Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Health and Wellness: Healthy Doesn’t Mean Perfect

GettyImages-842336990.jpgWhen people think of the word “healthy,” they typically have a vision or an expectation in their heads. We equate “healthy” with having the perfect body (which, by the way, means something different to everyone), making the perfect food choices, getting a certain amount of exercise each week, getting a certain amount of sleep each night, and having very little stress.

Everyone Makes Health and Wellness Mistakes

But this isn’t always reality. It’s not uncommon for people to begin making healthy lifestyle changes and developing healthy habits, only to give up once they realize how incredibly difficult it is to maintain "perfect" nutrition and exercise. In fact, I would argue that this level of perfectionism is impossible to achieve.

Your journey to health will not be perfect. And your efforts to maintain your health will not be perfect. We’re all imperfect. You won’t always make the healthiest food choices. You won’t always get 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise each week. You won’t always dedicate enough time to stretching, or practicing meditation on a regular basis. Wouldn’t it be a dream if we could all get eight hours of sleep every night? And we all have different body types; we come in all different shapes and sizes.

What Does It Mean to Be “Healthy”?

Everyone has expectations, and being a fitness coach and personal trainer for the last 15 years, I’m no exception to this rule. Even I have struggled with finding my healthy. So what does healthy mean? What does healthy look like

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines healthy as

The condition of being sound in mind, body, or spirit; a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well.

The World Health Organization defines healthy as

A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

What’s truly important when becoming healthy is how you feel mentally and physically. Healthy people tend to have more energy; feel well rested, have fewer aches, pains, and illnesses; and just generally feel good about themselves. And that right there is, by definition, healthy. Healthy really doesn’t mean you always make perfect choices or have the “perfect” body; it means you feel well.

My healthy means I occasionally eat chicken nuggets with my kids for dinner so we have time to go outside to play basketball before it gets dark. My healthy is going to bed at 9:30pm and waking up at 5:30am to get some work done, so once my kids go to school I can work out. My healthy means I have wrinkly, stretched out skin on my belly from having two kids, but I’m at a weight where I feel great. I’m not perfect, but once I stopped trying to be perfect, and just was healthy, it made life and achieving mental and physical health so much easier.

At the end of the day, being healthy is not about fitting into a certain mold. It’s not about following the latest diet or exercise trends. It’s about finding your definition of healthy that allows you to thrive physically, mentally, and spiritually. Practice healthy eating as often as possible, get exercise whenever you can, go to bed when you’re tired, and try not to compare yourself to other people’s definition of health. Remember, each individual is different and healthy looks different to everyone. Focus on feeling well!

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Topics: healthy habits health and wellness nutrition perfectionism

Confessions of a Health Coach: A Recovering Perfectionist

peasI am a recovering perfectionist. It’s an ongoing struggle, but every day I get more comfortable with not being the best at everything. And every day, I feel a little happier because of this attitude. Here are my thoughts as to why.

From an early age, we are taught that 100 percent is the best. Those three numbers represent the perfect indication of success. We are encouraged to give 100 percent of our efforts and to be the best we can possibly be. Some people (myself included) misconstrue this message to  mean anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable.

All-or-Nothing Thinking Can Derail Your Health

As a wellness coach, I often see clients mirror these perfectionist tendencies. For example, some may think their diet is ruined because they ate a donut for breakfast and therefore make poor eating choices for their other meals. Others feel it is pointless to lace up their running shoes unless they have time for a 5-mile run, and stay in and watch TV instead of going for a 2-mile run.

Cognitive-behavioral therapists call this type of thinking an all-or-nothing cognitive distortion. It’s an unhealthy perspective for one simple reason: No one achieves 100 percent of their goals 100 percent of the time. No one.

For perfectionists who struggle to make healthy lifestyle choices (whether it be avoiding the vending machine at work or exercising a certain number of times per week), not achieving 100 percent of a goal can be discouraging, if not downright depressing. This is unfortunate because many people fail to give themselves credit for the healthy choices they do make.

The 65–85 Rule as It Applies to Fitness

My road to recovering from my all-or-nothing thinking patterns began with a simple rule:

          Aim to be successful 65 to 85 percent of the time.

I can just imagine the looks of disbelief from my fellow perfectionists. Give me a moment to explain why the 65–85 percent successful rule is such a beautiful thing.

  • It takes away the pressure. True perfectionists understand the crushing pressure of attempting to achieve that 100 percent mark all the time. Eliminating that pressure can actually make working toward the goal enjoyable.
  • It allows for life to happen. Kids get sick. You become injured. We must overcome any number of hurdles on a daily basis to eat healthy and exercise. Unfortunately, some hurdles are bigger and longer, and require more time and effort to overcome. By aiming to be 65–85% successful, you have a built-in cushion to accommodate life’s curve balls.
  • It is a good indication your goal is not too easy or not too hard. If you are 65–85 percent successful at your goal, I believe this means your goal is challenging enough to promote healthy behavior changes without being too difficult.

Personally, I believe adopting this 65–85 percent attitude has been one of best decisions of my life. I don’t beat myself up if I occasionally eat too much chocolate because I know I eat pretty darn healthy most of the time. If I only have time to run 3 miles instead of 6 because I feel unusually tired, I congratulate myself for getting out the door in the first place.

I’ve found that I’ve actually become healthier (and most importantly, happier) by letting go of my perfectionist thinking. I hope reading my thoughts will persuade you to try to do the same!

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Topics: motivation fitness diet and nutrition perfectionism cognitive distortion