Healthy and Perfect

You Can Be Healthy Without Being Perfect

Photo courtesy of lottadot

Since you’re reading Pick the Brain, I think I can confidently suggest that you might have some perfectionist tendencies – and that you almost certainly have a few areas of your life that you’re working on. (Both are pretty much a given, based on an interest in self-improvement and personal development.)

One big area for a lot of us in the West is our health – and specifically, our weight and fitness levels. Over half of America is overweight, and that figure is rising. I’d guess that a number of Pick the Brain readers are aware that, for better health, they need to lose weight and take more exercise.

Something that stops a lot of us from making progress on our health goals is the feeling that if I can’t be perfect, it’s not worth bothering. If you’ve tried out several super-strict regimes in the past, which you promptly ditch as soon as you’ve eaten something unplanned, or if you think it’s not worth going to the gym for half an hour – you need a whole free afternoon – then this article is for you.

Make Small Changes To What You Eat

One good way to avoid that all-or-nothing approach is to make incremental changes to your diet and daily routine. If you read these and think “it’s not worth bothering”, recognise that it’s your subconscious mind trying to trick you into staying firmly in your cosy comfort zone. Small changes really do add up. Some good places to start are:

  • Eat breakfast every day (if you don’t already). Skipping breakfast is strongly associated with an increased risk of being overweight.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Try having a piece of fruit at breakfast and at lunch each day, a serving of vegetables (like a small side salad, or a handful of carrot and celery sticks ) with lunch, and two servings of vegetables with dinner.
  • Switch to wholegrain bread and cereals. Don’t make this an all-or-nothing, just opt for the wholegrain option some of the time.
  • When two options are equally tempting, go for the healthier one. For example, if you’re at an Italian restaurant and like the look of the creamy pasta carbonara but you’re also eyeing a tomato, prawn and chilli pasta dish, go for the latter.
  • Don’t start worrying about having a perfect diet. Whatever you read on the internet, you do not need to avoid all refined carbs/balance your fat-protein-carbs exactly/eschew all caffeine and alcohol/eat only raw food in order to be healthy. Think of the huge variety of traditional diets around the globe and throughout history – and remember that widespread obesity is a 20th and 21st century problem.

Add In Exercise

If you don’t get much exercise at the moment, set yourself a minimum target that you can fairly easily achieve. That might be a daily twenty minute walk. It might be two gym classes per week. I personally feel at my happiest and most productive if I get a reasonable amount of exercise (ideally, an hour’s walk or the equivalent of it) every day.

Like your diet, your exercise should never be an all-or-nothing deal. Just because you woke up late and didn’t do your planned stretching pre-work, don’t skip your gym session or your evening walk.

As with dieting, you really don’t need to have the perfect body or routine. If you’re exercising purely to keep your heart healthy and your body strong, having a great six pack or toned upper arms is, frankly, irrelevant. I often make the mistake of reading fitness blogs and getting depressed about how much some people do compared to my paltry efforts – but then I remember that I’m easily exceeding the government targets for health. Let other people focus on what’s important to them, and keep your own goals in perspective.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over Slip-Ups

A lot of us have a little voice in the back of our heads which says something like “Sod it, I’ve eaten two cookies, I might as well finish the packet and start my diet again tomorrow.” At that rate, tomorrow never comes.

Focus on making healthier choices, most of the time, and you’ll do fine. You don’t need to be a paragon of virtue when it comes to what you eat and how much exercise you do: taking small actions, consistently, will get you to your goals far more effectively than making a huge effort for three days then giving up for the next six months.

If you’ve got diet/fitness goals at the moment, what small, daily actions do you take towards them? How do you keep yourself on track after a minor slip-up?


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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