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Is Perfect The Enemy of Good?

Who are you? An “all-or-none” person? Or a “moderate approach” person?

 

During my years in clinical medicine, I have learned that there are two types of people when it comes to lifestyle intervention programs: Those who need an “all-or-none” approach and those who need a more moderate approach.

 

The all-or-none individuals prefer to limit their choices and therefore limit their opportunities to waver. They structure their lives with 100% commitment. They choose to be completely gluten free, completely sugar free, they prefer to count servings and measure serving sizes.

 

When they are able to commit in this manner, they tend to be wildly successful. The problems are having the drive to make the initial commitment, and then being able to maintain it long term.

 

The more moderate approach does not want to see things as black and white, good or bad. They realize they are not going to look like a supermodel or a movie superhero. But then again, they wouldn’t want that anyway! They want to find an approach that works within their lifestyle and still helps them on the path to health and success.

 

(As an aside, if you want an entertaining and instructive account of what it takes, good and bad, to “get ripped” like a super hero, you should read Joel Stein’s account of doing just that here.)

 

This approach fits in with people’s lifestyles better, but can create opportunities to “fall off the wagon” and allow too many exceptions to take over the norm.

 

Individualized Approach

 

There is no universal right or wrong approach. There is, however, a definite right or wrong approach for each individual. They key is finding out which individual you are.

 

My approach tends towards the later. Yet I see the benefit to the former. Here is an example:

 

I almost always suggest that my clients try a 2-week trial of going gluten, sugar and alcohol free. For that 2-week period they focus on high quality, real-food plant and animal based nutrition. I ask for 100% commitment.

 

After the 2-weeks, I ask them to try to extend it for another 2-weeks.

 

One particular client of mine felt so much better after the four weeks and found he didn’t miss the gluten or sugar at all. He did miss the alcohol a little, but he was able to change his life and keep the 100% commitment for the next 6-months and is still going strong. He lost weight, he had more energy, he slept better, and he felt much more productive at work and life in general.

 

He had never considered making this type of change before. Once he saw the power of an all-or-none approach, however, there was no other option for him. He found which camp he was in, he embraced it, and he succeeded beyond his imagination.

 

Another client was so desperate for her bread and dessert at the end of the 2-weeks that she wasn’t willing to even consider doing it for another 2-weeks. But when she went back to eating her normal pattern, she realized that she ate much less bread and much less sugar, and was able to continue with a high quality, predominately plant based nutrition pattern.

 

So even though she would never consider the all-or-none approach, she still enjoyed the majority of the initial benefits. She too, had more energy, lost weight, and felt more productive. Her health improved, and she was able to limit her temptations.

 

For her, perfect would have been the enemy of good. She is perfectly happy being “good,” which is a dramatic improvement from previously, and she is much healthier for it.

 

I have seen the same examples when it comes to regular exercise. My favorite is when I have someone try Orange Theory Fitness twice per week for 2 weeks. After the first week, they are usually pretty sore and beat down. But after the second week, they are usually hooked and in it for the long run.

 

The hard part is the initial step. Once you commit to that, the rest falls into place.

 

Everything in Moderation?

 

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

 

On the surface, it sounds like such a simple plan to follow. But does it work?

 

The answer, of course, is it depends. As in the examples above, some people will thrive in the all-or-none approach, and some will drown in it. For those, moderation may well be the way to go.

 

The science is split on the subject, but that is likely because peoples’ personalities are likewise split. Add to that the lack of a clear definition of “moderation,” and it is a recipe for scientific disaster.

 

Those in favor of moderation point out that restricting something can increase the craving for that item and counteract your intent. They prefer to not think in “good” and “bad” foods, and instead strive to reach a balance without too much of any one thing. That will fit much better into society and everyday life, and it requires less brain-power, less will-power, less obsession.

 

For some that may work great.

 

The problem is that there really ARE good foods and bad foods. Sugary soda is bad. No way to spin it. Processed, sugar laden foods full of additives and chemicals are bad. These are the foods that are destroying our health. For the sake of our health and our children’s health we NEED to adopt an all-or-none approach with these foods.

 

Where do we draw the line?  That is the hard question to answer. That is what we have to explore for ourselves and find where we do best. It may not be easy, and we may not find it right away. But by paying attention, and committing to our health, we can find our “sweet spot,” the perfect combination of moderation and all-or-none.

 

My Suggestion:

 

Commit to an all-or-none approach for 2-4 weeks in any endeavor.

 

It can be the nutrition pattern I described above.

 

It can be going to the gym or going for a walk every day before work.

 

It can be starting a meditation practice for 20-minutes every morning.

 

They key is to commit one hundred percent. No excuses, no variations. You can do this for 2-weeks. I know you can, and you know you can. It’s only two weeks.

 

Then see if you can extend it two more weeks. You may be able to and you may not.

 

Then take time to reflect and re-evaluate at the end of the 2 or 4 weeks. You will quickly learn if you thrive with the all-or-none approach, or if you are better suited for a more moderate approach.

 

Either way, you will reap the rewards from the brief intense commitment, and it will help you redefine what is your moderation. What do you “need” and what do you “want” as a rare treat.

 

This is a fantastic first step on your path to continued health and success. Give it a try. Your health will thank you for it!

 

Bret Scher, MD, FACC, CPT

@bschermd

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