Perfectionism is often held as “the ideal” in our society. We’re expected to do everything right, and we’re afraid of failure.
And while trying to maintain the highest standard sounds admirable, the whole concept of perfectionism is really limiting, and ultimately destructive.
On Wikipedia, perfectionism is described as “a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”
That doesn’t sound like a very pleasant state of being, doesn’t it? And yet, so many people hold a perfectionist attitude about their health, their body, and their weight.
And it’s not their fault. The dieting industry has implanted the idea in our heads that only strict discipline, unrelenting excellence, and punishment for “slipping” can bring us the best version of ourselves.Why Ditching Perfectionism Is Crucial for Your Health Click To Tweet
It’s madness that obviously isn’t working. Over 2/3 of the people in this country struggle with being overweight or obese. Binge eating and food addictions are everywhere, and we all feel powerless to stop them. Instagram is full of beautiful salad pictures whose takers are terrified of stepping a toe out of line and eating something “non-compliant.”
Something’s just not adding up.
Perfectionism doesn’t work if you want to live a healthy, balanced, self-love-based lifestyle and truly reach a state of wellness.
Because health is not just about what you eat.
It’s about how you think about what you eat.
How you think about yourself.
How you approach your own wellness.
The perfectionist sees success as all-or-nothing, making their self-worth conditional. And since being truly perfect is just impossible (because we’re all human), expecting it is a constant setup for disappointment.
I’ve seen this often in the whole foods plant-based community, for example. While a plant-based way of eating can offer truly amazing benefits (I have seen them in my personal life and the lives of those close to me), I’ve also seen it take a toll on the self-worth of those who have a perfectionist or extreme mindset around food.
Here’s an example scenario:
Tina is introduced to a plant-based diet that involves eating vegan (no animal products) as well as no oil, no added sugar, and no added salt, no refined flours, and low fat.
On paper, this is way of eating is amazing. But Tina holds herself to extremely high standards. She follows the diet to a T, careful to not eat even a tiny bit of added sugar or oil in her foods. She feels great, but then something in life happens. Like she has to travel for work and doesn’t have the convenience of cooking all her foods at home.
She has to order out at a restaurant that cooks with oil or has some sugar in its sauces. Or she must grab something on the road and can’t find a snack that fits her guidelines exactly. Even something with fairly whole foods ingredients like a Larabar isn’t good enough because it contains too many nuts.
But Tina has to eat something, so she “succumbs” to one of the these foods. Then, in her mind, it’s game over. She berates herself for not being better prepared, for not pushing through her hunger and avoiding those “bad” ingredients.
Pretty soon, she’s thinking, “What the hell. I already ate something non-compliant. I failed. I might as well give up.” And because she’s been avoiding food all day and is ravenously hunger, plus feeling like she already failed, she grabs anything around her and eats mindlessly, putting herself down. “What is wrong with me? Why do I keep slipping up? I should have better willpower,” she thinks.
But there is nothing wrong with Tina’s willpower, and these “slip ups” aren’t a reflection of her character or worth. Tina has just become a victim of the perfectionist mindset where you can’t ever win.
Plus, when a perfectionist “slips up” or “fails” or “gets off track,” it makes it all the more hard to get back up again. They end up sabotaging their health—and their self-image—instead of accepting the imperfections and moving on, which is far more healthier over the long term. (No wonder perfectionists are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.)
So if you’re looking to improve your health, wellness, and relationship with food, it’s time to ditch the perfectionist mindset, the need to do it all “right” in order to succeed.
3 Ways to Stop Being a Perfectionist Around Food
Here are some ways to do that:
#1 Be More Realistic About Your Journey
Setting realistic goals about eating healthy will help you slowly notice that “imperfections” are going to happen and that’s okay. NO ONE can eat a 100% healthy diet (or even know for certain what that is). You’ll be far happier if you appreciate the progress you’ve made—like eating more whole foods overall—rather than set an unrelenting huge goal that must be met or else.
#2 Practice Mindfulness
Perfectionism isn’t focused on the present moment. It’s thinking about all of the things that could go wrong and how to avoid them, then getting obsessed about the details. When you practice mindfulness, you’re training yourself to better acknowledge things in the here and now and appreciate them as they are.
(You can download my free mindful eating ebook here.)
#3 Reach Out
Those who suffer with unwanted eating concerns are often stuck in a mindset that they’re all alone. That could be further from the truth, but it’s sometimes hard to reach outside of yourself and communicate how you feel to others. However, connecting with those who share your problems goes a long way. Look for support in your community or online to make the issue less personal and more of a collective discussion of healing.
Striving for better can be wonderful for your health, but chasing perfection is not the answer. Often it takes easing up on ourselves a little bit to truly uncover the potential we have for happiness and health.