The Pitfalls of Perfection
Why leading a perfect, faultlessly healthy lifestyle sounds like a pretty dull existence to me
The obsession with leading an unremittingly healthy or ‘clean’ lifestyle currently seems to be at its peak, particularly amongst teenagers. Speaking as a runner, I can confess to having my fair share of niche foodie habits (it’s not just me who eats peanut butter out of the jar, right?), and I don’t deny that we all have our little oddities when it comes to food. The key lies in recognising when a desire to care for and nourish your body tips over into an unhealthy obsession with supposedly ‘clean’ foods. Yes, avocados are good for you, but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat one with every meal. It’s all about finding the balance between looking after your body and still being able to enjoy your life without constantly beating yourself up about whether you’re being healthy or not.
Before you start thinking that all I do with my days is spend hours dreaming about peanut butter, take a minute to consider your own foodie obsessions, however weird and wonderful. I guarantee that we all have at least one foodstuff that we return to time and again, whether it’s hot sauce to spice up an uninspiring pile of rice or a family-sized pack of chocolate buttons as pure comfort food at the end of a tough day. These are perfect examples of the tremendous capacity that food has to make us happy; it’s the little things that really provide that satisfying moment of pure indulgence.
But we all know that obsessions aren’t always healthy – you only have to look at the craze for ‘clean eating’ to see that. It’s natural to eat certain things regularly simply because you enjoy them, even if that means those suspicious-looking green juices (which taste like pond weed, but each to their own). The key lies in recognising when your love of something becomes an unhealthy obsession, whether that is an obsession with the lifestyle associated with a certain product or the product itself. Drinking six green juices a day won’t turn you into a Victoria’s Secret model, and equally, eating a lusciously squidgy, gooey, jam-filled donut won’t instantly make you look like a whale. It’s all about finding the balance between indulging your passions, enjoying the solace and nourishment that they provide, without allowing those passions to dominate your life.
Social media in particular encourages the development of obsessions by giving the impression of the maintenance of a certain image, especially when it comes to food choices. It’s easy to assume that everybody on Instagram is eating a perfect diet purely because they only ever post pictures of nutritionally balanced, beautiful meals, and consequently the most important thing is that you stick to your guns. Don’t be swayed into thinking that someone else’s lifestyle is perfect and therefore you need to emulate it; nobody is perfect, whatever their social media platforms might lead you to believe, and there is never anything wrong with treating yourself.
Speaking from experience, striving for absolute perfection only leads to a vicious cycle of self-criticism and increased obsession, which will just make you miserable. You can enjoy looking after your body, but that doesn’t mean that you have to maintain rigid discipline over your eating and exercising habits. I fell into that trap, and it’s not a pleasant place; it led to a time when I was never happy with myself, constantly convinced that I could push myself more and more. Ultimately I ran myself into the ground in the hopeless quest for the kind of spotless, healthy image portrayed on social media platforms, all because I failed to realise that these images only provide a tiny snapshot of somebody’s life. Social media doesn’t show the days spent lying on the sofa watching Netflix and eating a box of Heroes, or the sessions in the gym when your motivation hits rock bottom and you leave after ten minutes. Living your own life is far more important that emulating someone else’s.
Remember that you’re allowed to have your unique idiosyncrasies and obsessions when it comes to food and fitness. There’s no need to be ashamed of them, and equally you should never feel pressure to maintain a certain image religiously. Just do what feels right for you (even if that entails licking the last scraps of peanut butter out of the lid of the jar) and enjoy it!