If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, it often feels like there’s no room for error, especially when it comes to your diet. However, according to nutrition experts, a streak of eating “perfectly” could actually backfire. “Trying to be perfect with your diet will set you up for disaster; it’s a quick route to giving up on what you hope to achieve,” says Shoshana Pritzker, a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist. Instead, many nutrition experts agree that consistency is the key.
The Problem With Perfection
In today’s world, wanting to be perfect is understandable. “Whether it stems from comparing ourselves to other people on social media or simply managing the increasing demands of everyday life, studies show more people are aiming for perfection,” says Patty Coleman, RD.
There’s just one problem: “Perfection does not exist and is not attainable,” notes Lucy Call, RD. So when someone inevitably has an imperfect eating day or “falls off the wagon,” they stop their healthy efforts altogether, she explains. “It becomes this game of ‘all or nothing,’ and once they’ve lost, they don’t try anymore.”
The truth is, one meal won’t make you gain weight, and one meal won’t suddenly make you fit. Still, when we break our streak of “perfection,” we feel like we’ve failed. At that point, we tend to just throw in the towel, making it even harder to get back on track.
Why Consistency Wins
For most people, changing everything about the way they eat is simply too much to deal with all at once. By seeking perfection through a change to the foods we buy, the way we cook, the new dishes we make for every meal, plus starting a new workout routine on top of it all … It’s no wonder when we end up failing, explains Call.
“When you work consistently to change one habit at a time and then move onto the next when it becomes second-nature, we can actually reach our health goals faster,” says Call. “As a dietitian, my experience is that when a client makes one healthy change, they start to make more and more because they are fueled by feeling good instead of getting dragged down by the overwhelm of chasing perfection.”
Aiming for consistency also allows you to eat foods that wouldn’t fit into a “perfect” framework. You’ve probably seen someone who goes on a cleanse or restrictive diet (or maybe even experienced it yourself). During the diet, they’re able to avoid the constant supply of doughnuts in the breakroom at the office. “But once the diet ends, they can’t stop eating doughnuts every time they walk into the room,” says Call.