Is It Time To Relax When It Comes To Your Health?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I see this scenario pretty frequently at this time of the year: A person decides it's time to get healthy. So they start reading about all of the foods they should and shouldn't eat, all of the habits they should and shouldn't have, and they are ready to completely change their life. There are so many different things they could focus on, so why choose just one? Right away they start drinking more water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, tracking how much fat they are consuming (and what kind it is), getting more sleep, burning exactly 325 calories per day through exercise, wearing sunscreen daily- whew! The list goes on and on….

A week later, they are totally stressed out and ready to throw in the towel because it's too many things to think about. Does this sound familiar? Have you ever fallen into the trap of feeling like you have to become perfectly healthy and do everything exactly the way the experts tell you to? With so much information out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed with what you should and shouldn't be doing when it comes to your health.

Now a new book called Live A Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health explores the idea that most of us are living healthier lives than we think and that perfect health is really just a myth. It's written by Susan Love (a breast surgeon) and Alice Domar (a psychologist), who are advocates of eating healthy, getting good sleep and exercising regularly. But they also suggest that it's important to enjoy yourself and that there is a "middle ground" when it comes to being healthy.

For example, they think it's important to get enough sleep, but that doesn't mean you need 8 hours per night to be healthy. Some people need more, some need less, and that's okay. They suggest a diet that includes fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. But they also don't worry about exact portion sizes, overindulging on occasion, or the latest "superfoods" designed to help you live to be 100. We know that people who are obese or underweight have higher mortality rates. But those who are overweight have the same mortality rates as those of a normal weight (all other things being equal). So the book argues that it's more important to have a high quality of life and be healthy rather than be thin.

Some health experts warn that promoting this "relaxed" health message will give people an excuse not to engage in healthy behaviors, and eventually people will slide back into habits that negatively affect their health.

I have mixed opinions on the subject. On the one hand, doing some of what you're "supposed" to do is better than doing none. As a busy working mom, there are days when I don't get enough sleep or don't have time for a full workout. And often, I feel guilty. So it's nice to see a message of moderation, and then idea that you don't have to be perfect all the time in order to be generally healthy. On the other hand, I can see how this idea could become a "slippery slope" back into negative behaviors.

What do you think?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Thanks! Report
BABY_GIRL69 10/2/2019
Just be good to yourself and that is all things in moderation. Report
Haven't figured it all out, but I have noticed that sometimes when I "allow" myself to ... say, take the "short loop" (which is about a 12-15 minute walk) instead of the longer loop (just over a mile and I could add some extensions to it to make it 30-45 minutes), I somehow lose more weight going the short way. I'm guessing going too long just wears me out and puts me in a set-back path??
I started going to a board certified bariatric specialist, also an internist, who said to relax a bit and not do all that counting of calories. He talked with me about an hour and then circled some things on a list of foods and scratched others out. He told me to basically follow it. I've been on a very long plateau here, but lost 18 pounds very quickly. The food I'm eating is good. Report
"I can do all things, though all things are not good for me to do. I can do all things, but I will not let anything make me it's slave."

I learned that in second grade Sunday School and have remembered it ever since. It makes a great guiding principle for life and moderation. I can enjoy alcohol, but I won't drink to excess. I can enjoy a slice of cake, but I'm not going to eat the entire thing. I can enjoy a good regular workout schedule, but I'm not going to feel guilty if I miss a day here or there.

Any time you try to make something a law that must be right 100% of the time in your life, you are going to struggle at some point and unless you are already willing to forgive yourself and move on, you end up in a cycle of guilt and self punishment that are completely opposite the positive change you are trying to make. Report

"Let your moderation be known unto all men." Phillipians 4:5

We are an example: first in our actions
then in our successes

Moderation makes our pathway more comfortable to accomplish and easier to sustain.

Moderation is a well worn pathway for our journey; as well as, for those who wish to follow in our footsteps.

