When Getting it Right Turns Into Nothing is Ever Right: Why Your Perfectionism Keeps You Stuck Dieting and What You Can Do About It

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Perfectionism and dieting are inextricable, like two peas in a pod.

Many people who find themselves in the constant pursuit of trying to “get it right” are often the same individuals that become a prime target for adopting rules, guidelines, and restrictions, much of which make up the foundation of diets. These are also the same individuals that might find themselves stuck dieting and not realize it, which begs the question: how is that even possible? Read on to find out why the answer may be simpler than you think.

When the expectation of “doing” makes it hard to step in the “being” of life, it can feel foreign to take a moment to reflect on your tendencies, in particular the perfectionistic kind that lead you to feel like no matter what you do, or how much you accomplish, that you are never enough.

These are the kind of tendencies that push you to pursue and prioritize being the best at something even when it comes at the cost of your own well-being; the kind that want you to follow rules very strictly, leaving no room for error. 

The challenge here, and when it can become problematic, is when the perfectionism carries over to and is applied to your relationship with food and body. This is because it becomes an endless pursuit of an impossible ideal. 

“But what if I don’t diet? ” you say. Great question!

Many current-day examples of dieting have been co-opted by wellness culture and are touted as “healthy lifestyles”, but in actuality are diets only with new, fancy marketing. Some examples of this are:  the clean eating diet, the Paleo diet, the keto diet, the intermittent fasting diet, the vegan diet, the sugar-free diet, the dairy-free or gluten-free diet(barring any allergies), and the low carbohydrate diet.

The commonality between these restrictive-type diets is that they demand a degree of perfection. this, combined with your own inclinations toward perfectionism, makes for a perfect storm.

In the pursuit of trying to get it “right” and figure out how to do it best, it can feel like you are stuck on a hamster wheel, chasing after a goal or outcome, but never feel like you ever get there.

Instead, you feel confused and exhausted. Your hamster wheel might represent restricting food, attempting to control your body weight, over exercising or moving your body in ways you hate, trying to eat just the right portion size(s), taking just the right kind/amount of supplements, or avoiding “unhealthy” foods because you worry that they will cause permanent harm. 

And, this is not your fault! There are tens of millions of dollars that are being spent to make you think that by spending money on a diet protocol that you will be happier, healthier and more loved.

Diets offer the façade of perfect health and community in exchange for compliance, diligence and credence, but at what cost?

They perpetuate the idea that there is a place where you will end up, where you will be happy and content and everything will make sense; a diet-paradise if you will. But that never happens, or if in the very rare case it does, it’s fleeting and temporary. You know this because you have been there. No matter how small your body size gets, no matter how long it stays there, no matter how controlled your eating is, it still is never enough. 

Inherent in the ideals of dieting is that nothing will ever be good enough and that you are not good enough as you are.  Thus, food and your body become a quest, a fleet that you are going to conquer, a prize that you will be able to show to the world, a shield that you can use to protect yourself from pain and suffering.

Unfortunately, dieting is not a panacea, although you may have been led to believe otherwise.

While it can feel hard to imagine a life without restrictions, a life without rules and the constant pursuit of fixing, changing, substituting, measuring, and cutting out, I want you to know that it exists. By practicing, learning, and adapting a non-diet, weight-neutral approach to health and bodies, you will be able to loosen the binds of perfection and let go of the idea of “perfect” overtime. 

Through a compassionate approach that involves letting go of dieting for good , and approaching food and body with kindness and curiosity, overtime you can begin to take steps away from perfect and more towards human.