Kommentoi

On Perfectionism

Katja Kokko | 5.10.2014

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The media is full of tips for attaining perfect health, for downshifting, and fulfilling your dreams; for perfect diets and detox fasts; for perfect skin, beauty, and natural cosmetics. The amount of inspiration is nearly overwhelming.

Over the years I’ve gone from one end of the diet spectrum to the other, from detoxing to super food. I have enjoyed all my experiments, mainly because my goal was neither perfect obeisance nor perfection itself – though I’ve had my fair share of experiences with those, too. Raw food, for me, has been about discovering new flavors, opening up the senses, tasting, feeling, feasting, enjoying – feeling good and even bad at times, and finding the balance.

After all these extremes I’ve gradually settled at some kind of fusion of foods and diets. This summer I had potato chips, mayonnaise, and Coca-Cola (from a glass bottle, of course – that’s the whole point) for the first time in ages. I enjoyed them thoroughly and felt zero guilt. If experimenting with different kinds of diets has taught me anything, it is how to feel easy, effortless, and good about the food I eat.

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Although I’ve hardly ever been the spokesperson for healthy eating, and (apart from a recipe or two) haven’t written about food in ages, I still get the occasional question concerning diets. I might give some tips if I feel that they will be truly useful, but most of the time I just want to say “eat what you want, what you crave, and what makes you feel good.” That’s my philosophy of food in a nutshell.

But saying that usually only gets me a lot of follow-up questions, like: “do you eat super food X,” “do you take supplement Y,” “how much protein and where do I get it,” “what about vitamins and minerals?” I do take a few vitamin and mineral supplements, but the questions still surprise me. If you asked me to list the bottles in my cupboard now, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they were. I also just noticed that it’s been six months since I last bought vitamin D. I stopped taking probiotics (which support gut health) while I was actively avoiding bread and pasta this summer.

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I’ve met many people who fall for one trendy diet after the other, who divide their food into percentages according to whether it is raw or cooked, who get their tips for a super healthy body from alternative doctors, and are surprised when, after taking the five different kinds of herbal pills thrust at them, they are told that their liver is overtaxed – and become more stressed as they attempt to figure out the right diet to cleanse said liver.

I can’t help but wonder how far people will go in order to obtain this kind of super health; how often do people actually benefit from it, or does it mostly turn on itself? I do not believe concocting your morning smoothies out of five different super food powders and Indian medicinal herbs is good for the body – or natural for that matter; the same benefits could be gained from a banana, some blueberries and a bit of parsley. Or whatever appeals to you. Super foods are a nice addition to a healthy diet, sure, but making them a staple, and over-indulging will certainly find you with an overtaxed liver – that’s what I think, anyway. This gluten free trend is likewise bemusing, as many gluten free alternatives contain so called antinutrients. Another case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?

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For my part I believe in simplicity, lightness, and ease in all things. Try things out, but do it naturally, increasing rather than decreasing your energy. What you put in your smoothie or on your plate should not be causing stress. If you have a long history of bad diets or disordered eating, talking to a nutritionist may help to get you on the right path to health. But knowledge often increases sorrow, which is why remembering balance and moderation, and giving yourself time to learn to listen to your body and the changes it undergoes, is so important.

I myself had a bad reaction to a vitamin B supplement a few weeks ago. My whole body felt hot and on pins and needles, I was covered in red spots; I could barely keep my balance and spent a while hugging the toilet. It turns out that this so-called flush reaction is a fairly common side effect with vitamin B, but it did make me wonder whether I really needed to take it as a supplement.

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The same is true when it comes to skin. It is more or less pointless to keep searching for newer, better skin care products to cure acne, for example, if doing so is stressing you out and taking up a lot of time and energy in your day-to-day life. Our skin is very good at manifesting any internal or mental issues we may have, and not the best fruit acid peels or purifying serums can make magic them away if we’re not taking care of ourselves internally as well.

Using natural cosmetics will lessen the toxic buildup of synthetic chemicals, of course, but even natural products contain chemicals. Just as the body may be overtaxed from a diet too rich in super foods, it can also become overtaxed from natural cosmetics. It is important to let your skin breathe regularly, to skip the creams and serums even just once a week. Keeping a critical eye on your skin care routine and listening to your skin is a good thing to practice, anyway, because our skin changes day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year.

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Real beauty and mental health are found much deeper than a cupboard full of the best skin care products, or the perfect diet and workout regime. I believe they are only optimal when you apply your moisturizer of with a mind to joy and self-care, to appreciating and accepting yourself, rather than despair or trying too hard (and admitting that that’s what you’re doing can be so difficult). Thus a delicious pastry is also beneficial to the skin, when every bite you take is full of pleasure, presence, and gratitude for the perfect blend of sweetness and creaminess. The joy of letting go can be obtained when you stop forcing yourself into an asana, when you stop over-stretching muscles that are already crying for relief.

Natural cosmetics, beauty, and raw ingredients are of course professional and personal passions of mine, but I think it is important to remind ourselves that the most important thing is accepting and appreciating yourself; finding your beauty within, because that is where it resides in all of us, and there is nothing more important in life than our connection with it. When you’re connected to that place, must-haves, ideas of attaining the perfect skin or perfect health, your constant trying, will all become trivial.

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The pursuit of mental and spiritual health can also become excessive. The selection of self-help courses and retreats available is wide and varied; literature from the genre can be very inspiring, awakening, and fulfilling. But attending courses and consuming literature without pausing to reflect and face yourself may result in frustration and comparison when your problems persist and the lives of your friends seem full of positive changes, courageous decisions and dreams coming true.

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I love writing this blog, and continue to be bewildered and truly happy when I meet a reader who has been inspired by something I’ve said. But I can’t help worrying that my writings are causing some to feel unhappy with themselves, and promoting perfectionism – be it about skin care, nutrition, health, or life changes in general. Life is very paradoxical, somehow. Everything is perfect just as it is, but realizing that seems to be incredibly difficult.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

I’m off to Roobertin Herkku to get some candy, and to Stockmann’s Herkku to buy veggies for next week’s super healthy juice, smoothie, and soup week! I thus wish all of you a very confusing Sunday!

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Yoga photos Dorit Salutskij

Translation Katja Nikula

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