Moderation = do-able! Report
I agree with "Shadowpup"'s statement! I'm 63 1/2 & I started this more healthy journey at 61 1/2! I said then that I'd never give up what I really like to eat because life is too short to not enjoy those things. I've just watched my portions & eaten things in moderation. Plus I try to exercise some every day. I didn't have a lot to lose to begin with, but I still believe this philosophy is good for everyone. Report
I love this! I have become obsessed this last year with my weight and losing it, and yet I am really pretty healthy and eat the right foods most of the time. I exercise and now I feel better knowing that the 20 extra pounds my doctor is bugging me to get off, really isn't going to shorten my life. Yet, it is probably putting more stress on my bum knee! Report
Walking the line between feelings of deprivation and satisfaction can be very tricky at times. This was a good blog. Report
Stressing over 'rule breaking' is not healthy. There's a big difference between calmly noticing something less than desirable about your life and correcting it), and escalating every negative into a major ordeal. I'm ordering the book; loved Dr. Love's book on breast cancer, and I'm curious to see what she has to say. Thanks for the blog! Report
I am all for being healthy, but i would also like to be thin
with lean muscle mass. but when i do relax the scale goes up sometimes
instead of down.
Last January, when I decided once and for all to overhaul my eating habits and become a healthier (and hopefully thinner) person, I started following a weight loss program (read: diet) recommended by a friend. After less than a month, though, I felt so restricted that it because almost impossible to follow. I started to 'cheat', and the few pounds that I'd lost started to creep back.

Once I found SparkPeople, though, everything changed. I started using the Food Tracker, and increased my daily calories (as set by the diet restrictions) by about 50%, and started to lose weight, even before I'd started exercising regularly (I was taking things one step at a time). Needless to day, I ran from that diet and haven't looked back!! Plus, being accountable to myself, even when I 'cheat', helps me to stay on track. Even if I have a bad day or two, I can look over all of my good days, which far outnumber my bad days, and not feel like a failure. :) Report
The ideas of moderation and balance are the key areas I am striving to focus on this year. However, most diet articles and diet plans (such as WW) today already stress the importance of not expecting perfection, forgiving oneself, and to expect setbacks. I have only myself to blame when I overwhlem myself with too many and too high of expectations. That is my rigidity not the diet's. Although not a new concept, it sounds like this book is a good reminder to people like me who tend to give up when perfection is ultimately out-of-reach. Report
Certainly everything in moderation.

If it's used as an excuse to completely slack, then yeah that would be bad. But if it allows some people to not beat themselves up when life happens, then it's a great thing!

Some people will give up completely unless they can be perfect, and a message to "live a little!" is a great one. =) Report
The message is moderation., a warning against becoming too obsessed with the minute details of healthy. It's more important to be aware, to have healthy practices, and to have a generally healthy quality of life. Report
I have always struggled with finding a balance. When it comes to weight loss it has always been an all or nothing approach which has never worked. Now I'm working hard to make small changes and not beat myself up when I stray. Report
Moderation in all things. Report
Life has it's stressed.....some that we have no control over..... eating the right things and getting the nutrients to fight the damage that stress causes your body is so important......and remembering that this too shall pass. Report
I have mixed feelings about this one. Report
I am one of those that tried to start out with a bang and then I got hurt! That has cost me at least 1 week of down time. Had I started out slower I could of avoided this issue. So for me it is about changing but doing it slowly! Read it all and be informed but relax! Report
This is why I love SparkPeople, because you can go at your own pace. Report
I can't speak for anybody but myself, but I can tell you that I have more than once derailed my program by trying to make too many lifestyle changes simultaneously. When I promise myself, my family or my SparkFriends that I'm going to count every calorie, exercise like a fiend, drink all my water every day, get at least 6 hours of sleep every night and devote time for the other 100 things I want to do to improve myself and my lifestyle it's like an open invitation for real life to step in and mess up the entire program. I seriously have to try to be realistic about how much I can manage in a day if I have any hope of getting any of it accomplished. There are only so many hours in a day and sometimes regardless of how high you prioritize your fitness, your boss or your spouse or your sick kids have the power to bump your lifestyle goals down a notch or ten.

Does it sound like I have set myself up for disaster before? LOL

I honestly think that the key thing is the trend you're setting for yourself. If you are mindful of your eating, manage a generally nutritious and well-balanced diet and spend a reasonable amount of time being active most of the time. a few slips here and there are not going to ruin the effort.

