We all have that idea of what “perfection” to us is. Slim body? Check. Smooth and shiny just-done hair? Check. A three-course daily meal plan with tons of veggies, fruits, and perfectly executed photos to document your diet? Check. A suburban house with a white-picket fence, a dog, a cute hubby who passed down his good looks to your 2.5 kids with a 9-5 job and two cars in the driveway? Check.
But the thing is, perfection is different for every. single. person. There is no exact definition for the word, and in fact, Merriam Webster’s definition of the word “perfection” indicates it’s something than cannot be improved on.
Thanks, Merriam Webster, that explains a lot #not!
However, I believe it’s described as honestly and as accurately as it should be, considering we Americans seem to thrive after what we deem perfect more than most cultures. And if you’re anything like me and my late father, you have taken the idea of perfection to another level, and into OCD land.
Yes, I am a constant recoverer of OCD tendencies. I like the idea of perfection, and if my habits, diet, looks, daily schedule, family life, etc. is not my idea of perfect, you can bet I am striving every waking moment (and routinely during my dreams) to achieve these goals. Chasing perfection to me, is my #comfortzone.
The most perfection-driven goals of mine since I was old enough to learn that it was something I could control early on, were my diet and they way I looked.
My mom was always on a diet, relentlessly trying to hit that magical number on the scale with efforts spent endlessly on her stair stepper, cabbage soup dinners, and Slim Fast shakes each morning. My dad was quite critical of her weight-just not outwardly, something I am still trying to forgive him for, but nonetheless, it was how life was for us. It was easy for him to be so critical of because he had kept his six-pack and long and lean muscles all his life without lifting a single weight. To be taken seriously and even respectable, I understood that you were to be fit, sleek, and had your diet in check. My dad was a military man, maybe that makes it easy to understand? He was and had always been a perfectionist, which he no doubt passed down to me through genetics and through my teachings growing up in their household.
If I were to be anything in this world, I was to be perfect. 100% flawless. What did this mean for me? In high school, it meant I had to excel in sports including basketball and track, get straight A’s, be lean and fit, and not indulge in any drugs, drinking, or premarital sex. Life was strict for me for sure, but I only exacerbated the idea only further to try and impress upon my stature in my family.
Did it help? Some. I got some attention from my parents, but nothing like what I needed. As a result, I ended up creating a 10 year long struggling journey for myself to this very moment striving for the same perfection I tried so hard to chase many years ago.
When I hit my idea of perfection to different attributes in my life, I feel on top of the world and ready to take on anything that comes to face me. I am Queen in these rare moments.
When I fall short, and experience the stress and anxiety come from my unrealistic and unachieved goals, I am my worst enemy and am harder on myself than my Dad ever was. I turn within, hating myself, tearing myself apart and actually inadvertently bringing me so low it takes quite a bit of energy and time to get back up.
Back just two short years ago, I was in this rare state of perfection and everything in my life was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I was just graduating (a second time) with the degree and pathway of my dreams, I was finishing up with my volunteer and interning requirements, it was summer, I had successfully dropped X amount of weight I wanted to lose for my wedding day to my best friend, which was just around the corner, we were getting ready to travel to North Carolina where we were married and spent over two weeks celebrating with family and friends (the rare time my (select few) family were there for me)), and I had just landed a full time job (unrelated to my dreams, however) allowing me to earn enough money to pay our bills and have some left over. I was in pure bliss, and nothing could shake me from my “life high” I was riding happily.
Then, it all crashed into my blissful world. My Dad, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for a few years prior, had gotten so bad that my Mom called to tell me she was putting him in a nursing facility. They had moved 5 states south around the time I got married, so I was already feeling abandoned, but this hit hard.
Long story short, we had to move him there, and it was the hardest thing I had to do. A man who I’ve always seen as perfect, respectable, strong, dependable, fit, and entirely independent, couldn’t feed himself, didn’t know his own kids, and lost his ability to form words. This all happened a year after my wedding, and the journey leading up to this point had begun soon after coming back from my honeymoon.
His condition became worse and worse, until I got a call so that I could say goodbye to him the day he died, just eight months after he took up residence in the nursing facility.
I hated my newly appointed full time job mainly because it required me to get coffee and run errands tirelessly for attorneys who couldn’t care less that I had a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, nor my dreams of helping others medically with my knowledge. In addition, I had experienced different levels of abuse while working there, and I’m still working through some of that, today.
I then was able to get another job-this time in my field!! But I had to commute 2.5 hours a day, be paid less, and the work was intense and exhausting. I hated it. Then my Grandma died just two months after my Dad. My relationship with my family was non-existent, and didn’t even see them until four months after my Dad’s passing. They were all dealing with their lifelong demons and had zero time for their little sister.
You may understand my stress levels during this period of my life, and it may sound extreme. It was, and has been. In effect of what was going on in my life, I did what I do best to deal with my anxiety and problems. I turned to perfectionism, and what better way than to utilize my nutrition knowledge and background? In fact, this is what I’ve always turned to, as I mentioned earlier since I was a little girl.
I became Vegan. Not because only perfectionists and people not knowing how to deal with life’s problems become Vegan, but because it was the most perfect way of eating, saving the planet, and the animals in my mind. I was to become an ambassador for this lifestyle to prove my knowledge of nutrition, especially to those who only saw me as an errand girl, and proving it by how slim, fit, and vibrant I looked. It would also prove how in control of things I were considering how unstable my life was. Because control was everything. Control was perfection.
