You’ve seen them. The photos of impossibly perfect people talking about success, transformation, and accomplishment. They advise the rest of us, with anywhere from 2 to 10 “easy” tips to achieve x, y and z. When you see these images or watch the videos on YouTube, you feel a sense of movement and a glimmer of inspiration. “I can do that” you think, with a resolution to make tomorrow Day 1.

You do great Days 1-5. Then you start to waver (whether it’s an exercise, meditation, or food challenge). Suddenly the “simple” steps don’t seem so simple. Yet the fit, happy woman in the picture made it looks so easy. You imagine her giving up sugar every day of her life, with no problems, doing what she shared with you all the time, with a smile and hardly a backwards glance. You make the assumption that you’ll never get there, and you end up feeling bad about yourself.

I know these feelings all too well. I want to be able to go 8 hours of sleep a night and not stop for my afternoon caffeine fix, because I understand and believe in the benefits of both. I do feel my best when I eliminate sugar and simple carbs, eat greens at every meal and drink 2 liters of water. I also admit I will not able to live like this every day. A collision happens between intent and reality, and I don’t believe it spares anybody. Even the glowing person you see on Instagram and Facebook.

I love inspirational stories and tips, seeing before and after photos of people who made the very hard,  disciplined choice to shift something in their lives. I understand the feeling of joy and accomplishment that comes from doing something you set your mind to do, when your past self used to convince you otherwise. Nothing outshines this feeling; it’s a normal response to want to share your journey with the world.

However, these blogs/stories/articles don’t always present the whole picture. They don’t always include the hard times you experience once you reach a goal. The conscious choices we make each day. Little ones like passing on the second cup of coffee to momentous ones like cutting out dairy. We make these choices slowly, as a life-shift occurs, until they become part of our daily thinking.

But it’s not easy. Many a time we feel depressed, wanting so badly that pumpkin loaf at Starbucks, for example (staring at it through the case, as I was today). We hover for a minute, then make the irritating choice we know we should as we overcome a sensation of longing. I adore pumpkin loaf. It brings back great memories and helps me feel “Fall-ish” here in Arizona when the temperature still simmers like summer.

However, if I eat that pumpkin loaf I know exactly how I will feel: bloated, foggy, stomach achy. I don’t pass it up because I am extra disciplined (I’m not) but because I want to feel good as I go about my afternoon. From experience, I know that for every slice I eat my brain will rev up the conversation between mind and body and I will crave it more.

For every time I make the right decision, I will come home and make a wrong one. For every time I walk by the jar of jelly beans, I will reach it and grab a few. And maybe a few more, when I pass it by later. I will come home from a healthy, healing, nutritious lunch, feeling full and satisfied, and still munch on lime tortilla chips “just because.” (This happened today). Why? Because my kids are eating them and they are delicious, and I made the choice to do so.

It is hard work maintaining the knowledge you’ve gained “food detectiving” yourself, experiencing your body feeling its best with proper nutrition and self-care, and making decisions to support this great feeling every day. Life beckons, asks us to stay up late. The extra glass of wine sits there in the bottle, even as we know tomorrow is a Thursday and we must get up early. Sometimes we have an emotional day and nothing but sugar will do. We make a decision to buy that slice of pumpkin loaf, the decision ours and ours alone.

I believe equilibrium lies somewhere between the image of perfection on one end and the “out of control” feeling on the other. It differs for each person and may change every day. Based on what goes on in your life, you can experience both ends of the spectrum. I can eat well one day and enjoy the tangible sensation of wholeness in my body, go to sleep at 10, and not need two cups of coffee the next morning. Two days later I will watch “just one more episode” of a favorite show late at night, enjoying a bowl of pretzels. I know exactly how I will feel at 6 am the next day, but for that moment I don’t care.

The importance lies in the choosing.

Next time you see an image with a message like “I gave up sugar! It’s easy for me – it can be for you too!”, trust that that girl still has moments of hanger and deprivation. Sugar has been proven to be more addictive than cocaine, after all. You can bet she walks right on by the jelly beans (if she caved and bought them) nine times out of ten, but somewhere in her consciousness she makes a choice to do so.

One time though know that she will stop in her tracks and walk back to the jar, reach in, and grab a handful. She will enjoy the taste and sensation, but will anticipate the results. Her body will tell her. She may feel guilt, but she has learned how not to get derailed. This is the magic her message shares: not perfection, but empowerment.

Though we shouldn’t completely trust the images we see and buy into the hype of impossible standards, we can feel inspired by them. Our bodies tell us what they need and we make choices countless times every day to fuel our bodies and spirits. But they are our choices. Life in its fullness and complexity deserves to be lived well. We choose how to journey on it to feel emotionally connected, happy and vibrant.

Kale and unsweetened iced tea, or pumpkin loaf and a coconut latte: each choice gives us something uniquely ours.  Time to listen to our own messages to ourselves instead of looking for outward images telling us how to be.

And by all means, find that girl in the picture and bring her some chips and salsa. She’s probably dying for them.