On a recent show, Oprah declined to taste fine chocolate brought to her by a guest who carried the chocolate thousands of miles from her home in a foreign country “just for Oprah’s lips.” Oprah’s reason for declining: “I’m starting my Oprah boot camp today and can’t have any chocolate for six weeks.” So let me get this straight – does that mean chocolate is at the root of Oprah’s eating/weight struggles? And totally cutting it out for six weeks is going to solve things?
This reminds me of someone I know who has seen incredible success in reaching her health and fitness goals. She almost devoted her life to getting to a healthy weight by eating well, staying active and trying to change her idea about what’s acceptable in terms of her body. But recently she hit a few bumps in the road. A family member became ill, she changed jobs, she’s having to study for a new credential – all adding up to a lot on her plate. And she felt herself sliding down that slippery slope to relapse – not because she felt the desire to eat to calm herself or any of those old habits – but because she believed if she couldn’t do it all, she wasn’t doing enough. She wasn’t getting in all the walking and strength training that she thought she needed to stay fit.
What she’s really struggling with, however, isn’t her failure to stay as active as she’d like. Nor do most people’s eating struggles really have anything to do with a piece of chocolate. My friend’s problem is her mindset of perfectionism, and that’s also one reason many people can’t eat one piece of chocolate without eating the whole box. Perfectionism is something that many women struggle with. But it’s all in how you look at it.
Perfectionism creates a drive to do things well. It offers motivation and pushes us to pay attention to details. We can use it to help us achieve our goals. But it can be taken too far. In the case of health and fitness, our expectations that we must always eat ‘healthy’ foods, always adhere perfectly to an exercise routine, always be on top of our game, work against us because they set us up for failure. A Snickers bar becomes a reason for not taking a walk, for eating more Snickers bars and the carton of ice cream in the freezer, too. Or we think that if we can’t do it ‘right,’ we might as well not try to do it at all. So a day that’s too busy for a walk leads to a week in which we fail to engage in any kind of physical activity for health.
Read more about the perfectionism trap. Then resolve to go easy on yourself. The advice to take things one day at a time is all about living in the moment. After all, that’s the only time we’re actually alive – the past is gone, the future is not here yet. It’s now that really counts.