Food & Perfectionism: A Destructive Combination

perfectionism, food, destructive, exercise, dieting

There are certain places in life where perfectionism is a good thing. I want my brain surgeon and my airline pilot to be perfectionists. If it’s a matter of life and death, then get it right!

But applying perfectionism to food and exercise is a recipe for disaster (granted, for folks with food allergies or other food-related illnesses, rigidity with their diets may be a matter of life and death…). For the vast majority of us, this mindset only leads to obsession, disappointment and weight problems.

The typical American struggling with her weight believes her expanding waistline is a result of being too lax about food and too lazy about exercise.  So in her effort to lose weight, she cracks down on herself like the proverbial nun with a yardstick.  When I was growing up, the kids at the strict Catholic schools smoked cigarettes and fooled around with boys way before the rest of us.  The harsher the discipline, the stronger the urge to rebel.

Apply this to eating and here is the result:

“Well,” you say after eating one bite too many. “You BLEW it!  This day is a wash. You might as well eat whatever you want and you can get your act together tomorrow, you lazy, pathetic, loser.”  Or you start an exercise regime involving an hour-long workout every day.  The first time you miss your workout, your Inner Nun tells you how disappointed she is in you…and it takes you weeks or even months to get back in the groove.

On the other side of the weight, spectrum are those with a genetic predisposition for anxiety and perfectionism. (Yes, there appears to be a gene for perfectionism).  For these folks, a diet or exercise plan can lead to anorexia.  They never arrive at perfect: they can always eliminate one more food, eat a little less, weigh a little less. This is how bright, beautiful people can literally starve themselves to death.

So, if you want to be healthy, happy, weigh the right amount for your body and not have an eating disorder, adopt this non-perfectionist mindset:

  • Apply the 80-20 Rule (80 percent healthy, 20 percent not-so-much) to your eating.
  • Get your heart beating faster by doing something FUN.
  • Eliminate (or at least reduce) the negative self-talk: it only fuels the problem.
  • Remind yourself that every moment is a chance to turn your day in a positive direction.