Friday, December 11, 2009

Better is Good Enough

I think one of the reasons I've hung in there with this whole weight loss thing is that I am not terribly perfectionistic with my eating. Yeah, I eat butter. I enjoy cheese. I eat sugar sometimes. Pizza. Bacon. Stuff that diet purists gasp in disgust about. You CAN'T eat sausage and lose weight! Oh my gosh! You HAVE to eliminate every.last.morsel from your diet that is not pure and holy. Or Else.

Well, I am sure that works for some people, and that's great! Really. But coming from a life punctuated by gallons of ice cream, sleeves of Pringles and liters of Coke, becoming a diet purist just is not on my "doable" list. I am 40 years old. I am willing to change some things, yes. Like cutting out fast food, and learning to eat lots of veggies. But no chocolate? Ever? That is just never going to happen.

I've become really comfortable with accepting that doing *better* is often good enough. I do not have to Do It Perfect; I do not have to follow someone else's Perfect Plan. I do not have to do everything 100% "right" because, frankly, not only is there no "right," but 100% is impossible and frustrating to aim for. If I improve my eating and behaviors *most* of the time, I see results.

Today my family went out for lunch. It was a diner-type place that we have never been to before, and the menu was typical of diners: burgers, fries, shakes, pies. The "salads" looked like they would leave a lot to be desired (pile of iceberg, tomato wedge, couple pieces of ham, full fat dressing) and the only chicken on the menu was breaded and fried. Soup? Forget it, the only one they offered was a heart-stoppingly rich, cream-based clam chowder. They had all kinds of greasy fried sandwiches, too, like my old favorite, the Reuben. So, what would you do?

Aim for "perfect" and get a tasteless, unsatisfying iceberg salad.
Give up because you can't be perfect and get a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Coke.

How about a happy medium?

I started by ordering water to drink, because drinks are just not all that important to me and are an easy place to save calories. Then I looked over the menu and found one of my favorite foods: a turkey club. Yum! I asked them to make it on whole grain bread and "hold the cheese." (A personal mini-rule I have is: cheese is fine. But if there is cheese AND mayo, don't have both! One is enough for flavor). My side dish choices were potato salad, fries, or a "side salad" so I chose the side salad with blue cheese dressing on the side (they did not have a vinaigrette).

Along came my plate: turkey breast, lettuce, and tomato layered with 3 slices of whole grain toast, mayo, and bacon. I pulled my usual club sandwich shenanigans and dismantled the sandwich, pulling out the center piece of toast and about half the mayo, removing the fatty edges of the bacon, and the reassembling the sandwich. (Yeah, I am a fun date. No, I wouldn't do that in an upscale restaurant, but then, I wouldn't be eating a turkey club. I'd be ordering halibut or sturgeon or something. Given the deer heads leering at me from the walls of this diner, I figured no one would care that I was making a mess of my sandwich. If you are more anal than I am, you can ask the waitress to leave out the center piece of toast, use half the mayo, and make the bacon extra well done. But it is funner to shred the sandwich with your fingers). I then ate the sandwich but left the crust. The "side salad" was in fact about 3/4 cup of shredded iceberg, a few diced tomatoes and a little cuplet of dressing on the side. I ate the salad, tasteless as it was, just for filler. I pretty much left the dressing off, though. Not worth it.

Dessert? Nah. I was full.

So, you see, I had my delicious turkey club with BACON and MAYO on crispy hot toast and it was so yummy that I didn't even consider dessert or fries or any other crap. Diet purists all over the world are passing out in disbelief that I call eating bacon and mayo a success. But I do, and it is! What I ate today at lunch was 1000 times better than anything I *would* have ordered a few years ago, or anything I would have ordered had I "given in" to the call of greasy burgers and fries. How many calories do you think I saved? Several hundred, at least. 100 in cheese, 200 in burger meat, 150 in soda, 400 in fries... something like that, not to mention dessert. Yeah, I did great. I am happy.

Better is only good enough, though, if it is reasonable. I mean, you have to think, better than WHAT? It has to be better ENOUGH to make a difference in your weight. I used to eat 5 candy bars at a sitting, but that doesn't mean I can be happy eating three or four candy bars now instead, because that is "better" than eating five. The "better" has to be in context. It has to work for you.

But when you think you have to be perfect and only eat veggies and salad and grilled chicken you *might* be setting yourself up for distress when the day comes that you cannot have or do not want to have that kind of meal. You will be at your mother-in-laws and she will have made her famous family recipe lasagna *just for you* and you will not be able, in that moment, to say "no thank you, I brought this chicken breast in a baggie" and you will eat that lasagna. And if you are all Diet Purist Perfectionistic, that will spiral you into a vortex of shame, guilt, anger, and regret. It's a piece of lasagna! Get over it. Eat more salad with it or something. Just do better. Better is okay. You do not have to lose 20 pounds a month to be a success.

