I am a perfectionist. This is who I am and I accept it, but with this acceptance comes the knowledge that this personality trait can, at times, do me harm. And this is exactly what happened when my diet turned into disordered eating and finally into an eating disorder.
I have all of the classic traits of being a perfectionist: fear of failure, black-and-white thinking, unrealistic expectations, inflexibility, a need for control, defensiveness, and an intense self-critical voice. I was such a perfectionist that I couldn’t even call out my eating disorder for what it was. Instead, I referred to it as “disordered eating” or even just “dieting” because I felt that people would still view me in a positive light because those terms are relatively “normal” and having a disorder meant that something was wrong with me. But that was really just my perfectionism talking. There was no disputing the fact that I had an eating disorder. Unfortunately, this way of thinking enabled me to put off getting professional help even though I sorely needed it.
When I finally did start recovery, I worked on all of those traits at various times and to varying degrees, but the hardest one for me was relaxing my black-and-white thinking. This is the belief that there are only two extreme options and nothing in between. My therapist did a lot of hand-holding in the beginning because I wanted to apply the you’re-either-doing-well-or-you-blew-it philosophy of dieting, but she helped me see the grey areas. For instance, when I accidentally ate a food with a hidden animal product, I believed that I had failed at being a vegetarian and that was that. Over time, I learned to cut myself some slack and think more grey-ish.
Although I have made great strides, I sometimes slip back into that old way of thinking. When that happens, these are the things I keep in mind or actions I take to combat any perfectionistic tendencies that creep up:
- My expectations are too high. No one is harder on me that I am. I want to be superwoman all the time, but that is unrealistic because I am human.
- It’s okay to relax. I don’t need to fill every second of my day because there are times when relaxing is productive.
- My recovery is about progress, not perfection. There is no right or wrong path towards recovery. My progress won’t be linear, but each step I take is a learning experience…and the journey will be smoother with some self-compassion and kindness.
- It’s okay to say “good enough” sometimes. I am competitive by nature, so I want to be the best and avoid mediocrity. This only adds unnecessary pressure and makes me go bonkers. When I let myself off the hook and say “that’s good enough”, I am giving myself permission to not be perfect and accept that I’m doing the best that I can.
- I free myself from the burden of “should”. The “shoulds” really mess with my head and make me feel guilty if I don’t follow through for whatever reason. The “should” voice from my eating disorder days told me “I should workout every day. I should skip my snack. I should weigh 5 pounds less”. This voice is still present and its judgment makes it more difficult to enjoy things, but I fight back by replacing “should” with “could”. This provides me with the option that my “should” voice steals from me. And if that strategy doesn’t help, I channel Homer Simpson and say ““Shut up brain or I’ll stab you with a Q-tip!”
- I challenge my thoughts. Because my eating disorder would say anything to keep itself alive, I had to learn how to challenge my black-and-white thinking. My eating disorder told me that if I skipped my workout, I would be unhealthy and unfit. I challenged that thought by telling myself that not exercising one day is okay because my body needs time to rest and recover and skipping one day won’t all of a sudden undo all of my previous workouts. I continue to use this technique today because I now know that just because I have a thought does not mean that it is true.
The grey zone is still a scary place for me sometimes because there aren’t any clear and defined boundaries, but finding the grey areas of life allows me wiggle room and options other than complete failure or complete success. Now that I have experienced thinking in grey, I have no desire to go back.
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? If so, how does it affect you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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