One of the biggest misconceptions about “healthy” living is how much energy we should be putting towards our food choices. We expect utter perfection with our food and our bodies and when we deem ourselves as failures in either category, we hate ourselves. I really believe that our energy needs to be put more towards our self-care. Making empowering choices rather than ones based off negative and stressful thoughts or feelings is the real battle. For so long, I tried to control my choices. I tried to always make the “healthy” choice, the “right” choice, the  “good” choice. I did little to pull from within. Opting instead to follow the voices that existed outside of me. The voices around me and in front of me. The ones that told me how much to exercise, how many carbs to eat in a day and that dairy was nobody’s friend. My focus was not on my inner needs but on my outward appearance. What choice served my need for perfection the best? That was really the bottom line in everything I did. I only masked it with the label of “healthy living.”

I used to think that perfectionism was something perfect people suffered from. People who got straight A’s in high school and went to a really good college and were super successful at their job. They were the real go-getters. That isn’t me. In my journey to heal myself and free myself from a negative attachment to food and my body, I have learned that perfectionism isn’t just about being a super-smart go-getter. We can suffer from it even if we do not see ourselves as perfectionists. If we are constantly trying to perfect our eating and our bodies then that is all it takes to be a perfectionist. It doesn’t mean success. It means an unhealthy desire to reach a status that is beyond our realistic capabilities. It is being obsessed with an “ideal” we have created for ourselves.

As a perfectionist of our bodies, we feel peace and joy only when we make choices that seem to be serving our goals. The moment we fall off the rails, our joyful spirit plunges with us. Shame and guilt come in and tell us how pathetic we are. How un- worthy we are. What failures we are. We want so badly to just feel at peace with ourselves, but the perfectionist within us makes it nearly impossible.

Ever have those moments where you think you are doing everything just right and then you make some sort of poor choice almost on purpose to screw it up? Almost like you are testing yourself. As though some part of you does not believe you deserve happiness and so you rebel. In floods the shame. In floods the guilt. Those oh-so familiar feelings that rip us apart as much as they twistingly comfort us. I have learned in those moments to forgive myself. I have learned to take an inventory of what is going on inside me. At the very base of who I am, I feel that I am not enough. I can honestly say that every bad choice has come from believing this one little lie. I am not enough. I will never know true happiness. I do not deserve to be loved or to love myself. It’s pretty shitty. It’s certainly raw. It is also important to give it recognition. It exists as a reminder to me that I have places within that have experienced hurt and loss. It simply reminds me that I am human. We are both our “good” choices and our “bad” choices. Neither one means anything more than we are simply on the very human path of growth.

Confusing growth with our appearance and choices that support a certain idea of what we think we are supposed to look like is dangerous. Call it what you like, but putting so much value on a destination like “healthy” or “fit” can be destructive if self-care and respect does not accompany it. I have made some seriously poor choices that have hurt not only myself but my family and loved ones in the name of “fitness.” When so much energy is put towards being that perfect version of ourselves we lose sight of the rest of the valuable things in our lives. We live only to be something rather than to celebrate what we already are. We do not see opportunities to love and to share and to put other’s first. We only can see ourselves and our delusion that we have to reach a goal to be of value.

Wanting to look a certain way and believing that our happiness depends on that is the absolute wrong approach towards living a healthy life. A healthy life is one where your choices are made out of loving yourself. You can eat all the salad and smoothies in the world but if you do not have true respect for yourself, your need to always be better will never end.

The goal of a healthier life is really about making consistent choices that empower you, not tear you down. It is about building up your romance with yourself. One that is based off unconditional love, not just appearances. If you put yourself down, if you feed into the shame and the guilt that follows a night out or a week of bread and pasta then you are not at all living a healthy life. You’re still living a restricted one. One where your worth is based off what you eat not just the fact that you are amazing as you are.

Take the time to really think about why you are making your choices. Show yourself as much love and affection for eating grilled salmon as you do for eating cheesecake. Even if the cheesecake ended up being a half a cheesecake! You can love yourself in spite of poor choices. You can love yourself as you move forward to make more uplifting choices. You do not have to wait until you wear such and such a size to treat yourself kindly. True health comes out of absolute love, forgiveness and compassion for ourselves. The best thing you can do for yourself if you have a goal for a healthier you is to get outside your head. Stop being so focused on what you are not or where you have yet to get. Hold yourself accountable for the  choices you have made in a loving and respectful way. Make it a point to be a blessing to someone other than yourself. Live beyond your scale! Go and give your partner a massage. Take your kids to the park and for ice cream. Go to a movie with your girlfriend and be sure to pay for her ticket and her snacks.

It is so important to value things about yourself outside what you put on your plate. Create valuable ways of lifting yourself up that have zero to do with your looks. Of course, a long run can make us feel good. Yes, adding in more vegetables will help us sleep better and feel more energized. What is important is to not only keep your enthusiasm on food and exercise but on the many other facets of yourself that count. Spend more time celebrating and less time shaming. More time building up and less time tearing down. More time living in peace and less time running after perfection.