**Please know that I am NOT knocking Veganism, in fact, I full heartedly support everything about it and believe it supports healthy living supremely, not to mention what it does for the animals and for the planet.**
In combination of eating entirely plant-based and as purely as possible for an American living in West Virginia, I restricted and binged alternately and routinely. I was in efforts to lose weight, to gain muscle, to gain body confidence, to eat intuitively, to not counting calories or macros, to researching every scientific article available on diet and nutrition, to avoiding the subject altogether.
While I attempted to reach a level of visual perfectionism, it was never good enough. I was never thin enough, fit enough, glowing enough, or energetic enough. I was never enough, and I never would be or will be if this is the mind set I continue to follow. I didn’t look like I had eating disorder, or OCD tendencies-unless you are my husband then you’d definitely understand 😉
The thing is, in all my efforts throughout the years of chasing what I feel as perfect to me, I was most content with my inward state and outward appearance when I just plain didn’t give a you-know-what.
Yes, this means that I was my happiest when I went out and shared a triple chocolate dessert out with a friend, ordering pizza for the second time in a week with my hubby so we could spend more time hanging out and chatting instead of cooking or cleaning up dishes, and eating a few spoonfuls of almond butter on top of several sliced green apples in place of a dinner I just didn’t feel like cooking simply because that’s what sounded good to me.
I never overindulged on rich foods, ate too much to fill up the calories I “needed” to eat to fit some macro plan I had created for myself, nor did I restrict on any foods-quantity or the type of food because I was fearful of the number on my bathroom scale, and I stopped thinking about food that I normally obsess over all day long. In fact, the only time I ever thought about food was when my stomach started to growl and I realized it was time for a meal.
What an odd concept, right?
When it was time to plan my life during those times of absolute desperation of perfection as an escape to bigger problems I needed to face head-on, my weight went up, my food allergies seemed to create themselves out of nothing, my clothes fit tighter, my energy slumped, and any discussions I had with others revolved around MY thoughts of food, nutrition, diet, and health.
I was SO much fun to be around.
Getting back out of my perfection mindset is never easy for me, and it may be equally as difficult for you, too. But I have found some ways that has let me get out of this “comfort zone”, if you will. I am going to provide you with some tips to help you get out of this way of thinking, and I hope they help you transition into a more happy-go-lucky, less-stressed, vibrant and energetic individual.
How Not to Be Perfect
- Eat exactly what you want, when you want. If you’re struggling dieting, restricting, binging, etc., I advise this particular tactic I’ve used that works beautifully upon precision. The idea here is to follow your cravings immediately. If you would rather have a bowl of creamy pasta for lunch as opposed to a cold and lifeless salad, do it. If you are trying to figure out a perfect macro-rich, nutrient balanced meal for dinner and you’d do just fine with an almond butter and berry sandwich, do it! When you listen to your cravings and what your body is telling you it wants, it will stop nagging you, eventually. You just have to treat it with the respect it deserves, and I promise it will take care of you.
- Eat mindfully. Of course this explains it, but to further report, I want you to sit down with your meal or whatever you’re eating (remember, it should be exactly what you’re craving), and focus on just your time with it. Staring at a TV screen or otherwise multitasking only takes away the pleasure you should be experiencing, and robs you of what feels amazing. In turn, you might eat more than necessary to get that food-pleasure high. Don’t pass this up!
- Eat like a snob. I am totally not kidding, here. If you hate vending machine snacks but rely on them to stop that incessant stomach growling, or you despise the fast food drive through bagged meals, STOP eating them!! You’re only wasting your body’s chance to truly enjoy and relish the good nutrition and pleasure you’d get from a meal you’d much rather have. Don’t just accept the frozen, bland veggies in a bag just because it’s apparently “healthy”, go and explore the produce aisle for the brightest, most plump in season vegetable you can buy, and savor the fact that it’s going to taste ten times better and provide you with equally the amount of nutrients than in the lifeless purchase you were about to make. NOTE: if you favor junky snacks, that’s totally cool and you should enjoy them if that’s what brings you joy!! Just be mindful of junky ingredients to balance it all out.
- Life Balance and Stress Management
- Stop giving 100%, 100% of the time. I am so guilty of this, and you might be, too. It’s totally awesome to give something your All because effort and hard work will eventually pay off! However, everyone needs a break, this includes you. You cannot work seven days a week, 8-12 hours a day and reap the benefits of all your efforts because you’re going to feel completely drained. Set and follow specific times to work hard and get things done, and also set days and times specifically made for your relaxation and enjoyment. You cannot take care of others if you’re not taken care of, yourself. Do yourself a favor, here.
- Learn to say NO when needed. It is OK to turn down a request when you’re overwhelmed, or need that time to spend on things important to you and your life. I have learned that by doing everything that was ever asked of me I was taken advantage of. Mostly, I’m sure unintentional, but it happens and you have to make sure to set some boundaries because you will be taken advantage of. You are important, too.
- Workout for the enjoyment it brings, not as a punishment. You might have heard this before, but it’s 100% true. I have the feeling of pure satisfaction and endorphin high after a workout meant to relax me and rejuvenate me unlike any other. When I force myself to go because I want to lose X pounds or look good for the summer, it only brings stress. Take care of yourself-your body included. You may not know it know if you’re young, but one day you might be too arthritic to walk down the stairs. Don’t take advantage of your current situation, honor it.
I’m still working on getting back to my comfortable, fun loving, and vibrant self. It’s been a heck of a 2+ year period and it’s been quite a learning curve for me, but I’m getting back there. I’d love to hear if you try any of my tips to help you beat perfectionism! I know it’s hard, and that’s why I’m going to be here for you along the way. Please reach out, I’d love to chat and help in any way I can!