IMHO, better to focus on two or three small changes at a time and practice them until they become habit, then adding a few more changes, etc. than to get all gung-ho and to at it full guns only to crash and burn the first time life interferes with your well-made plans.

Making lifestyle changes can be a tad stressful. Why add perfectionism to the burden? Report
We just need to do the best we can some days are easier than others. Don't worry about those off days. Report
I try very hard not to stress over all that stuff I still eat what I want in moderation though I do not track that is way to stressful for me to do Report
When a person is unhappy in his/her life, he/she needs to take a step back, and take a good look at what the problem may be. Only then should changes me made. Unhappiness creates stress, stress is hard on the mind, body, and spirit. If the person is TRULY happy, why change? Report
Hmmmm...This sounds like a great approach. Expecting perfection from ourselves 100% of the time will just set us up for failure. As for giving people an excuse to slide back into bad habits? Well, excuses can be found anywhere. It's up to each individual person to decide that they are done making excuses and do their best to improve things for themselves. Report
I think judging ourselves by how "perfect" we are leads to failure. A quotation I like--attributed to Mark Twain, Oscar Wild, among others is "All things in moderation, including moderation."

Yes, the concepts put forth in the book could be used as excuses to lapse into negative behavior, but people who do that regularly will always find some excuse--even if they've never read this book. Report
I have a feeling if you would survey all the people who have lost weight and successfully kept it off you would find that the majority (maybe even all of them) do not follow a healthy lifestyle 100% of the time. Report
This was interesting cause at 70+ have asked myself "Is all the work of eating healthy and attaining a healthy weight worth the effort?" And I have to say "Yes" Feel good at the weight I am but would like to get more fit and a few pounds less would be a positive step. One day at a time Report
this just affirms what we are all trying to do. No more gimmicks - just moderation and getting real with getting the job done. Report
I think it makes perfect sense - it's also SparkPeople's mentality, I think. Do your best, but don't get discouraged if you're not perfect. We can't all afford organic foods, an hour daily workout, NEVER giving in to temptation, etc. You just do the best you can with what you have to work with, and go from there. Everyday, every year, things get a little better, and doing a little each moment you can is better than an all-or-nothing approach. Report
I haven't read the book, so I can't really give an informed opinion about that. But, regarding Jen's blog post, it seems to me that the authors of this book are proponents of much of what Sparkpeople stands for: everything in moderation and a healthy lifestyle that you can manage for a lifetime! Who, for example, can live their entire life without having some sort of celebratory moment where they indulge in something they don't normally indulge in? A manageable healthy lifestyle, to me, means being able to bend the rules and be a little flexible with my diet once in a while. Let's face it, some of the most precious times in our lives take place while sharing meals with family and friends. Who wouldn't want to miss that? If you have to be perfect all the time, you'll probably be pretty lonely. Very few people will be able to stand you, and that can't be good for your health, either, right?!! :) JMO Report
hink that doing most things healthy most of the time will get you to where you want to go without undue stress. Report
This is a very interesting discussion. In fact, lately I have been questioning my persistent perfectionistic attitude towards what constitutes "leading a healthy life." Every day that I don't meet my own high expectations, I feel guilty. Anyone who sees my pictures on my blog would be surprised to know that my BMI (28) still puts me in the "overweight" category, though I would not categorize myself as overweight. So how, being a perfectionist, can I accept that about myself - that I don't measure up (literally) to the gold standard? I agree that moderation MUST be the key, because otherwise I'll drive myself crazy trying to live up to that perfectionist's dream. Report
Well there is always the danger of putting a spin on something to excuse behavior but I have learned something very important while following my own journey...we need to cut ourselves some slack once in a while.....when learning new skills or adapting to change we will not always be perfect. It is the process as much as the I strive to add more strength training (an area I need improvement) and I am doing more....not always as much as I should but each day, each week, each month I move in the right direction. If I were to be too restrictive in my expectations...all or nothing....I would not make any progress. Report
I think its hard enough to do the things I need and should do that I don't need the message to not try my very hardest. There are plenty of times I can't do all I should and I do let myself off the hook but I don't really need the message that its okay all the time.

