Is Perfectionism Secretly Triggering Your Emotional Eating? | TMOHP 011

Perfectionism plays a BIG role in overeating and emotional eating - even for women who don’t think they’re perfectionists! What makes the problem even more troublesome is that you can’t address something you aren’t aware of. So there you are, working hard to change your relationship with food, unaware that this secret culprit is working behind the scenes to make every step more difficult. 

Shall we change this dynamic?

When you find perfectionism hiding in your blind spot, it opens the door for the possibility of real change. And that is exactly what this episode is about.

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What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • How and why perfectionism causes emotional eating
  • How cycles of “starting over” are fueled by perfectionism - and how to break the cycle
  • How perfectionism can sabotage attempts to end emotional eating and peace with food
  • 3 steps to keep perfectionism from sabotaging your eating and your relationship with food

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Full episode transcript:

When you think about what triggers emotional eating or overeating for you, I bet perfectionism isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But maybe it should be.

You might be frustrated that you stress eat or eat because you’re bored, but when the word perfectionism comes up, many women just smile, nod, and say, “I can relate” without giving a second thought to how perfectionism may be sabotaging their goal to take control of emotional eating or overeating.

Honestly, in our culture, perfectionism is often worn, almost as a badge of honor. It can be (mistakenly) associated with having high standards or aiming for quality, or attaining the best results. But the truth is, perfectionism limits success, and it’s a major cause of emotional eating and overeating. Perfectionism is also called all or nothing thinking because, within perfectionism, you either succeed or fail - there is no gray in between. Perfectionism can sabotage your efforts to change your eating and will actually undermine your progress.
Perfectionism Causes Emotional Eating
Perfectionist thinking is a recipe for never feeling good enough. Why? Because nobody is perfect. Even if you attain your impossible standards for a short period of time, eventually, you’ll miss the mark. With perfectionism that means quickly switching from doing great to having failed.
Perfectionists focus on the distance between where they are and what they define as perfect. Within this mindset, it’s easy to see all the flaws but almost impossible to take credit for the (imperfect) progress, good choices, and effort you are making. If it isn’t perfect, it just isn’t good enough because you haven’t succeeded yet.
A perfectionist mindset, never feeling good enough, and not seeing the progress that you are making, is a powerful trigger for overeating. Eating for comfort, eating to avoid your thoughts, or eating out of frustration or guilt or shame can all be triggered by a perfectionistic mindset.
If weight loss is a goal for you, know that perfectionism won’t help you lose weight
It would be fascinating if we could accurately measure the extra food we swallow - on average - after that moment when someone decides that “it’s no use, I’ve blown it!”

Perfectionism is the belief that if it isn’t perfect (one hundred percent, exactly up to expectations, no mistakes or slip-ups), you’ve failed or it’s no good.
With eating, this tends to show up like this: you eat “perfectly” all day (adhere to a strict food plan that is often too restrictive) and then fall off track at the end of the day. A perfectionist sees the misstep as “blowing it” and the day as a failure. She gets frustrated by her “lack of willpower” and often continues past that initial misstep to overeat or make more poor choices because “it didn’t work” “the day is ruined” and now she “has to start all over again.”

Much of the time, the food eaten after deciding that imperfect equals failure is a lot more than the misstep that led you to believe you failed. And so is the emotional baggage and self-blame you likely heap on yourself.
Perfectionism Sabotages Your Attempts to End Emotional Eating
Perfectionism leads to thinking that it’s all either good or bad, a success or a failure. When you create only two possibilities to focus on, the large gray area in the middle is overlooked.
The problem is that this area in between is the place for making peace with food and ending emotional eating. It’s the place where you can learn and grow and really create change - IF you allow for options beyond perfectionism and beyond success and failure.

Ditching perfectionism to create freedom from overeating means embracing the gray area. When you overeat, avoid seeing it as a failure. Instead, examine why it happened.
“Why was I so hungry?”
“Why did the food seem so compelling even though I wasn’t hungry?”
“How come today was so much harder than yesterday?”
“What did I do that was working and where did things fall off track?”

Letting go of perfectionistic standards and allows you the opportunity to grow by asking questions like this allows you to learn from experiences and make adjustments so that you can continue forward toward your goals.

Perfectionists don’t tend to learn or grow from mistakes. Instead, they see them as failures because they made one. Starting over and “banishing” the mistake can become more important than using it to move forward. This will keep you stuck. And maybe even overeating as a way of pushing down the feelings that come from judging yourself as failing.
When you get stuck in perfectionist thinking, a mistake “ruins” everything. It’s as if by eating that piece of cake, you slide all the way back to start and all your earlier efforts and great choices that day have evaporated or count for nothing.
How to Keep Perfectionism from Sabotaging Your Eating
First, don’t get all perfectionistic about it! Expect this to be a journey of trial and error. If you want to be a recovering perfectionist, it’s best to keep it simple, so I suggest starting with these three steps:
Start recognizing perfectionism in your life. Name it when you see it and instead of feeling frustrated with yourself (the thought that you failed again is actually your old perfectionistic thinking), celebrate the fact that you are growing more aware of something you used to fall into without thinking.
Practice breaking your progress and successes into very small pieces. Put all the teeny tiny steps on your to-do list and check each one off. This will help you to see that progress and success isn’t usually an either/or and that when one thing goes wrong or doesn’t happen, there are almost always other things that went right, that you can take credit for, and that reveal that you are making progress.
Expect to make mistakes and see them as opportunities. Easier said than done, but experiment with seeing a meal or an evening that doesn’t go well as information about what you might be able to do to make things go better in the future. Use curiosity to examine why things went as they did and what you can learn from this. Instead of shutting down or “starting over” when you make a mistake, try following a negative choice or behavior with something immediate that is a positive step. Switch your mantra from “I need to start over” to “I’m going to correct course – starting now.”
I can’t stress this enough. If you want to take the power away from perfectionism. If you want to stop perfectionism from causing emotional eating and overeating, you’re going to have to live in that gray area. Noticing what does and doesn’t work well. Being open to the reality that we all have difficult days or days that don’t go as planned. Staying open and asking questions. Catching yourself falling back into perfectionism, and being curious about that too. This is a process - a very imperfect one. And that’s okay.
I’ll talk to you soon.


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