Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not being Perfect in an Imperfect World

I’ve recently met two rather incredible, smart, and very insightful new friends that have really helped me think through something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time; namely, the drive for perfection in an otherwise imperfect world. While a lot has been written about perfectionists or Type-A personalities, I’ve seen very little written about it in regards to nutrition.

I’ve always been pretty demanding and typically hold myself to pretty high standards. Unfortunately, this blog is often reflective of that. My one friend semi-jokingly calls me “the robot” as a way of pointing out my rigidness, and while having tea with my friend Gena, I came to realize that I’ve become entrenched in the “diet wars” and have become so dogmatic in regards to nutrition that I sometimes am unable to remember why I began writing this blog in the first place.

The reason why I write this blog is not to bicker about how many nuts should be consumed in a sitting or any of the other semantics that nutrition bloggers often get bogged down with. Instead I write this blog because I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and want to share that research-based knowledge in an attempt to help people find their own paths to healing and long-term health. Long time readers have been able to watch many of my thoughts about nutrition evolve over that time - particularly when it comes to oil. However, the one thing that consistently bothers me is that my posts are often written from the perspective that the world is black or white, with nothing in between  when nothing could be further from the truth in regards to nutrition.

Before I continue, I need to be completely clear. I am an ethical vegan (which is why I have never backed away from using the term) regardless of nutrition, I do not support or condone any use or exploitation of any animals in any situation.

That said, nutrition is often very complex and works in highly sophisticated ways, many of which researchers are just now starting to chart. The world is even more complex and our daily lives are nothing if not the same.

To assume that the path that worked for me will work for everyone is a foolish errand. To be dogmatic about it will accomplish nothing. Furthermore sometimes optimal health and our lives stand simply at odds with one another… and that is okay.

It’s okay to skip out on the ideal 8-10 hours of sleep once in a while to spend time with friends and family, enjoying a sweet treat on occasion has, to my knowledge, never killed anyone, and if you prefer iceberg over kale or collards you won’t be the less healthy for it. Basically what I’m trying to say is, if eating less-than-optimal means less stress, then maybe that’s the right thing to do. As my friend Maria has taught me, what’s the point of living to be 100 if you’ve missed out on some of the best parts of life?

Now I’m not saying that cookies and cakes are the best parts of life – in fact, far from it, and personally I probably won’t change my own rather rigid habits – but if you’re moderately healthy, and are trying to move towards a healthier version of yourself, it’s okay to not always be perfect. Being hard on yourself or feeling guilty about what you’ve been eating is almost never a healthy or even productive habit. 

Instead, enjoy the moment. Food, like life should be enjoyed and is always better when in good company. If you feel like you want to eat healthier then focus on learning from the mistakes rather than punishing yourself for them. Focus your energy away from being negative; instead be positive and spend your energy on making sustainable changes. If eating optimally means you feel completely deprived and depressed, than you’re hardly developing healthy or sustainable habits. Being healthy is to enjoy life, and sometimes that means doing something inherently unhealthy.  As the book of Ecclesiastes Dave Matthews says, “Eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow we die.” 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.


  1. Great post, Anthony! I appreciate the scientific thoroughness of your usual nutrition-related posts, but being okay with imperfection is a good thing to keep in mind. I, too, am often a perfectionist, and it is important to remember that perfection is not always possible and that is okay. Like you said, our choices about food should reflect positive energy. If health is the goal, then experiencing stress or anxiety over food diminishes the original intent. Making nutritious, ethical choices about what we eat should bring joy and happiness along with the physical health benefits---creating a holistic health of body, mind, and spirit :)

  2. Love this. Thanks

  3. Brilliant! Well put!

  4. Standing ovation! This is the true mission of your blog; I hope you highlight it in an accessible place so that it does not get lost in your archive. Bravo.

    As a fan of this blog and a personal friend of yours, I'd like to say to your readers that while I never fail to chide you for your literal BYOL (it's more than just a name, folks), I want everyone to know that you have sat beside me while I've consumed a plateful of red velvet chocolate chip pancakes with lots of maple syrup and whipped cream: without judgement.