In the context of my day, I am well. For breakfast I had a delicious Chai tea latte, a big bowl of oatmeal with pumpkin, flax, walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, and milk, and green tea. As a snack in the afternoon, I had a french vanilla cappuccino and a bite of donut. (Yes, A Bite!). Dinner was a nice helping of cabbage roll casserole and a handful of fresh blackberries. So, that turkey club at the diner was just fine, in context. I ate 1286 calories today (so far... I may have a 100-calorie cup of pudding before I go to bed). I biked for 30 minutes. I feel great aside from this weird cold/flu thing I am fighting.

Try not to be too hard on yourself. Enjoy your food. Be moderate. Do better. Not perfect.


Margie M. said...

I like this post because it is also how I feel about weight still have to live! And we have to live in the real world. Anybody on a journey like yours (or mine to maintain) who thinks they will always make those perfect choices, is bound to fail. (IMHO) Food still tastes good, we still want to eat some of our favorites even if they aren't "perfect". Moderation in portions and frequency of those old favorites will still get you to your goal! Great work and advice!

Erin said...

I really enjoyed this post. At the Happiness Project, Gretchen often quotes Voltaire "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Autumnforest said...

I like you, you're living in the real world. I consider losing weight to be like being a vegan. You have to learn to find things to eat within your realm, at parties, restaurants, and such, and figure out how to compromise when you must. I agree--don't drink calories. That's just no-nonsense. You just allowed yourself 150-250 calories less by doing that. That slice of bread? Could have been another 100 or more calories. That mayo? Same. You might have just nixed at least 500 calories from your meal. Brilliant! It's not about what you do eat, it's about what you don't.

Amy said...

This is a great post for this time of year. There's no reason to throw it all overboard because there will be some temptations or challenges this month.

I am doing my best to eat well and still allow myself a treat or two. There will be plenty of time to do without treats later. Right now my kids come first.

Me said...

Exactly! You so put into words how I feel about loosing weight.
Not eating less, well I am eating less since I don't eat unnecessary snacks anymore, but eating differently, healthier.
But also enjoy life and food. So I have chocolate at times.....I couldn't do without either!
My middle name is chocoholic.

Karen said...

I operate with the same philosophy and it works pretty well for me too. Life is too short to cut out everything, especially when we can learn to enjoy our favorites in smaller portions!

Great job!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful thinking!
I need this!


Anonymous said...

I've noticed that if I give in a little to my temptations, then I'm much less likely to binge. Better to eat a little bacon & mayo than a whole bag of M&M's. And that's what would happen if I didn't eat some "bad" stuff. Balance, balance, balance.

Andrea said...

Thank you for this post. I just found your blog as I am starting a new healthy way of eating. This is exactly what I needed to read - it mirrors my own feelings that i have always felt bad about since it flies in the face of "dieting purists"! Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

OMG!!! You're my hero! I am a "diet purist" and I hate it and it's the reason I've failed so many other programs. I know this. I just wrote about it too! Thanks fo saying this! I really needed to hear *read* it! And goo for you for making smart choices without having a miserable experience!

Anonymous said...

I think of the times when I have completely abandoned my diet because I wasn't perfect. I think that that is the one thing that I have learned this time around. I don't have to be perfect. I think that your turkey club was an excellent solution to what to eat at that diner.

Vickie said...

it is all one step at a time. and there are a LOT of steps.

when you get down to lower weights - you will have covered a lot of ground - physically and mentally and emotionally.

It is an evolution.

a metamorphosis.

who I was and how I ate and how I exercised at higher weights is very different than how/who I am NOW.

And I expect it to be different next year at this time too.

for me - it has become far more about the nutrition than anything else.

it is very much an ongoing journey and yes, we change a lot as the pounds and the years go by.

Dinah Soar said...

Awesome Lyn!! You are really changing from the inside out. Your change will be lasting and so will your weight loss. Way to go!!

btw--my skinny trim daughter follows your mini rule..cheese or mayo, not both..and if the cheese wouldn't really stand out taste wise she also eliminates it from a sandwich. She says if she can't taste it there's no missing it.

Certifiably Fit said...

Great post! I agree that better is good enough because honestly perfection does not exist cause life happens and we don't have control over everything. I think you did a great job with your choices in the diner.

The Brown Recluse said...

great, great, great entry!!

NewMe said...

I totally agree. This has been the central message of my blog since the beginning.

As you say, if you try to be perfect, you set yourself up for failure.

Bavo, Lyn!

Rebekah said...

Love it!
You go girl!

Jenny said...

Thank you, I really needed this. I often struggle with my all or nothing mentality, and I am trying hard to find balance and creativity in my eating.

