How Ideals Sabotage Your Health Goals
Your identity is interwoven throughout your life and can impact it on virtually every front. Some effects are obvious, and some are nuances that ripple through the background of each day.
As we form and maintain our identities, we often look to our ideals to guide how we think and feel.
These ideals can originate from the adults we’ve interacted with throughout our lives—parents, teachers, and mentors—or from outside figures like celebrities or rock stars. If you think about it, you might recall an ideal that you felt you had to live up to. You might have made promises to yourself about what you would do and who would you be and then measured yourself against your self-imposed standards.
Measuring yourself and your life against an ideal at any point in your life is problematic. If you find yourself doing this, step back and review your original assumptions.
Why did you think you had to be, do, accomplish, or experience a particular benchmark?
The truth is you simply made it up. It’s fiction. It’s only real to you in your own mind. Despite that fact, your ideal can drive feelings of guilt, disappointment, remorse, and shame. In many cases, you might not even recognize where these ideas originate, but if you take the time to trace back through your own thought-processes, you are likely to find that an ideal is at the root of the issue.
As you work to become more mindful of how you make choices, you might find that how you think of your health is tied to an ideal (or perhaps several).
If we look at emotional eating—one of the most common challenges that people ask me about—the negative emotions that drive you to seek comfort in food could be connected to an ideal. For example, you might not like the way you look because you have a super model ideal in your mind’s eye. When comparing yourself to this self-imposed ideal you become frustrated leading to you eating unhealthy foods. Then you remind yourself again that you don’t meet that ideal, so you go back to the pantry for more solace.
And that cycle might repeat itself in your life for decades, making it harder and harder for you to create the health you desire with each loop.
The super model figure is one of the best examples of how dangerous ideals can be because it’s the ultimate in unfairness. Cindy Crawford once famously said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford” because even she recognized how far from reality the airbrushed and photoshopped presentation of beauty has become. If you hold yourself to that ideal, you will always lose. You can never actually accomplish it because it is steeped in fantasy.
Instead of letting ideals dictate how you make choices, look to your own values and aspirations. Regardless of your self-esteem, you like want a good life. You want good relationships, meaningful work, good health, and more time with your family. If you reorganize your life around making choices that support those values, you will go from chasing some imagined, far-away ideal to thinking about what choice in the moment, right in front of you supports your values and aspirations.
The choice to choose a cheeseburger or a salad is not about getting a super model figure. It’s about creating health in your life and maybe living longer in a healthy state so you can enjoy more time with your family.
Focus on what is most important in your life and leave ideals for what they really are: fantasy.
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