Is Perfectionism Affecting Your Relationship With Food?
Are you someone who sets a goal and then gives 100% to achieve it? Perhaps once you've committed to a certain diet or exercise regime you go all in and even sacrifice meals with loved ones and work events to hit your goals?
Are you someone who often sets very high standards for yourself and then beats yourself up when you don't reach those high standards?
Are you someone who is always re-setting the goal post - once you have achieved your goals, you then set even tougher goals and feel as though you are never quite good enough?
Unhelpful perfectionism describes where someone sets very high standards or goals for themselves and pursues these high standards despite negative consequences arising from this (e.g. feelings of exhaustion or feeling down and anxious). Often unhelpful perfectionism involves focusing on one (or two) areas of your life to the detriment of all others. So when it comes to your relationship with food, unhelpful perfectionism may mean that perhaps you set very tough goals or standards for yourself (e.g. I need to lose 10kg in the next 2 months or fit into clothes that I haven’t worn for 5 years in 4 months’ time) and you also focus on these goals to the detriment of other areas of your life such as your personal life or your professional life e.g. you sacrifice your social life to achieve these goals or lose focus at work.
Having high standards in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact setting goals and working towards them can be very helpful for our growth and mental health. However, those dealing with unhelpful perfectionism often tend to set unrealistically high standards for themselves. Think about your high standards and ask yourself "is this something I would expect a friend/ colleague to achieve" - if the answer is "NO" then perhaps you are setting unattainable and unrealistic standards for yourself.
Here are some differences between helpful goal setting and unhelpful perfectionism:
HELPFUL GOAL SETTING
You set unrealistic or very tough goals e.g. “I will aim to lose 2kg a week” or "I will suddenly cut out all sugar, alcohol, refined carbs and ultra-processed foods overnight"
You set realistic goals e.g. “I will aim to lose a pound a week” or "I will gradually shift my relationship with sugar and then work on the other diet shifts I would like to make"
You coach yourself to get to your health/food goals in a very harsh and critical way e.g. “you are so lazy and fat right now, you better do something about it” or "you have such a restrictive diet, you are hopeless, you eat like a child"
You coach yourself to get to your health/food goals in an encouraging and positive way e.g. “You can do this, I believe in you”
Your whole focus becomes your food/health goals and other areas of your life suffer as a result e.g. you cancel plans with friends or you can’t concentrate at work
You keep a good balance in your life and still spend time on your relationships, hobbies and professional life as well as your health/food-related goals
Thoughts about food (and perhaps also your body and weight) seem to take up a lot of your energy and mental space (you worry a lot about your food choices)
You are able to think about your relationship with food in a practical way, making helpful plans around it but then moving on to focus on other things
Pursuing your goals make you feel bad and you find yourself in a bad mood often e.g. anxious, down, stressed, not very confident
Pursuing your goals makes you feel good and you find yourself in a good mood often
You tie your worth to whether or not you are hitting your goals. If you hit your goals you feel good but when you don't you have low confidence and feel bad about yourself
You know that your worth is not tied to whether or not you achieve your goals
Once you reach your goal you still don’t feel “good enough” and set an even tougher goal
Once you reach your goal you celebrate your achievement
Unhelpful perfectionism when it comes to your relationship with food can have a negative impact on your life in many ways. It can mean that:
- You beat yourself up a lot over your food choices and as a result experience low mood, anxiety or low self-esteem.
- You may be tempted to give up on your goals easily because change feels too daunting or overwhelming. If you have unrealistically high standards for yourself and set very tough goals it can be easy to procrastinate or give up. For example, you may think “I have so far to go, there is no point in even trying” and then give up on your goal. Or you may think “I have so much to change and achieve that I may as well put it off until next week, a few days aren’t going make that much difference”.
- You don't enjoy the journey of getting to your goals or your day-to-day life. As your mind is so focused on just achieving your food-related goals, you just can't enjoy or focus on other things.
If you would like some support in managing unhelpful perfectionism and to rebuild your relationship with food, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free consultation.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” ― Brené Brown,