You really are an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I guess I do it all wrong, too, and I'm sure I horrify plenty of purists. Yet, I've still lost 50 pounds and gone from obese to normal weight, so it must not be too wrong. Perfect for me! Or, should I say, good bloody enough!

Greta from said...

Good advice! My main goal at this point is to increase my strength and lean muscle my metabolism is higher...then I do not have to be so "perfect" with the food. Working on it. This time around I have lost 65 pounds by eating an average of about 1200-1500 calories a day. In past weight loss attempts........I did 500-1000 calories a day. YIKES! that worked....on the scale anyway....but I was never able to maintain it because I LOST lean muscle and totally tanked my metabolism. I like my current plan way better...esp when it can include some steak, eggs, avocado, cheese, bacon, etc in moderation.

Rachel said...

I'm curious... do you (or anyone) feel like there are a lot of diet purists in food/fitness blog-land? One reason I gain so much inspiration from blogs is that there are LOTS of real world people (like you!) that I can see doing the same sort of things I am at times (getting a little over-zealous with a plate of cookies, or a bottle of wine, or whatever) but still find success. So I guess I'm wondering if you hear the "or else!" voice from bloggers, or just from a life of being aware of the big diet industry?

Eric said...

Fantastic blog, and congratulations on the weight loss. Your before and afters are striking.

I just made the first post to my new blog. My before pictures are quite horrendous (you've been warned).

Reading through these blogs, I find it amazing how much common thread is shared in the stories of people living with obesity and how they got there.

I hope I'm able to turn mine into a success story like you have.

Lyn said...


Good question :)
I find that *most* people who comment, and most whose blogs I read are not diet purists themselves, but are influenced by them and the idea of perfectionism. The pervasive view that one CANNOT eat candy, bacon, etc and lose weight hangs over people's heads and then they feel guilty if they "indulge."

I have, however, gotten emails and comments (and have read blogs from people with this mindset) that say to me, "you NEED to cut ALL SUGAR out of your diet in order to succeed long term" or "you cannot eat cheese like you do and expect to lose weight." Yes, I get a lot of advice like that. I have considered it, as I consider any thoughtful comment or email, but I've decided that eliminating certain foods or entire classes of foods doesn't work for me. The obvious exception is my successful elimination of fast food, and near-elimination of soda.

We all have to do what works for us! I just would like to see bloggers who are confident about their choices, and not apologetic if they enjoy one cookie a week :)

Ria said...

Great post . . . I love turkey clubs too, and l've also been known to deconstruct them :)

Megan said...

I totally agree with you on how it is impossible (well, for most people) to cut out delicious foods just to be on their diet. If you do cut out your favorite foods completely, then you'll just be miserable.

On my most recent post, I wrote about how dieting has nothing to do with willpower...What is willpower anyway? Dieting has to do with learning new skills...this is something I believe you are already mastering!

Jane said...

I hope to start living soon. I am taking a lot from your posts and trying to incorporate them into my lifestyle so that someday I will be happy, too. Thank you.

Jen said...

What a wonderful, timely post. I've long struggled with some version of the "all-or-nothing" mentality, but I'm SO done with it now. It's done nothing for me in the long-term and it's time to kick it to the curb! Thanks Lyn!

Chibi Jeebs said...

"Do better. Not perfect."

I think this just might have to become my new motto - it's applicable to SO many facets of my anal-retentive-perfectionist life! I agree 100% with you in regards to moderation instead of deprivation.

Rachel said...

Thank you for the reply, Lyn! It's REALLY hard to get out from that diet purist influence if it has ahold of you. That's a good point. Every time I see the word "indulge" in a blog I get sooo frustrated.

I'm sure it takes a lot to put yourself out there so much so that you get advice like that! Eek. I am more or less confident with my choices, but I certainly don't post about all of them. I do think some voices are louder than others, though, at least to our ears. And I totally agree that we have to do what works for us!

Deniz said...

Yes, yes, YES! You are so right.

My Dad always used to say 'a little of what you fancy does you good'. MI agree right down the line, although had to learn what 'a little' really meant ;-)

moonduster said...

Actually, a lot of the food you mentione dis allowed on my diet plan (but only lean versions of them, like low-fat sausages and extra lean thick-cut bacon). But to have them at a restaurant would mean that they would not be the lean versions.

BUT I am in no way a diet perfectionist. I went through a stage where I tried to be and I really wasn't doing my body or my motivation any favors. It's much better, and more practical for life-long commitment to change, to give yourself some flexibility.

NutriAngel said...

Exactly! There is no need to try and be perfect at everything. That is the problem with folks who want to lose weight. They try and change their way of eating over night. Deny themselves what they have been eating for years, then wonder why it is a struggle. Baby steps!

Jennifer Brindley said...

Such a great post. I need to bookmark it, 'cause I have serious problems with that thing called "balance." Thank you.

~Jenn (Ex Hot Girl)