    I'm happy to have you as a friend and I am sincerely impressed by both this post and your continued evolution. Glad your on my team. TEAM Ethical Vegan!!

    1. Abby, while we have very different out looks on food, at times, I am always 100% behind team Ethical Vegan!

      I also need to thank you for your dedication and patience in helping me find the true voice of this blog! I owe you for much of it's success, including it's name and it's very existence, while still readily accept all of it's faults as my own. Thanks again for your friendship and support!

  5. I really like this post, Ant. It's very self-aware, and I love that you return to your fundamental purpose as a blogger, which is to help animals and share knowledge. I totally agree that the stress people put into healthy living is likely more stressful than any indulgence could be.

    I think we disagree about certain nuances here. Some of the things you'd consider a concession to reality and pleasure, thus healthy from a holistic standpoint, but not a medical one, I'd consider healthful by both standards. Oils are a very good example: since my own analysis of the evidence is that they are actually healthful in moderation, I don't categorize them as "things I eat for the sake of enjoyment, even if they're not objectively 'good' for me." I appreciate when people say that they "allow" themselves some oil for the sake of flavor or taste or realism or whatever, but I don't relate.

    But of course, I do have my own set of concessions, or indulgences. I enjoy wine on occasion, even if it doesn't agree with my delicate GI tract. I drink far too much coffee and won't stop. I probably overdo it on chocolate, which I eat every day. I'm totally fine with all of these habits, even if they exacerbate GI stuff sometimes (which is my own personal barometer of wellness), because they give me pleasure and enhance my social life. Period.

    I've vacillated between total disregard for my health and a health consciousness so rigid and intense that it bordered on zealotry. Neither was healthful; the latter was both unhealthy and philosophically misguided, because a lot of the foods I used to demonize are actually supported by the nutrition evidence we have. But more importantly, for all of my passion for healthy living, I also have a rebellious streak, a tendency to be impulsive and excessive. Trying to drown that part of my personhood in green juice and starve it of caffeine wasn't healthy from a psychological standpoint, because it was a form of self-denial.

    To me, the point of healthy living is to be stronger and more robust, so that we can go out and savor life. It's not to spend all of our time analyzing nutrition data and saying "no" to things. I really appreciate this post, and I also am proud of you for your ability to evolve, to change, and to be self-aware. I'll even forgive the DMB quote :-)

    1. Hey G,
      Thanks for the well-thought-out reply. I think you nailed the issue on the head when you said we disagree on "nuances." While I will continue to support a little-to-no oil diet, and you will most certainly continue to support the health claims of oil, the more important thing to remember is that we agree on far more than we disagree and that we share the common goal of helping people eat more healthful and ethically at the end of the day.

      As far as I'm concerned, we are on the same team, and honestly, I think it's a really good one!

  6. I’m really glad you wrote this! I agree, there isn’t all that much written about perfection in regards to nutrition. But I think what you have to say is really important! And it deeply resonates with me as perfection is something I struggle with as well, in various regards. I find it easy to get caught up in overanalyzing things, but as my favorite high school teacher always quoted Henry David Thoreau to me: “our life is frittered away by detail.”

    I really enjoy the scientific-based nutrition knowledge you share on your blog -- I’ve certainly learned a lot and apply things to my life. But the information you post never comes across as preachy or as the only way to eat vegan. I appreciate the knowledge you have to share and your deep care to help others (both human and animal) become healthier and happier. To me, health is not just a physical/bodily state free from illness, rather it encompasses much more than that (emotional, social, spiritual wellbeing, etc. as well). And to stress or worry about about always being perfect in terms of what/how to exactly eat (as long as it is vegan of course), like you said, certainly does not contribute to overall wellbeing. While there are certainly ideals I’d like to achieve (8+ hours of sleep, beets and arugula before races -- one of the first posts of yours I read!, no oil all the time, etc.), it is an imperfect world and these ideals are not always possible. It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the big picture of overall health, so it is refreshing to read this and be reassured that “sometimes optimal health and our lives stand simply at odds with one another... and that is okay.”

    I really enjoyed hearing your honest openness and thoughts about this -- as always, thanks for sharing!