The ‘Practice-Not-Perfection’ Diet

Painting by Russell D'Alessio
Painting by Russell D’Alessio

As you become more mindful you might start to notice that after talking to a particular family member or after a hard day at work you tend to overeat dinner. In these instances we do not give even a second thought to how much we are eating or even what we are eating.

I often catch myself eating something in which I don’t even remember reaching for because I was so ‘stuck’ in my head. When I am frustrated because something is not working the way I want (like my WordPress blog!), I often scour the cupboard and eat any salty carb I can find. For most of my life, I wasn’t even aware of the connections between these ‘sudden’ cravings and my frustration levels. As I became more mindful, I learned that these mini-binges offered me comfort and ‘helped’ to disconnect me from the emotion that I simply did not want to feel.

Mindful Eating is a Practice not a Contest in Perfection

Eating is not about perfection. Perfection is impossible. It is important to remember that it is called ‘eating as a mindful or spiritual practice’ for a reason. It requires effort, the resilience to move through ‘failures’ and the awareness to learn from our mistakes. In fact, instead of seeing our ‘slips’ as failures or reasons to beat ourselves up which often result in saying “F*$% it! I give up—this is too hard!”, our ‘slips’ should be viewed instead as a compass to remind us to check-in with ourselves, to get real and ask ourselves what is really going on and where do we want to go next.

‘Slips’ are your compass to move back on course. Sometimes those ‘slips’ might even be huge. Maybe you went off your diet for a few weeks—maybe even a few months. Who cares? Feeling guilty or ashamed is not going to get you back on track. Neither is thinking that it is hopeless because you gained all that weight back. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes more practice.

90% is Showing Up

Remember showing up is more than half the battle—it is actually 90%. This is a fact with anything whether it is an exercise routine or something new you want to learn. It is often the initial motivation that is the hardest. How many times have you resisted doing something whether it is the dishes or going for a walk? Then how many times have you shown up and it is relatively easy compared to finding the energy to show up? Doing the dishes didn’t take that long after all. Going for that walk was actually relaxing once you got going and man do you ever feel better now that you got some fresh air. So tell yourself to show up and get comfortable with the fact that it won’t be perfect. Far from it. Perfection is not the goal; it is your journey towards health and your ability to be compassionate and forgiving with yourself along the way.

‘Slips’ are Your Compass to Get on Course

When I say ‘slip’ I am not talking about when you mindfully decide to have something that is not on your usual diet. If you choose to eat a cupcake because you want to enjoy a cupcake and you are okay with that, then that is not a ‘slip’. That is an accomplishment in mindful eating and a healthy relationship with your food. However, eating the cupcake because you are stressed and are trying to avoid your feelings may mean that you need to check-in with yourself and work through your feelings instead of using ‘food therapy’.

If you eat the French fries, then the cupcake and you have not thought about any of your choices and you are going to beat yourself up afterwards then you are likely going off your desired path of health. All this means is that you need to re-orient yourself; feeling ashamed about your eating habits or ‘failures’ will never guide you towards a healthy relationship with food. Compassion will.

‘Slips’ might even mean that you were being ‘mindful’; you knew you shouldn’t have eaten that cupcake, but you did because you just didn’t care or couldn’t control yourself. This is still a step towards mindfulness. As you become more mindful (it can take months or years) you will find yourself making better and healthier choices.  When you realise you have ‘slipped’ ask yourself why you couldn’t resist. What underlying emotion or issue are you trying to bury or keep stuffed down?

Finding the reasons why you need to fill yourself up with food when you are not actually hungry, or why you are just eating mindlessly without even tasting, but rather inhaling, your food is imperative. Naturally, some of us eat mindlessly simply out of habit and boredom. Thankfully these are the easier ‘mindless eating’ habits to change, but even they can be a challenge in our food obsessed culture. Food addiction is a journey and requires some deep digging, some mindfulness and most importantly compassionate, non-judgmental observation.

A judgmental observation looks like this:

I can’t believe I am eating these fries. I am hopeless. I can never stick with anything. I always give in and eat whatever I crave in the end. How many diets have I been on already? I’m so fat. I feel like such a failure. Now my whole diet is gone out the window. I’ve already eaten half the bag what’s the point in stopping now?

A compassionate and non-judgmental observation looks like this:

hfgHmmm. I am eating these French fries even though I know they are bad for me and not what I want to be doing. I am feeling guilty and ashamed of myself. I am just going to sit with this guilt for a moment and breathe through this feeling instead of fighting it. I know I want to eat healthy. I grabbed those fries rather impulsively. I wonder what triggered that? Probably because of that fight I had with my sister. Oh well I have only eaten half the bag. I think I’ll stop here and think about another way to keep my stress in check instead of resorting to food to ‘fill me up’.

Your Weight is Not Your Worth

If your diet is about getting on the scale and valuing your worth by how much weight you have lost or how many calories you avoided then you are setting yourself up for failure and continued self-loathing. Effective weight loss and health as well as a healthy relationship with food will come when you learn self-acceptance. You might not love every aspect of yourself yet and you can’t force that to happen in a minute, but accepting all of yourself, even your ‘faults’ is the first step.

Measuring your worth based on failures and even your achievements are never a good idea. What if those ‘successes’ are taken away from you? Do you go from loving and accepting yourself to hating yourself depending on the worth that you have attached to these ‘goals’? Just like you always love your child no matter how ‘successful’ they are, you must also learn to accept and love yourself for your intrinsic value. You are here for a reason, even if you have not found that yet—even if you make mistakes—lots of them. That the universe (or God or Spirit or whatever name you choose to use) has put you here is reason enough to accept yourself exactly as you are.

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