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Perfection & Healthy Eating: Why the Two Don’t Mix Well

Do you find yourself agonizing over every food-related decision, wondering things like, “Is this a good carb? Should I be eating this in the morning or at night? Did I overeat on my fats today? Is broccoli more nutritious cooked or raw?” Well you aren’t alone. We find ourselves bombarded by an overabundance of news, social media posts and helpful friends who try to tell us the “right” way to eat. And if you are someone who cares about healthy eating, you may find yourself both confused and conflicted.

“Healthy eating” has become a massive industry including books, conferences, infomercials, diet centers, and any possible gadget that might help improve our lives. (Remember the Slap Chop or better yet, the Shake Weight?) Our social media feeds highlight the behaviors of savvy millennials with great camera skills who make their meals seem like heaven on earth. “Want to eat like me? Click the link in my bio to get started.” It’s not hard to see how you could become consumed with healthy eating and for some, this can turn into an unhealthy fixation. In a world where image seems to be “everything”, some people can find themselves becoming overly particular about healthy eating, perhaps bordering upon obsessive behavior. Orthorexia, the clinical term for obsessions with healthy eating, is becoming a mainstream issue in the world of health and fitness. While less than 1% of the US population may fall into a range that would require clinical diagnosis, studies have found that as many as 71% of Americans may have tendencies towards orthorexic behaviors (1). Unfortunately sometimes over-focusing on healthy eating can be a less than healthy part of our lives.

Let’s level set a bit. You don’t have to eat perfectly to get results or to be healthy. You may have heard it before, but if you focus on healthy behaviors and nutritious food choices 80% of the time, you can feel confident that you are doing right by your body. Sadly, I know that telling yourself it’s okay to have popcorn when you go to the movies once a month might not sit well with you. So let’s talk about some simple ways to overcome those feelings of self-doubt when it comes to perfect eating.

Plan Ahead

Make a point to take time during your week or weekend to plan your meals. Consider when you will eat at home and when you may eat out, including where you will go. Think about where you’d like to use your 20% of eating flexibility and stick to it. Having chips and salsa at home while you watch the game on Sunday afternoon might not fit if you want to have gelato out with friends that evening. Use your freedom wisely, because your 20% should be spread throughout your week, rather than used within a single day. You’ll be a lot happier this way. No need to be perfect, just prepared.

Don't Let Science Confuse You

It’s not easy to read up on all the latest science when it comes to food. Things seem to be changing all the time and if you only catch the headlines on TV, it can send you down an endless rabbit hole. Keep in mind that research is great to help drive us toward new behaviors, but nothing really trumps eating a diet that is rich in colorful vegetables and some fruits, ensuring you have protein and healthy fats at every meal, staying well-hydrated by consuming half your body weight in ounces of water daily, and taking your foundational supplements, such as a multivitamin and fish oil. Yes sure, some nutrients are more bioavailable when foods are cooked, while others are best when consumed raw, but if you let factoids such as these rule how you eat, you may never make it past your grocery list each week. Science can be overwhelming, so be sure to take it with a grain of salt.

Don't Live up to Least Not All the Time

Being a Dietitian, there is a certain “unwritten rule” that I should eat perfectly. I mean, people look to me for food guidance after all, but it’s not quite that simple. In the past, I found that clients and friends alike would be nervous to go out to eat with me, fearful that I would judge their food choices. I apply the 80/20 rule in my own life, so it’s quite often when I go out to eat that I’m leveraging part of my 20%. I never strive to be on anyone’s food pedestal, I simply want to be a good example of healthy eating behaviors for those around me. And yes, sometimes that means I eat pizza. I don’t subscribe to perfection and neither should you. I’m perfectly happy being imperfect.

Be Flexible

Many healthy eaters stick to the same foods each day, because they know their macros and feel comfortable with their meal plan. Its fine to have favorite foods and things you find easy to plan into your weekly meal plan out of habit, but don’t forget to spice things up a bit. Eating the same food each day might seem easy, but it’s not allowing your body the opportunity to absorb a wide variety of nutrients. Variety is not only better for your metabolism, but it’s critical for your overall wellness. Aim for something different or updated each day. If you usually eat chicken on your salad at lunch, try some salmon this week. If your snack is always baby carrots with hummus, swap out your carrots for some snap peas and maybe even give guacamole a try! Don’t be scared to liven things up a bit. Your body will thank you.

Be your Own Role Model

It’s great to have people to look up to, but it’s important to be someone YOU look up to too. When was the last time you gave yourself a compliment for cooking a tasty meal or for getting back on your 80/20 healthy eating track after a few days of not-so-great choices? We tend to look up to people who only show the best sides of themselves, rarely sharing that they are human too. Be sure to recognize when you are being a great example to others and pat yourself on the back a bit. Spend some time each day reflecting on what went well with your eating plans, and what might have thrown you a curve ball. Learning from experience is how we grow! And remember: it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being the best, balanced version of you!

Every healthy way of life journey is different, but the common theme they all have is that we are all striving to be the best version of ourselves! Rigidity in your eating will only lead to one thing: unhappiness. Learning to accept balanced eating rather than perfect eating can be a challenge, but it’s completely worth the work.

If you would like more help learning how to find your healthy eating balance, consider working with a Life Time Nutrition Coach to optimize your knowledge and accountability.  



  1. Dunn, M., et al. Prevalence of orthorexia nervosa is less than 1%: data from a US sample. Eat Weight Disord (2016). Doi:10.1007/s40519-016-0258-8.


In health, Julie Brown, Registered Dietitian, Life Time -National Nutrition Program Manager.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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