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Does Healthy = Perfect?

I read an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about learning to “break the health rules” once in a while. While I’m still processing much of the article, I think the last paragraph really hits on an interesting point.

Dr. Love said she and Dr. Domar decided to write the book because many people seemed to have lost sight of what it meant to be healthy. “The point of this is to use your common sense, and if you feel good, then you’re fine,” she said. “The goal is not to get to heaven and say, ‘I’m perfect.’ It’s to use your body, have some fun and to live a little.”

While I think some Times readers will take the last sentence as an excuse to treat their bodies poorly either by drinking in excess or not sleeping enough, etc, I hope most people consider Drs. Love and Domar’s assertion that our goal shouldn’t be perfection, but health and happiness.

Another wise writer recently discussed two similar, important issues—labels and striving for perfection. As I expressed in my comment to her post, I initially found labels to be too restrictive. I tried to hide behind them and they served as justifications for an unhealthy mindset and body image. I “didn’t” eat certain foods or “wouldn’t” participate in certain activities. The cut-and-dry nature of labels and their simultaneously exclusive and inclusive nature ended up making me unhappy rather than happy. I was so focused on the perfection described in the Times article that I wasn’t “hav[ing] fun…and liv[ing] a little.”

While, like Gena, I believe there are some situations in which moderation is not appropriate, e.g., drug use, infidelity, I do agree that we need to give ourselves a break. When I shaped my goals for 2010, I made some specific, measurable goals, but I also made goals that encouraged flexibility and moderation. I strive to eat a vegetarian diet four days/week. For me, I think eating a vegetarian-focused diet will both make me healthier AND make me happier. Not only will it move me toward my great goal of the highest level of health for myself, but it will also make me feel better physically and allow me to use my body and have some fun. And I know by leaving “wiggle room” for myself that I will be able to remember what it really means to be healthy, both mentally and physically.

How do you remind yourself of the real meaning of “health”?

16 Responses

  1. Hey there lady – great post. I need to practice the “be kinder and less critical of myself” idea a lot more. If I have a bad day of eating or don’t make it to the gym, I do beat myself up a bit. Especially now when everyone and their mother seems to be on a “health kick” with the New Year – when I fall off the wagon a bit I feel even more guilty b/c living healthy isn’t just a New Year’s resolution for me, it’s supposed to be my way of life – so I should be better at it right? Wrong. I’m only human. Anywho – here’s to living life to fullest and not living it for perfection! P.S. – I just KNOW you want to run the Fred Lebow 5-miler this Saturday!!

  2. A lot of times, I choose my mental health over my physical health. I think it’s really important to exercise and eat “healthy” foods, but if I do that at the expense of enjoying time with friends or family and enjoying eating, it’s not worth it at all. Maybe that extra piece of cake isn’t the best for my body fat percentage, but it made me happy, i enjoyed it with friends, and it was made with love by my mom. I try to always remind myself what is going to be more worth it to me in the long run. Arteries that pump a little cleaner than yours or a good relationship with myself, my friends, and my family? I don’t think it’s a hard decision at all.

  3. Hey–great post…I also have a random question…why don’t you let people read your full post on google reader?? I only read your blog once in awhile, but would def read it much more if i could on google reader.

    • You know, I’m actually not entirely sure why it does the excerpt in Google Reader! I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of setting in WordPress, but I have no idea what it is! Help??

      • Sooo I’m pretty sure that you go to Settings/Reading, then Select “full text” instead of “summary” under “For each article in a feed, show:”

        I *think* that works, but I am not entirely sure. I’d be SUPER psyched if I could read it on google reader…I love love love finding other NYC bloggers. I feel like I’m usually creepin’ around on like Florida blogs. 😉

  4. Flexibility is the key to me. Of course there are situations that you should always maintain a standard, and you should decide that long before faced with the decision.

    Let’s take my vice — Coke. I love to drink Coke and at the height of my habit I drank two 44 ounce cups a day. It was a mountain of carbonation and calories and 10 years ago. Now I allow myself to drink Coke on Sundays and it is weird, I only drink one or two cans on that day. Moderation allows me to still enjoy something I love that in excess is so unhealthy.

    Great post today!

  5. Ah, a question for the ages. I think if I’ve learned anything on this relatively short journey (as yet) of mine, it’s that the aiming for perfection is precisely what got me the furthest from perfect (if that’s even attainable). Once I relaxed a little and let me be me, I found that miraculously I was in fact not morbidly obese or riddled with innumerable health conditions. Sure it took some discipline to get to a point of healthy habits, but it took yet more to realize which healthy habits were in fact HEALTHY.

    • Yes yes yes! Working so hard for some kind of unattainable image of perfection definitely drove me that much further away from it. That said, I do think it helped me swing back toward a healthier middle ground (not as indulgent as my childhood, but not as nutso as my recent past). It’s all about keeping things in perspective, isnt it?

  6. What an awesome, awesome post!

    I was actually truly impressed with your resolutions! They struck me as realistic, educated, and specifically focused on non-triggering, realistic, and healthy initiatives. You should be so proud that you’re moving away from the restriction cycles, and towards a place of self acceptance and respect. ❤ xoxo

  7. […] meals, of course As you can see, I did not limit myself on this outing at all. But I agree with Katherine and Meg’s recent posts that healthy does not have to equal perfect and we should learn to […]

  8. I haven’t read that article. but now I know I need to. I love the message that being healthy does not equal perfect. it’s more about balance and overall smart decisions.

    And I like your explanation of your goals! 🙂

  9. gosh, this is such a tough question because really it varies for everybody! anything that is going to make you feel better, have more energy, be in better moods, keep you sane, keep your moods even and bring you joy is most likely going to be healthy for you too!

    go on with your bad self girl – i think your goals are fantastic! i also eat a primarily vegetarian-based diet, and quite frankly, i don’t really miss the meat!

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