How perfectionism stops you from losing Weight
Sarah was doing really well on her diet, she had been following her plan for the past couple of weeks, and she had lost a couple of pounds. She could do this she thought, this time I will make it last. Until that is, her friend came around with a cake and she could not resist it so she ate it.
Arrghhh, afterward, she was so annoyed with herself. She had blown her diet. Sod it, she thought, ‘I might as well eat more cake and just start again another time’
The frustration and disappointment become overwhelming and she felt really rubbish about herself. So she tells herself off, how that is not good, you know what to eat, so why are you not doing it, in the hope that it will keep her from eating rubbish again.
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It works for a short period of time, she goes back on her diet and bam, the whole cycle starts again.
What makes her fall off? What keeps her stuck in that cycle? An element is striving for perfectionism.
Perfectionism is an unhealthy mindset that can prevent people from making progress in their lives, especially when it comes to weight loss. People who are perfectionistic tend to set extremely high standards for themselves and then become overwhelmed when they don’t reach those goals.
For example, like Sarah above, the goal was to stay on a strict eating plan, this is unsustainable as we go through life, so when we veer off the plan it can feel overwhelmingly dissapointing.
Definition of perfectionism
Perfectionism is defined as striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards of performance. It is a cognitive distortion, which means it’s an irrational belief that can lead to self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.
There is positive perfectionism and negative perfectionism.
Positive perfectionism is when your cognition and behaviours direct you to achieve high-level goals, you gain a high level of success and rewards you with positive reinforcement. That positive reinforcement is an intrinsic feeling and it feels amazing.
Negative perfectionism is an unrelentless and compulsive behaviour to achieve unrealistic high goals. This can apply to unrealistic weight loss goals. When you do not hit that goal, it is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety.
How perfectionism stops you from losing weight
Perfectionists often place unrealistic expectations on themselves when it comes to losing weight and their eating patterns. They may set extremely ambitious goals such as losing 10 pounds in a week. This might be the case if you have a lot of weight to lose.
People also put unrealistic goals on themselves about the way they eat. For instance, this could be only allowing themselves to eat healthy food during the week this might include no carbs. This is a lot of pressure to keep expecting yourself to eat this way.
We can feel alot of pressure to have the perfect body. This comes from social expectations and what we see on social media.
Because of this restriction and expectation, many people do end up eating something that is not on their allowed list. They then feel disappointed with themselves and the irony is, the thing that makes us feel better is, eating something that tastes good. This inevitably leads to weight gain so we end up on another restrictive diet.
It can feel as if you are on a hamster wheel and not knowing how to get off. We develop an unhealthy relationship with food and the polarisation of our eating can get steadily worse, which can end up as binge eating.
Further reading; How to make peace with food
The negative consequences of perfectionism
Like everything in life, there are positives and negatives.
The positives of perfectionism can keep us striving for more. It can be a motivator for us to put in the effort and stick to meal plans and an exercise plan. It can look like us cutting out junk food.
The negatives are it can lead to us striving to be the perfect weight, having an all or nothing approach as there is no middle ground. Having unhelpful perfectionism looks like recording our body measurements, weighing out our food, counting calories and getting hooked into fad diets.
When it comes to weight loss, we are not striving for perfect. What does perfection look like anyway? When something is subjective, we can never be perfect in it. Dieting perfectionists are inevitably setting themselves up for a fall.
In the striving to be perfect, we are so focussed on the end goal, that we actually miss the joy of the journey. We think the end goal, is the main thing. We race to get there, however in doing so, what we miss is learning how to live and missing celebrating the smallest of our weight loss efforts.
Below are some of the perfectionistic Beliefs, that are detrimental to a successful weight loss journey.
Setting unrealistic goals.
This could be setting an amount to lose each week. Eating in a certain way. Cutting out all unhealthy food. A positive perfectionist will have goals, though they may be smaller. Rather than setting a huge goal, go for smaller and more regular goals. This could be weekly or even daily goals.
The all-or-nothing perfectionism trap
If it’s not done perfectly then what is the point of doing it? A task or a way of being has to be done right, or it is a waste of time. This applies to eating in that I see clients who go all out on a diet, which is restrictive in some way and when they inevitably fall off the wagon, it is what is the point and go all out eating what they want. We are aiming for a balanced eating pattern and attaining a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable. All or nothing is hard to sustain.
Black and White thinking
We are talking about two ends of the spectrum. This applies to food in that foods can be labeled good or bad. It can be applied to ourselves in that we eat an apple and we have been good today, we have a take-away and we have been bad today.
This polarisation of thought leaves little room for flexibility and for us to eat intuitively. It increases a fear of failure as if we eat badly, we are a failure.
How to break free of perfectionism for losing weight
Breaking free of perfectionism for weight loss can be a challenging process. The first step is to recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes and to not always reach our goals. It’s important to remember that progress is more important than perfection.
It can also be helpful to practice self-compassion when you don’t meet your own expectations.
5 steps to losing the perfectionism to help you to lose weight
1. The journey is more important than the goal
The journey is how you get there, wherever there is. It is enjoying the process. Celebrating the small wins. Observing the falls and knowing it is part of the process.
2. Look for the grey in between the black and white.
To come away from the black-and-white thinking, notice what could you do? What would be ok with you? If you had a binge eating session what support could you give yourself without restricting? You are not on a weight loss program.
3. Give yourself rewards.
Not food rewards, more intrinsic rewards. This is recognising small steps forwards and giving yourself a well done or a high five for what you have accomplished.
4. Expect slip-ups
Slips-ups are part of every journey. They are part of the unconscious trying to pull us back to what we know and what is safe, but also signs that we are breaking free from old habits. When it happens, give yourself some compassion and understand what caused you to slip up so you can manage it next time.
5. Be your own supporter.
We can very often be harsh with ourselves, yet funnily enough supportive towards our friends. If we do not hit perfect, we think we are failures. Yet if we can talk and support ourselves like we would do a friend, that will help us towards our goals.
6. Develop an achievement-over-failure mindset
Learn to celebrate every small achievement. Every small step forwards, learn to recognise your achievement. See each step as an achievement. Imagine if there was no such thing as failure.
7. Consistency over Perfection
Rather than striving for perfection, strive for being consistent. Taking small consistent steps will take you further than doing everything all at once for a short time.
Weight loss is a continual journey consisting of ups and downs.
*Sarah is not a real person. I do not disclose clients details for confidentiality reasons.