. Lean proteins. Sprouted grain bread. I balance my meals and watch my sugar intake.
On the other hand, if my daughter leaves something like the middle of her cinnamon roll lying around, hell yeah I’m going to eat it! Ice cream truck? Vanilla dipped in chocolate with rainbow sprinkles!
No guilt. No bargaining with myself. No shame.
It occurred to me that I couldn’t do that with the ‘perfect diet’ that I was envisioning would take away those bodily ‘imperfections’. Nope, no cinnamon rolls or rainbow sprinkled cones at all, in fact. No birthday cake, no glass of wine with my husband while we eat at the bar of our favorite Italian restaurant. No cocktail by the pool in Vegas. No slice of fresh baked bread with butter or warm chocolate chip cookie from the oven. Oh god no. That won’t get you a dimple-less butt.
Sadly though, that’s the ‘perfect diet’ that many people strive to have. Punishing, restrictive, full of guilt and just plain neurotic. Not fun at all. And I know as a dietitian that the sacrifices of such a diet are too great and the return on the investment far too low for anyone to sustain it for long.
It was then I realized that I already have the perfect diet. Not to gloat, of course, but look – you may have the perfect diet too! Keep reading if you want to know how I envision the perfect diet:
It’s a diet that you can live with.
I still try to choose wisely when I eat, but having the perfect diet doesn’t mean that I only have skinless poached chicken breast, zero carbs and gluten, no mayonnaise, and never a potato chip. By making substitutions – for example, in a restaurant I’ll have a glass of wine (or two) but I won’t have dessert, or I’ll have a few squares of chocolate each night but will have eaten mostly whole foods the entire day.
I still go out, I still enjoy myself, I blow the doors off sometimes (see below) but my perfect diet means that I can be social and enjoy myself and not restrict myself to protein and salads when what I really want is chips and guacamole. I’m just wise about how often I go out and how/how often I indulge.
It’s a diet that is healthy 80% of the time.
As mentioned before, I eat really healthily. I do it because I not only enjoy the taste of fresh, unprocessed food, but I also know the importance of feeding my body what it needs and setting a good example for my kids and the people around me.
That being said, I also love to indulge. I eat something sweet most days, but it’s a portion-controlled, real (read: not ‘diet’) sweet that I enjoy. I once was eating a piece of candy in the gym locker room. “um, are you eating candy before you work out?” a friend asked when she saw me. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was. Doesn’t everyone want a piece of candy sometimes? I understand that if I eat well 80% of the time, then 20% of the time I can eat less-than-healthy foods and the impact on my body won’t be significant.
It’s a diet that doesn’t torture you, mentally or physically.
Eating a balanced diet with healthy and not-so-healthy foods sprinkled in makes me happy, because am honoring my body with healthy fuel while honoring my mental health by not getting down on myself for eating the occasional unhealthy food. Having to restrict restrict restrict every single day is not a healthy mindset and it eventually makes you feel horrible, physically and mentally.
I don’t freak out over eating a piece of cake or some candy. I do it and I get over it.
I refuse to be influenced by the latest in restrictive eating habits and fad diets. I understand that when I eat a cookie, it’s not something to be ashamed or guilty of. I don’t count calories and obsess over everything I eat, and my body has never been healthier.
It’s a diet that sets a good example for your kids and those around you.
It goes without saying that as a dietitian and as a mom, I feel that it’s really important for me to set a good example with my nutrition. I think I’m doing a good job when people see me eat an ice cream cone and then 3 pounds of salad. Or when I talk about wanting to stick my head in a bucket of vanilla icing..I’m showing people that they can be human, they can be fit, they can eat things they like and still be healthy. Just like how I wear expensive jeans with an $8 tank top, it’s about balance. I want my kids to see that mommy doesn’t make a big deal about treats. I want my clients to see that I eat healthily and then have dessert. Balance, people. Balance. Not being obsessive, and not buying into the ‘perfect diet’ that society can’t seem to let go of. I always say that in nutrition, there is no such thing as Be the perfect that you know is best for you.