Are you in a battle with your healthy eating plan? Do you want to eat a certain way – say paleo, or low sugar, or more whole foods – but find it very, very difficult to follow?
Ah, you’re not alone.
I hear from so many tender hearted, conscientious men and women who feel discouraged and hopeless because they aren’t able to honor their own standards of eating. This has been my experience, too – for decades!
From my perspective, these dear, dear beings are struggling because of their very expectations. Perhaps they’re trying to eat no carbohydrates – something that I’ve found impossible to do over the long term, particularly if you’re a woman. Or maybe they’re trying to stop eating sugar instantly, without any slip ups (in my experience, slips ups are part of the journey. I’ve yet to meet anyone, myself included, for whom this isn’t the case.)
I could write for days on how the pursuit of eating perfection causes so much pain and suffering. For now, I want to share how softening your expectations for how you eat can help you, ironically, honor them – and remove this source of deep suffering from your life.
Beloved, food is not meant to be such a burden. A pursuit of eating perfection only leads to pain. Think of your relationship with food as an image of Divine love – and Divine love includes grace. Likewise, your relationship with food needs grace: offering yourself mercy, compassion and forgiveness when you dont follow your own eating standards perfectly.
Love is kind. Love is gentle. Love is merciful. Love is compassionate.
Dear one, be gentle, merciful and compassionate with yourself and with your intentions with food. You want to hold loosely onto your expectations, with levity. I like to think of grace as lightness of being. We arent perfect. We dont always follow our intentions perfectly. Thats okay – it means were no better or worse than anyone else; it means were a part of our shared common humanity.
I think this is an important point, especially if you’ve had a history of disordered eating. I used to think that being healed or recovered from my eating disorders meant I would always eat perfectly.
So I was always striving to be perfect so that I could feel whole and healed and define myself as recovered. It’s the only way I felt enough.
But because I could never be perfect, I was never done. I was always striving to improve and get better so I could have those feelings of wholeness that I so desperately craved. So I’d try harder and fail again (feeding my hopelessness and my overeating!) and feel further and further away from being whole. And around and around I’d go…..
When we define healing as eating clean 100% of the time, or eating the best, healthiest diet we put tremendous pressure on ourselves. And then we try so, so hard to eat this perfectly – to have our choices arise from this place of eating perfection.
What helped me was softening my expectations. I feel very, very grateful for the work of Abby Seixas, Tara Brach and Pema Chodron – my teachers in softening my expectations. They taught me how to ask for 80% from myself instead of 100%; to lower my perfectionist standards and rules for myself. With their help, over the years I have gradually redefined healing and recovery to include mistakes and imperfection.
Ironically, this softening helps me honor my intentions. When you dont have to walk the tightrope of “perfect eating,” theres more wiggle room. You relax. You feel less stressed about food or about getting it right. Theres more room to be human, to be, well, you.
I have peace with food today because I have room in my heart for my own imperfection. I include mistakes in my definition of recovery. Sometimes I eat my food too fast. Sometimes I eat something that makes my body feel less than grand. Sometimes I get excited and eat a little too much. Sometimes I eat for emotional comfort, not nourishment. Sometimes I dip into dried fruit, my sugar treat. And its okay. I dont make imperfection wrong.
And because I dont jump all over my own case when this happens, I learn. I grow. I move on. I dont get stuck in my own mistakes. I forgive myself, move forward and do my best next time, and I softly release the “bad” habit. I reconnect to my heart and values, and from this place of grounding, I find my center again.
This is where relationship – your relationship with yourself, with your very tender humanity – counts more than “being right.” Richard Rohr puts in this way: “Every time God forgives us, God is saying that Gods own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”
Yes. Preserve your relationship. Put it first. See how you can offer this greatness of heart to your relationship with food.
Take that tightrope of, “This is what healthy eating looks like” and make it a road – a road wide enough for your human experience. Rather than narrowing your definition of healthy eating to say I am only eating healthy if I eat these foods and eat this particular way try expanding your definition of healthy eating to be a wide, varied, large container – a container big enough to contain all of you; a container big enough to flow and flex with all of your various needs with food.
There will be days for feasting.
There will be days for lighter meals.
There will be days to celebrate and enjoy a treat.
There will be days to follow a structured eating plan.
There will be days to let go. Yes, there is a season for everything.
And when we tune into our own internal knowing, we can ride this ebb and flow and we can discern: this is what my body and heart needs now. This is the season today. And just as we put on a coat when its cold, or sunscreen when its sunny, we respond to the season in front of us with wise action.
And in our hearts, we feel peace.