My New Doctrine for Smashing Perfectionism

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

I’m a recovering perfectionist.

That’s a harsh term, and maybe you’re averse to using it, if you identify with the definition. Okay, let’s say you’re someone who likes to control every aspect of something and wants it to be a certain way, otherwise you feel like a failure, and it can totally ruin your day and make you give up on something.

But perfectionist is more pithy.

As a perfectionist, my worst nightmare is a diet. There’s so much to get right about nutritional changes, and therefore, so much you can get wrong.

I switched to a low-carb diet in December. I tried not to make it a monumental change that needed shouting from the rooftops or mentioned in casual conversations for no reason. I’m not one of those people who says, “I can’t eat bread”. Rather, I see it as, I can eat bread, but I choose not to. If I do, I will have to deal with the consequences of eating refined carbs, which for me, and many people, means mental crash, mood swings, and brain fog. So, I choose to eat low-carb, and opt for high fat, moderate protein, and lots of veggies.

It’s been an up-and-down journey figuring out meal planning, shopping, and cooking, but I’ve mostly figured it out and have totally conquered this new way of eating. Except on the days I don’t. DoorDash has called my name far too many times, and I was all-too eager to listen.

Because of the convenience, because I’m tired, because I’m lazy, because I’m really craving a Buffalo chicken sandwich, because I’m ultimately weak to temptation and my delayed gratification machine is broken — if there’s an excuse, I’ve used it to justify ordering delivery instead of cooking a healthy meal.

I got tired of this cycle. Eating out 2–3 times a week. Opting for far less healthy options far too often. Putting off grocery shopping. The delicious, high-carb, high calorie meals were so irresistible; I felt helpless to their powers. I had to find a way to reconcile this, otherwise, I was going to give up on my low-carb lifestyle. I mean, if I’m going to break it so often to eat carb-y meals, why even do it? Do I even care about my health when I eat half a pizza? I should just quit. I’m a fraud. I can’t do this.

So says the perfectionist, being dramatic. But I did know I had to do something. If I couldn’t say no, I had to find a different way to say yes.

In the past month, I have experimented with a new approach to my eating habits: instead of ordering the delicious burger and fries I was craving, I ate some Cheerios. That decision may disgust you or confuse you, but let me explain. I love Cheerios. Always have. Yeah, sugary cereals are all well and good, but have you had a nice bowl of dry, crunchy, completely bland, oat-based cereal? Okay, I see how that doesn’t sell them in the best light, but I have a sensitive stomach (even moreso when I was a kid), and Cheerios feel good on my tummy. Plus, I actually find them delicious, no added sugar or anything.

As dumb as it sounds, Cheerios were something I really mourned giving up when I changed my diet. I thought I’d essentially have to give them up forever, forgetting that moderation is a thing and a bowl of Cheerios on occasion wouldn’t kill me, or worse, wreck my diet.

So I decided to indulge in some delicious Cheerios instead of eating out — saving me money, calories, and carbs. While Cheerios still have a decent amount of carbs compared to the rest of my shiny, new diet, the whole grains they’re made with are way better for you than a burger bun or fries.

They allow me to say no to the “worse” option, from the perspective of my diet, while still filling me up and satisfying me. My theory is that the higher carb content in Cheerios somehow satisfies the craving I have for other high-carb foods — or perhaps it’s filling enough that I don’t want the craved foods as bad. I don’t know. I’m no expert. I just know it’s been working.

I haven’t eliminated eating out, but that wasn’t my goal. Cheat days can and should happen. But I was indulging far too often than was healthy for me and needed to make a change before the slippery slope became a full-on theme park slide. This whole-grain cereal saved me when nothing else could. I mean, willpower and delayed gratification could also have saved me, but this way, it’s at least a compromise.

In what world is Cheerios a compromise? Or even something to give up in the first place? Ah, that’s the trap of perfectionism. I had “banned” Cheerios because of their relatively high-carb count. I was going all-in on on low carb. I wasn’t doing full keto, but I wanted to be in the range of 50g of carbs per day and cutting Cheerios helped me do that. Anything outside of my “approved” foods felt like I was ruining my diet and my health.

Again, dramatic. But in accepting Cheerios as a splurge (bear with me, if you’re rolling your eyes), it’s helped center me a little. I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be perfect. I can find balance, eat healthy, and meet all my personal fitness and nutrition goals without being 100% perfect all the time and following a strict regimen.

This perspective shift for me is a revelation, but just normal for everyone else, I’m sure. Life is about balance and moderation. You can neither be strict all the time, nor can you do what you want all the time. If you have a goal in mind, there will inevitably be sacrifice to get to success. That doesn’t mean you should punishingly adhere to unrealistic standards, but it does mean there’s self-compassion and self-care to co-exist with self-discipline.

Knowing your limits is important so you can do your best and push yourself, but also, stop when you reach them. They’re called limits for a reason.

This method, that I affectionately call the Cheerios Doctrine, helps bring me back toward the center, from the extreme ends of the spectrum. I’m either being too loose or too strict most of the time. Somewhere in the middle is best. For all things in life.

I’m still learning that.

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Writer at The Unplug Initiative. Mental health advocate. Doing my best in the pursuit of self-improvement.

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Jessica Mathis

Jessica Mathis

Writer at The Unplug Initiative. Mental health advocate. Doing my best in the pursuit of self-improvement.

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