Is Perfectionistic Thinking Sabotaging Women’s Weight Efforts?

by Marsha Hudnall

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Is Perfectionist Thinking Supporting or Sabotaging Your Success for Healthy Weight Loss and Lifestyle Change?

Perfectionism, women and weight | Why Perfectionism Doesn't Last or WorkHigh standards are the driving force behind many success stories. As Annette Colby, PhD, describes in her newsletter Eating Peacefully, many scientists, researchers, artists, athletes and successful business people spend endless hours perfecting their knowledge, working harder than their colleagues, and pushing themselves beyond their own limitations, all in an attempt to achieve certain standards.

At the root of this drive is perfectionism. Used as the gift it can be, perfectionism offers a driving force, determination and the ability to achieve success. Unfortunately, when it comes to health and weight management, many women combine perfectionism with a self-punishing attitude, defined by unrealistic goals. As a result, perfectionism can sabotage the journey to a fitter self.

Perfectionism Can Create Stress

Take the issue of stress. Women consistently tell us that stress is one of their biggest concerns – too much to do and not enough time to do it in. The demands of their busy lives get in the way of healthy eating, physical activity, or just sorely needed down time for taking care of themselves.

While that’s stressful enough in itself, perfectionistic thinking that relentlessly drives us to “do it all,” and sets us up for feelings of failure when we can’t, lies at the root of the stress that overwhelms us.

Perfectionism Can Defeat Fitness

Perfectionism can also stand in the way of achieving health and fitness goals we set for ourselves. Expectations that we must have a perfect body, perfect eating habits, and/or perfect adherence to a physical activity routine sets us up for failure. How many times do we think if we are going to try something at all, we have to do it exactly right, or we might as well not even try?

This kind of perfectionistic thinking that sabotages instead of supports is usually based on things we think we should do, rather than what is realistic. For example, instead of setting a goal to increase our physical activity based on what we are currently doing, we aim for the moon. We resolve to immediately start walking daily, for example, even though we were couch potatoes only yesterday. And the first couple of times we miss our walk, we think, “Well, I’ve failed again; I just can’t do this.” And then we give up completely.

The same scenario is repeated with attempts to improve eating behaviors. Even though nutritionists emphasize that “moderation” in eating richer foods is the goal, we hear “elimination.” And when we inevitably reach for a brownie or other food we don’t believe fits “healthy” eating, our perfectionist mindset tells us we are incapable of eating in way that supports health and fitness. Once again, like our fitness plan, we give up our attempts at eating more healthfully all together.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what I accomplish never quite good enough?
  • Do I put off a project waiting to get it just right?
  • Do I feel I must give more than 100% on everything I do or I will fail?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, read further about how to turn your perfectionism into an advantage, to help you achieve true success in your ongoing journey to a fit you.

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