What’s the link between perfectionism, procrastination, and overeating and why should you care? Let’s unpack it.
First, let’s address a myth. The answer to overeating isn’t found by focusing on food.
So many smart successful women wouldn’t struggle with their weight if simply choosing the right diet was the answer or if eating less was the only advice you need.
The reasons we overeat can get complicated. Hidden hungers, unmet needs, old habits, and stories that tell us that food is comfort or safety or freedom. A key pattern in overeating cycles is often perfectionism, and her stealthy partner, procrastination.
Food is easy. Figuring out how to end patterns of overeating and how to feel peaceful and happy with your relationship with food is the real challenge. Getting curious about perfectionism and procrastination (instead of lathering on the self-blame) can help untangle things.
Sometimes (most of the time), the key to overcoming overeating is to take a step back and get a different perspective.
Instead of focusing on what to eat and what not to eat, it’s helpful to look at the patterns with life and with food that can create big problems. There’s one pattern that I see all the time that sabotages the brightest and most successful women.
The perfectionism, procrastination, overeating trap
Perfectionism is the belief that something has to be perfect to be good enough. It’s all-or-nothing, black-or-white, and there’s no room for screw-ups or mistakes or half-steps. Perfectionism makes it hard to ever feel “done” or to give yourself credit for the partial steps toward success. Acknowledging milestones and seeing our accomplishments helps us feel effective and motivated. Perfectionism tends to make any project harder and more of a struggle.
Procrastination happens when rigid standards or the belief that you have to do it all (perfectly) makes it feel too overwhelming to start or to take the next step, or when you’re feeling a shortage of motivation or an excess of perfectionist-driven dread. Procrastination also shows up when high expectations (and never-ending to-do lists) leave you too exhausted to generate motivation or to take action.
Overeating is an easy way to procrastinate. It’s also a way to soothe anxiety or squash feelings of frustration or “not being good enough.” Emotional eating is often the busy woman’s way to deal with pressure, with endless to-do lists, with not feeling appreciated, or with feeling tired and like you’ll never get enough done.
Once overeating happens, perfectionism is that voice that says, “Now you’ve blown it. All your efforts are ruined and you might as well just eat some more.” And this brings us full circle back to procrastination (“I’ll start over on Monday.”) and feeling defeated by that bag of chips.
As the cycle repeats, the (procrastinated) challenges feel bigger, the perfectionism feels more intimidating, and overeating probably feels more out of control.
How to break the cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and overeating.
One bite at a time (pun intended).
Start by revising your story.
The first step is to challenge any beliefs that perfectionism is making you more successful or that procrastination is simply you being “weak” or that overeating is just laziness or some other negative statement about yourself. (Not sure you want to challenge those beliefs? Read on.)
Make a list of the ways that perfectionism causes problems in your life. Does it slow you down, leave you second-guessing yourself, or erode your confidence? Is it a trigger for overeating or does it affect you in other ways? Does perfectionism sap the joy out of your achievements or make you cranky? Write down all the ways that perfectionism takes a toll on you and your life.
Stop bashing yourself for procrastination and overeating. You may not like what’s going on, but beating yourself up about it is getting you nowhere. The real truth is, we all choose our behaviors for a reason and if you stop calling yourself names (ahem, like lazy) and instead seek to understand why you procrastinate and the reasons food has the influence it does over you in certain situations, you’ll have a lot more power. Give yourself permission to be curious and to learn from your behaviors.
Do something positive NOW.
Feel overwhelmed or unable to get started? Are you telling yourself that now is not a good time—that you can’t do enough now—that you should wait until—tomorrow, next week, or next month? Every moment is a choice point and you don’t need the stars to be aligned to move one inch (or more) closer to your goal. Don’t aim for perfect. Do something – anything – that’s in your best interest NOW.
Consider breaking the task into smaller steps or goals—even very small goals. Just do something. You only have to move forward a very short distance to create the beginning of momentum. Whether you are focusing on writing a report, cleaning a closet, or losing 25 pounds, let go of the all-or-nothing-beliefs that have you stuck and focus on the next positive action you can take—not the long journey you may see between you and your final goal. Write five sentences, throw out all your wire hangers, or join me in my new Coaching Club. Take one step and give yourself credit for taking it.
Don’t ignore your feelings.
Emotional eating is often the busy woman’s tool of choice for coping with uncomfortable feelings, stress, worry, and insecurity. If you aren’t going to turn to chocolate, you’ll need other strategies and tools—and to start creating them, you need to respectfully listen to yourself so that you can understand what you are feeling and what you need. Be curious about how you are feeling and be open to learning about yourself. Starting to journal can be a great way to jump-start this process.
Let imperfection be enough.
You’re human and you won’t always get things perfect. Truth. All we can expect is our best and all we can do is to keep moving forward. One imperfect bite at a time.
Do your best, make a move, be kind to yourself. Seek support when you need it. Rinse and repeat. That’s how to break free of the perfectionism-procrastination-overeating cycle.