Do you beat yourself up for your food choices—or feel like you’re either eating a healthy diet or “falling off the wagon,” with little in between?
I like to call this diet perfectionism. And while it can come with good intentions, it’s ultimately really limiting—and destructive. It can cause a lot of unnecessary mental stress and anxiety.
Diet Perfectionism: Not the Same as a Healthy Diet
Let’s talk about perfectionism itself.
It’s often seen as a positive trait in our society—but perfectionism is not the same as simply “doing your best” or trying hard.
According to GoodTherapy.org, “perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect.” And since no one is actually perfect, a perfectionist mindset can lead to a lot self-defeating thoughts for never being “good enough.”
In other words, you never win with perfectionism. You’re never enough because you begin with such high, unrealistic standards.
… And this is exactly how dieting mentality is set up. So many of us hold such a perfectionist attitude about our health, our bodies, and our weight that, in our minds, we’re never good enough.
We commit to an excessively strict diet plan, then silently berate ourselves when it doesn’t work out.
Or we survey and scrutinize every body curve or pooch, knowing we won’t be “done” or happy until it’s been “fixed.”
And the origin of these thought processes are not our fault.
The dieting industry has implanted the idea in our heads that only strict discipline, unrelenting excellence, and punishment for “slipping” can bring us the best version of ourselves.
It’s madness that isn’t working or making us healthier long-term.
When a Healthy Diet Isn’t Actually Healthy
Diets are often disguised as being a “lifestyle change” or new “ healthy way of eating,” not a diet!
But when you strip it down to its core, it is a diet.When a Healthy Diet Goes Too Far: The Danger of Being a Perfectionist with Food + 3 Ways to Find Your Balance Click To Tweet
A diet encourages perfectionism. It includes a strict set of rules about what you should or shouldn’t eat, like:
- Stay within X amount of carbs or X amount of fat grams.
- Only eat X foods and stay away from X foods.
- Only eat during X period of time.
- Don’t eat after X p.m. or before X a.m.
- Etc, etc, etc
And if you screw it up, it’s on you. It all comes down to willpower, they say.
Even worse, whether you do “good” or not on your diet becomes personal. You feel like any slip-up is a demonstration of your character and your morality.
I’ve spoken with people who hold onto so much shame about their eating choices because they believe they’re truly bad or dumb or ridiculous for not being able to just eat healthy. (And I used to do the exact same thing!)
But here’s the thing: You’re not broken. Diets are. The very structure of them is setting us up for failure.
In my opinion, the place to start is not by following strict food rules. We need to start with our mindset around food.
Because, quite honestly, dieting mentality (a.k.a. diet perfectionism) is what has screwed up the problems we have with (and how we think about) food, a healthy diet and our bodies in the first place.
Here’s an Example of Dieting Mentality and Why It’s a Problem.
Tina is introduced to a certain diet. The diet emphasizes an abundance of whole, unprocessed foods and cuts out anything that is processed or packaged. It almost completely excludes a whole food group and has very specific rules about what’s “off limits.”
Tina reads a book about this way of eating. The author is a doctor who talks about the research and how this way of eating can reverse disease! burn fat like crazy! and even cure cancer!
On paper, Tina thinks this way of eating is the pinnacle of health. And Tina wants to lose weight and get healthier, so she’s sold.
Tina starts the diet the next day. Because of the strictness of it (and insistence by the author that cheating is a bad idea), Tina holds herself to extremely high standards right off the bat.
She follows the diet to a T, careful to avoid anything that is packaged or has any added sugar, additives, etc.
Tina feels great and loses some weight quickly.
She thinks, I’ve found THE healthy diet that actually works! I’m never turning back now.
… But then life happens:
- Maybe Tina has to travel for work for a week, and can no longer cook all her foods at home.
- Or she must grab something on the road and can’t find a snack that fits her guidelines exactly.
- Maybe she decides to eat out for a special occasion with her family, but nothing on the menu fits her diet parameters.
- … Or maybe work gets particularly stressful or a family member gets sick or something else happens that’s emotionally toiling.
Suddenly, Tina’s willpower doesn’t feel so strong—and she can’t keep up.
Eventually, Tina eats something that isn’t compliant with her diet.
And now, in her mind, it’s game over.
She berates herself for not being better prepared, for not pushing through her hunger and avoiding those “bad” ingredients, or for being too “weak” to stay on plan.
Pretty soon, she’s thinking, What the hell. I already ate something non-compliant. I failed. I might as well give up.
Because she feels defeated, Tina grabs anything around her and eats mindlessly, putting herself down the whole time.
What is wrong with me? Why do I keep slipping up? I should have better willpower, she thinks.
But there is nothing wrong with Tina’s willpower.
And these “slip ups” aren’t a reflection of her character or worth.
Tina has become a victim of the diet perfectionist mindset, where you can’t ever win.
Plus, when a perfectionist “slips up” or “fails” or “gets off track,” it makes it all the more hard to get back up again.
They end up sabotaging their health—and their self-image—instead of accepting imperfections and starting from a more realistic place… which is far more healthier over the long term.
(Remember, perfectionists are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. And mental health is just as important as physical health.)
So if you’re looking to improve your health, wellness, and relationship with food, it’s time to ditch the perfectionist mindset, the need to do it all “right” in order to succeed.
3 Ways to Stop Being a Perfectionist Around Food
Perfectionism doesn’t work if you want to live a healthy, balanced, self-love-based lifestyle and truly reach a state of wellness.
Because health is not just about what you eat.
It’s about how you think about what you eat.
How you think about yourself.
How you approach your own wellness.
Here are some ways to do that.
#1 Be More Realistic About Your Journey
Setting realistic goals about eating healthy will help you slowly notice that “imperfections” are going to happen and that’s okay.
NO ONE can eat a 100% healthy diet (or even know for certain what that is). You’ll be far happier if you appreciate any progress you’ve made—like eating more whole foods overall, moving your body more, drinking more water, etc—rather than set an unrelenting huge goal that must be met or else.
OR that progress could be letting yourself eating a d*mn cookie without feeling any guilt or shame about it.
Health is not black and white. It can look different for each of us. Go at your own pace, don’t except to do it perfectly, and focus on treating your body well—which includes your mind and how you think about yourself!When Eating Healthy Goes Too Far: The Danger of Being a Perfectionist with Food + 3 Ways to Find Your Balance Click To Tweet
#2 Practice Intuitive Eating and Mindfulness
Intuitive eating saved me from my own self-destruction many years ago, and I’m a huge believer in it. One of the things I love about it most is the emphasis of being mindful of your own thoughts and body’s needs.
Some people think intuitive eating is about ignoring health completely, but that’s not true.
The foundation of intuitive eating is rejecting diet perfectionism so you can move forward to find what works for you. It’s also about tuning into the reasons why you struggle with food and being able to finally find peace with eating, not just a healthy diet.
#3 Reach Out and Connect
When you have unwanted eating concerns, it often feels like you’re all alone all alone.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s sometimes hard to reach outside of yourself and communicate how you feel to others.
Connecting with those who share your problems goes a long way. Look for support in your community or online to make the issue less personal and more of a collective discussion of healing.
Or shoot me a message! I would love to hear from you and support you. <3
Chasing perfection is not the answer. Often, the real solution begins with easing up on ourselves a little bit to truly uncover the potential we have for happiness and health.