If you struggle with emotional eating, here’s a question for you - are you a bit (or a lot) of a perfectionist? Perhaps you desire to have the perfect body, the perfect life, or be the best at everything you do. While being a high-achiever is impressive and has its benefits, there’s a self-destructive aspect to being a perfectionist. When it comes to your relationship with food, being a perfectionist isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Why We Need to Ditch Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by an individual striving for flawlessness (perfection) in everything they do. But along with high performance outcomes, perfectionism often includes self criticism, high-pressure and unnecessary self-induced stress. With a perfectionist mindset, its easy to see how one’s relationship with body and food can be affected.
For example, wanting the ‘perfect body’ could be your goal. Instead of making small changes over time that lead to a healthier lifestyle, you decide on Monday that you’re starting an extremely restricted diet – no sugar, no junk food, no treats. In fact, you’re going to eat smaller portions too. The problem with this is the body doesn’t like these extreme measures because its trying to maintain balance. When you restrict your diet so drastically, your body doesn’t get enough energy to function and survive. In an attempt to get the energy and nutrients it needs, you develop cravings to fix this imbalance. This results in craving junk food, binge eating and not being able to stop even when you feel full.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever attempted to cut so much out of your diet, but it only lasted a few days? Have you skipped meals during the day but then found yourself overeating at night? This is one of the challenges that a perfectionist may face when dieting – because they are being too extreme with an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a perfectionist, you may have experienced this cycle of restrictive eating, then overeating, then repeat.
With perfectionism, even though we’re striving for a better body, we’re actually damaging our relationship with food as well as our health, weight, and metabolism.
So, what should we strive for instead of the ‘Perfect Diet’ or the ‘Perfect Body’?
Stop dieting. No, really! Instead of having a black and white list of foods to have or avoid, follow an 80:20 ratio of eating nutritious, whole foods most of the time and enjoying not-so-healthy foods in certain social settings when healthy options aren't available. You can lose weight and improve your health without extreme dieting measures. It's not about perfection, it's about balance. Each day and situation you're in will demand different things from you. Learn to go with the flow and make the healthiest choices available, but don't beat yourself up for enjoying your favourite yummy foods now and then. For more information on following a balanced and healthy diet, read my blog on Eating for Nourishment.
If we are no longer striving for perfection, it doesn’t mean we need to let go of all our ambitions, drive and desires. It simply means that we accept our humanness – flaws and all. We need to accept reality and learn to persevere through the minor mistakes or setbacks. We won’t always eat perfectly – and that’s okay. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes – and that’s okay. We all have different skills, talents, traits, and features – and that’s good! Our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful inside and out. Learn to accept that.
When we strive for perfection, what we are really looking for is love and acceptance. Loving yourself is what makes you happy – not having the perfect body or following the perfect diet. If this is something you struggle with, begin by creating a nurturing self-care routine which is one of the foundations for healing emotional eating. To learn more about incorporating self-care, check out my blog on Building a Self-Care Routine
And remember that you’re allowed to ask for help! Perfectionists often have a very loud inner-critic. Changing your inner dialogue will take time and working with a therapist can help if you don’t know where to start. This is the ultimate gift you can give yourself – to work towards truly loving and accepting yourself just as you are. Flaws and all. =)