There is a book called the “Perfect Health Diet,” written by two Ph.D’s whose blogs I used to read when I was interested in constructing the perfect diet years ago. I’m sure the book has excellent tips that can help a lot of people; this is clear from reading some of the reviews on Amazon. But I want to share some ideas around how the concept of perfect does not really exist. This ideas helped me curb my desire to make everything perfect in my diet and lifestyle.
I do believe we can construct a perfect diet for ourselves, but I also believe there are many types of perfect diets available to us, due to the ideas outlined below. Thus, the idea of perfect health doesn’t make sense to me anymore. Perfectionism is one trait linked to anorexia nervosa as well as bulimia. It affected my dietary choices for a few years and led to poorer health.
I believe there are many pros to being a perfectionist, but it can often derail our intentions by overcomplicating things. I believe the perfectionist can produce high quality work and ideas from his or her meticulous research, but at other times, stalls in making decisions and seeing the big picture. If it weren’t for the ideas I outline below, I would be one of those perfectionists that is stuck in a rabbit hole and cannot get out. Here we go.
Your body’s needs may change on a daily basis. The weather can affect this. A perfect diet thus must account for these changes. But there are so many kinds of changes it may be difficult to keep track of them all. Temperature is one. If it was thirty degrees hotter where I am, I would be craving different foods. The metabolic reactions in my body would change. Other aspects of climate like humidity and dryness are also important factors that will determine what foods are good for you.
In addition, your physical activity habits will change what foods you may need to eat. After you exercise, glucose transporters get translocated to your muscle cells, ready to absorb some glucose. How about stress? Often the stresses of our lives create unpredictable changes in how we feel and demand different nutrients. One survey of college women found that the majority of them reported an increased consumption of sweet foods in response to stress.
To fail to adapt to change will cause poorer health. There is no perfect diet unless that diet responds perfectly to changes in climate, stress, exercise, and other variables that affect appetite. And even then, believing that there is a more perfect way to adapt to those changes can preoccupy the perfectionist to an unhealthy degree. Good enough is good enough for your body. After a certain point your body doesn’t notice anything, which brings me to my next point.
More isn’t better
Too much blood sugar is bad for us, and so is too low of a blood sugar. Our bodies maintain it at an appropriate level. Is there a “perfect” blood glucose level that has been demonstrated? Nope. If so, we would likely know about it from the research. The perfectionist worries about minutiae that likely make no difference in their overall health.
The perfectionist often thinks that more is better as well, which is counterintuitive, as you may guess that the perfectionist wants to be at a perfect level of everything. If this were the case, eating disorders wouldn’t involve perfectionistic traits, because those persons would understand that their health isn’t perfect. The perfectionist with disordered eating instead tries to eat many kinds of superfoods, shun all “processed” foods, exercise a lot, and construct a lifestyle that they view is perfect, but may not actually result in better health.
There are many lifestyle variables that have been shown to result in better health. Exercise, coffee, and moderate alcohol consumption are a few examples. But all of these follow a J-shaped curve (for the most part), where very little of the substance, as well as too much, is associated with poor health.
Static thinking is a plague in nutrition discussions. Cause and effect are most often discussed without an concern to time or adaptation. The body adapts I realized, to anything. And although some things are universally bad for us, like too much sugar, alcohol, tobacco, exercise, and anything really, when we discuss moderate doses of these substances, there is so much adaptation and interaction with other variables, it is difficult if not impossible to determine a perfect dose.
Biohacking circles are a great example of perfectionists who often seem to miss this concept. There is a lot of measurement and quantitative information in those circles that I believe doesn’t take into consideration the adaptability of the body. For example, many biohackers prefer not to add sugar to their coffee, out of the belief that it will prevent them from burning fat. But what is the dose required to achieve this? And how does it depend on your exercise levels? We discussed that in the previous section, but the thing is, the body adapts to the sugar in your coffee.
Say you go on a ketogenic diet for a long period of time. Your body is adapting to burning ketones as fuel. Adding a little sugar will not necessarily take you completely out of ketosis, as you have been accustomed to that for such a long period of time. But someone whose body is adapted to regularly burning carbohydrate for fuel will perhaps use up that sugar more effectively.
Or say you read about how stress is bad for you, so you move to the mountains and live a very quite life to avoid stress. It’s a simple scenario but it will do. Then, you venture into the city one day and all the noise stresses you out even more than before! This is due to the fact that we adapt.
Thus, trying to construct a perfect diet makes no sense because eventually, our body may benefit from a little change!
Synergy and Confounding Variables
As I said earlier, there are many factors influencing your health other than diet. The perfectionist often thinks the diet controls every aspect of their health. But what’s interesting is how the rest of our lifestyle influences our health. How could thinking less about food and feeling more influence our health? I bet it would reduce stress for a lot of people.
But even with food, how could the interaction between food elements influence your diet? Since nutrition science reduces things to its parts, it does not consider this idea. And this is one reason why most nutrition science can only give us an estimate of what’s happening when we eat a certain food. We eat meals, consisting of multiple foods, spices, and thousands of possible interactions if not millions.
Without understanding these details, it is impossible to construct a perfect diet.
There are many ways to achieve health
There are likely a wide variety of foods and climates you could experience and be in a perfect state of health, due to the ideas outlined above. You may do better in certain climates based on your body type, but it isn’t the end of the world if you’re not in that climate. You simply need to learn how to adapt.
No fresh fruit available? Again, your body can adapt to the demands placed upon it. Chasing perfection doesn’t make sense.
There is no perfect diet and there is no perfect health. There is no perfect food and there is no perfect meal. There are a wide variety of possibilities in diet that could take you to a good enough state of health, which is all your body wants anyway. Past a certain point, there is no benefit to that superfood you eat every morning.
There are just too many unknowns for me to think there is a perfect diet. The idea is just silly to me now. Learn to enjoy your food, connect to it, and interact with it, and you will be healthy in more ways than just the physical way which health nerds focus on excessively.