Ada Report
Problem is, there are many folks who twist this kind of information to fit their own view of the world and use it to shirk their personal responsibility for their health. Boo to them! Report
Balance in all things. Many programs don't work because they are all gung-ho. My advice is to make whatever you decide to do for your program of health and wellness something you can enjoy and embrace for the rest of your life. That's your homebase and if you are in a situation that you consciously decide to do something outside of that base for your own joy and wellbeing then do it but make it a conscious decision that you take full responsibility for. Don't blame the chocolate or chips for extra inch around your waste but your own decision to eat too much of them more or less. I recently was thinking to make not drinking coffee one of my goals because I drink so much water and it doesn't seem rational to drink that cup of coffee however I enjoy that cup of coffee and though it's not the biggest bang for my buck for nutritional value, I've decided that the joy that one cup provides me is worth it. My conscious decision and no more guilt for having my cup of coffee. Happiness = less stress = more likeliness of losing weight. Report
I do think it's easy to become overwhelmed with so much information and trying to do too much at once and then just giving up when you see you can't do it due to "life gets in the way". I think the best approach is to just make the wisest choices you can throughout each day and then start over the next day making more wise choices until such time they become habits. Report
I say "Progress not perfection." Report
I like this or the "do better; do your best" philosophy. No one is perfect, and setting your expectations too high only leads to disappointment! Report
I firmly believe that moderation is the key to living a healthy life. That said, there are things you can do daily to help you get and stay healthy - like drinking water, eating fruits and veggies, exercising regularly, etc. The problem lies in the fact that most people try to change all of these things at once. If you start by changing just one thing at a time, it works a lot better. I started with water, then went onto better eating. I tried adding in exercise (too early and too much) and sorta fell off the wagon. The food isn't perfect, but it is better, so I've started small and started adding 10 minutes a day on my stationary bike to my morning routine. If I get more great - if not, I won't stress about it. After 2 weeks of the 10-a-day, I've started adding some walking to my lunch. If I get it, it's an added bonus, but again, I'm not going to freak out if it doesn't happen. Report
Yes, this is a sound idea. So many of us have tried everything else, why not live moderately, make a few positive changes permanently, strive? I am happy to be present to this forum because information is power. Report
I think it is correct if people do not take this to the extreme. They are not saying that it is ok to be a junk food junkie or even a careless eater. They are not saying this is a good idea for people who's weight is in a life threatning range but rather for people who may not be exactly the weight medical doctors want and people who are in good shape. They are just reinforcing the notion that you don't have to be super strict with your diet and limitations. "Live and enjoy life and all it has to offer you" is the message I get. Or in other words "enslave the food, Don't let food enslave you". I think this is a very important idea to live by. People who obsess over a few extra calories, or carbs, or sodium, etc.... will never live life but rather they will let the food live life while they are slaves to it. Report
I don't totally agree with their book, but i do feel that you shouldn't sweat it if your busy life dose not allow you to work out the way you want to. I try to exercise 6 times a week and usually have the time to do that. But sometime family life and other things get in the way, and i just do what i can without feeling guilty about it. Report
"Although "Live A Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health" sees itself as a voice of moderation and self-compassion, I think there is a little hopelessness and powerlessness mixed in there." Well put, GBOOMER! In my opinion, Americans in particular need a little more discipline, not a little less - to me, this sounds like the attitude that got us in trouble in the first place. It's like parenting ourselve badly! Report
Another vote for the incremental changes being of huge benefit- including becoming convinced that "I can do it". Report
I think that everyone is different and that the approach of one style fits all is harmful. You have to do what works for you. I don't always sleep eight hours, my body just doesn't want to, but I do get sleep when needed. I don't always follow the program of cardio 3 times a week strength training 3 times a week, but like you said it's better to do something than nothing at all. I think any bit of fitness advice someone reads they have to take away from it what will work for them, it's like tailoring a suit to fit your frame, what works on you and looks good may not work on someone else. Report
Amen to that message, I am making small changes a little at a time, and I am not wanting to stress out if I do not do everything as perfectly as I would like to. Then I would give up. Report
I love it which is why I'm finding SparkPeople such an awesome website and tool. Slow and steady, one thing or step at a time. I am not feeling overwhelmed, and yes while some days or better than others, I don't feel so stressed about it that I'm compelled to just give up as I have so many times before. Report