Thursday, May 7, 2009

Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien or Leave Well Enough Alone

I continue to be fascinated and frustrated by the central message of many weight-loss blogs: the only way to lose weight is to be "radical", i.e. to slash caloric intake, drink litres and litres of water daily (one blogger I ran across had read somewhere that given her weight, she had to drink about 21 glasses of water a day!), exercise EVERY day (no rest for the weary or the wicked?), never touch "white" foods or sugar or carbs or _____ (you fill in the blank).


Unless you're named Mother Theresa, or have walked on water recently, it is impossible to live up to all these rules.

Repeat after me: impossible.

You will trip up. And if the minimum level you have set for yourself if utter, unfailing and daily perfection, even the slightest mistake (OMG, a cookie!) can potentially send you into a tailspin. The world is black or white, all or nothing, you are "good" or "bad". Thus, since you are unable to do it all, you can't do it at all and you give up or worse, you just continue gaining weight, perhaps even faster than before.

Perfectionism is soul-destroying. In French, they say "le mieux est l'ennemi du bien", which literally means "the better is the enemy of the good". Here are two more colloquial translations, one rather hoity-toity, the other more down to earth:

"Striving to better, oft we mar what is well."
"Leave well enough alone."

Giving up because you cannot attain perfection leaves you with nothing. In the weight-loss world, the only "winners" are those who suffer from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. The only champions are those who starve themselves to death. I'm not implying, nor do I think, that anyone reading this wants to become anorexic or bulimic. However, many of us who are overweight share with the moribly thin that overriding desire to be perfect. We have trouble seeing a healthy, middle way.

All these thoughts really bubbled up in my mind after reading this excellent Globe and Mail article, published on Tuesday, May 5th.

When it comes to losing weight - or preventing weight gain - it's the small changes that make the biggest difference. Making small changes to diet and exercise that you barely notice has a much greater impact on weight control than drastic changes that can't be sustained.

It's called a "small steps approach" and mounting scientific evidence suggests it works

The words that really strike a chord with me in the above quote are "drastic changes that can't be sustained". It's another way of saying that diets don't work. A diet is a set of rules written in stone. A lifestyle change, on the other hand, enables you to gradually opt for better, healthier choices while recognizing that you are human, not a machine. Here's another way of phrasing it: If I never typed the letter "e" again, my computer would not blow up in frustration. I certainly would!

So let's look on the bright side. Here are some lifestyle changes that I've made this year that are sustainable and healthy:
1. I do drink more water. Up until this year, I drank very little water. Unless I was incredibly hot and thirsty, I never drank a glass of water. Now, I drink at least four a day, usually six. Enough? Probably not, but what an improvement!
2. I walk more and more. Now that I am once again physically able to walk a fair distance, I often take public transit rather than my car if my assignment is in the downtown core. Obviously, I have to drive to assignments in the suburbs or out of town. I wear my pedometer pretty much every day. I don't get to 10,000 steps ever day, but I know that I walk more because the pedometer is a great source of encouragement. When I started, 10,000 steps seemed daunting. Now, it's a piece of cake.
3. I eat more consciously and more slowly, though this is a work in progress.
4. I am more aware of the "full" signal, though once again, I'm still very much on the learning curve.
5. I am making a concerted effort to not be afraid of food. Nothing is off limits. Why should I stuff myself if I know that when I'm actually hungry, I can have it, whatever it is?

I encourage you to think about some sustainable changes that you are making in your life.

My only hope is that we are all able to make these sustainable changes and choices and be the happier, healthier people that we are meant to be!

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