Perfectionism can be a breeding ground for eating disorders and body image issues. Perfectionists tend to have rigid, all or nothing mind sets and they’re very hard on themselves. So it’s no surprise that some perfectionists take diet, exercise, and body image to such an extreme that they lose sight of what’s healthy. These perfectionist standards ultimately result in feeling like they’re not “enough” —not thin enough, disciplined enough, successful enough, pretty enough, not “whatever” enough. But because perfection is unattainable, the perfectionist always ends up feeling like a failure.
On the surface, eating disorders and body shame seem to be about food and body. But often they’re manifestations of an underlying lack of self-worth. The same is true of perfectionism. The striving for perfection in diet, appearance, or goal achievement is simply an attempt to gain approval and to feel worthy. Rather than berating yourself for perceived flaws and imperfections, a healthier approach is to work on improving your self-worth.
How can you discover your self-worth? Try these four simple strategies:
- Learn to accept your entire self. We aren’t either good or bad, success or failure, beautiful or ugly, thin or fat. People are full of shades of gray, imperfections, and contradictions. You can begin to feel worthy by acknowledging the different parts of yourself, accepting them without judgment, and granting yourself compassion as an imperfect human being.
- Stop making your self-worth conditional on other people. If you try to live up to other people’s expectations, you’ll struggle to find your self-worth. Unfortunately, many people live this way, making such choices as what to study in college, what career to choose, where to live, and how many children to have—all based on expectations from parents, spouses, friends, and even the media. When you make a choice, think carefully about it to be sure it’s really what you want, not what someone else desires for you.
- Create your own definition of success. Write down how you define success, including all of those virtues you admire most, and use it as your new yardstick. Make sure your definition of success is about you, not about others, how you compare to them, or what they may think of you. Print it out, put it in a prominent place, and read it every day.
- Work on your strengths.A lot of people focus on building up their weaknesses. Instead, get even better at what you’re already good at.
Overcoming perfectionism, eating disorders, and body shame get easier when you value every aspect of yourself, including your imperfections, screw-ups, and flaws.