Kathleen Trotter MSc, Fitness Expert
Exercising and eating well are (obviously) both extremely important life habits. But as with all things, the dose makes the poison. Any health habit — in the “right” set of unhealthy circumstances — can become toxic.
For example, exercise is only a positive stress on your tissues if you give your body the ingredients it needs to recover. Without adequate recovery, the body will become exhausted, injured, and overtrained. The same can be said for eating well. A nutritionally dense diet is important, but an unhealthy fixation on food will leave you—at best—with an unhealthy relationship with food or—at worst—in the hospital owing to malnutrition.
The key is moderation. To ensure that healthy habits stay healthy you must find, borrowing from Aristotle, your “golden mean” — the theoretical middle ground, the bullseye, the Goldilocks zone where you can flourish because of the moderation you are exhibiting.
How do you find your “golden mean”?
First, accept that there are vices at either end of any virtue. Aristotle often uses the example of courage. A soldier with too much courage will act rashly and get killed. One with too little courage will simply abandon their post. Rashness and cowardice are the vices on either end of the courage seesaw.
Next, work to understand which direction you bias. Which end of your seesaw is too heavy? Do you over exercise? Under exercise? Unhealthfully cut calories? Binge? Are you too rash or too cowardly?
Finally, fight to find your middle. If you over exercise, work to prioritize recovery. If you are orthorexic about your food, work to soften your habits.
If an individual acts rashly and drastically cuts calories and overtrains, they will become some mixture of malnourished, injured, and unhappy. On the other extreme, if they decide they are too afraid to even try, they will quit. This individual’s golden mean might be daily walks, Pilates, and consuming more vegetables. Or it might be CrossFit and training for a 5-km race. Each person’s Goldilocks zone will depend on their unique goals, age, genetics, exercise history, and injury profile.
Unfortunately, there is no magic algorithm that will define your bullseye. But an excellent place to start is kicking your perfectionist, comparison-driven mindset to the curb.
Perfection is not possible. Perfect is a mirage. No human is perfect. No health program is perfect. No day is perfect!
Brené Brown calls perfectionism the “great oppressor” and comparison the “thief of joy.” Always “should-ing” yourself, berating yourself for not being perfect, waiting for the perfect day to start your health program, and/or wanting to feel “perfect” to feel worthy and happy simply sets you up for a life of unhappiness, disappointment, and possibly ill health.
Replace your goal of “being perfect” or finding the perfect anything with a goal of “productive striving” and/or “progressive mastery.” Think progress over perfection. Think consistency and perseverance.
Stop “should-ing” all over yourself. The act of searching for perfection is the enemy of just getting crap done and feeling worthy. Step away from the toxic unwinnable game of comparison. To find your golden mean you must (by definition) be in your own lane.
Get to know the internal you — the unconscious values, beliefs, and habits that have and are forming you (you are forming you as you read this; we are always in a constant state of being and becoming). If you want to create a future you less driven by the quest for perfection, tweak your internal dialogue — create a different, more productive internal you. You need an inner voice that is your own best cheerleader not your own worst enemy
Know yourself and give your body what it needs not what it wants. Respect where you are now, your injury history, and where you want to get to. Be Goldilocks. Know what is “too much,” what is “too little,” and what is “just right” for you.
About Kathleen Trotter
Kathleen Trotter, MSc, is a fitness expert, media personality, personal trainer, writer, and author of Finding Your Fit: A Compassionate Trainer’s Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit and Your Fittest Future Self. Making Choices Today for a Happier, Healthier, Fitter Future You.