You’ve lost weight.
You’ve leaned out tremendously over the last six months, embracing the Paleo lifestyle to dramatic effect. Your friends are envious, your family is supportive, and you’re pretty sure that cute guy/girl at the coffee shop just gave you the eye, which is by far the biggest perk of these last half-dozen healthy months.
You’re in excellent health. It’s a rare feeling to smile at the face you see staring back in the mirror, and to an extent you still can’t believe it’s yours. Sometimes — and this, you’ve decided, is the best problem you’ve ever had — you can’t wrap your head around the idea that you look good.
And then it happens. (It always does, honestly, but that realization does just about nothing to ease the sting).
You travel. You visit a friend for a week. You attend a wedding, a birthday party, a three-day work convention and everything in between — you step out of your element, in other words, into the land of whole grains and chemical-laden processed food, and that positive sentiment you slowly collected over the last half-year takes a nosedive into the drain.
Welcome to excellent health. Welcome to impossible standards — and welcome, at long last, to a solution.
Here’s a hint: it’s all in your head.
THE UGLY TRUTH
I’ve spent the last two weeks on the road. I started in sweaty Oklahoma before migrating south towards Texas, and the one common theme (besides this damnable heat) has been a little hard to accept: indulgence. I’ve eaten a staggering assortment of bad food — with full understanding, of course, that bad tends to taste oh-so good, and that it was nigh-impossible to avoid everywhere I went.
Overnight, my perspective shifted. The goodwill and rainbows I’d collected slipped out between my fingers, to the point where I instinctively started avoiding mirrors. I knew what I would see — bloat, weight gain, obesity — and I knew it would crack the lid on a Pandora’s box of unhappy emotions, the kind I had previously dumped for the land of sunshine and excellent health.
That’s the nature of the game, I’ve decided. That’s the ugly truth about excellent health: once you obtain it, your standards change in so many ways for the worse. We become sensitive to the minutiae, to every slight fluctuation in weight, to every tiny — insignificant — change that is little more than an ordinary part of life.
We become perfectionists. In a strange twist, we become more critical than we were before we lost the weight, a victim of our own impossible standards.
It’s not pretty, is it?
The doomsday perspective is hard to shake. It’s nigh-impossible — especially in a Paleo context — to unchain those two slices of bread you had at dinner from immediate and irreversible weight gain, to remember that a single slice of cake at a birthday party won’t send you on a sugar-laden spiral back down to poor health.
Funny thing, really, how our perspective — how our mind — does so much more damage than the small plate of pasta you were served at work.
THE NEW PERSPECTIVE
And that’s the truth, folks. That slice of cake? Not good for you, sure. The mental shift it causes when you clean your plate? Infinitely worse.
It’s an interesting problem, however, for one beautiful realization: we can fix this. We can broaden our perspective a bit, and we can dig a little deeper in our thinking to come out so much happier on the other side.
First, though, there are two things we need to remember.
1. One meal — one day of poor choices, and one week of traveling — won’t break you.
Remember, now, the context of your life, and realize how insignificant a single indulgence is in the grand scheme of how you live. That slice of birthday cake, in other words, is little more than a speed bump on your personal journey to excellent health, one single exception to a rule of strong, healthy eating.
2. Poor health — much like excellent health — takes time.
Remember, for a moment, how you felt before you lost the weight. Remember too that it took time to get there — years upon years of poor dietary choices, of thrice-daily processed meals that added up, bit by bit, to the shape you were in before.
If I’m being honest with myself, these last two weeks of traveling haven’t done a damn thing. I might be a bit less defined, sure, but overall I still maintain the excellent health I’ve gained over this last year, and overall I still have a dozen different reasons to smile whenever I take my daily designated Vanity Time in front of the mirror.
My standards often suggest otherwise. The ugly truth about excellent health leaves me doubting, sometimes, but I’m emboldened by a broader, better realization: this is the road I’ll walk for the rest of my life.
Let’s make a vow, now, to stop obsessing over every minor bump. Promise to yourself that you’ll enjoy each day as it comes, and promise that you’ll keep these words in mind the next time life gets in the way and brings an indulgence straight to your doorstep.
One meal can’t undo a month — six months, a year — of healthy eating. A week of unfriendly meals can’t change this one simple fact: you’re in excellent health, now, and you’re well-equipped to stay that way for the rest of your long, happy life.