I thought I’d post today to provide some insight into something that has been a common issue for many of my clients when beginning to let go of dieting: perfectionism.
Just like perfectionism can creep in while dieting, it can do the same while trying to move on from it. The rules you had while dieting, like eating “good” foods and avoiding “bad” ones can continue to permeate your thoughts for a long time after. When beginning to let go of dieting, these same food rules and trying to stick to them perfectly might still be hanging around and causing you distress. Or, perfectionism may be coming up in other ways, like the uneasiness that can arise at the thought of not actually having any rules to influence your eating patterns or even feeling pressure to let go of dieting in the “right” way.
If you are finding that perfectionism is creeping in to your progress with letting go of dieting, here’s a few points to keep in mind:
Remember that no-one is perfect
As humans we can often look around at others and think that they have it all figured out, whether that be in terms of their eating behaviours, relationship with their body, or in terms of general life stuff.
Remember that no-one is perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect diet. Nobody eats in a “perfect” way. And you don’t have to either.
Begin to let go of the idea of "good" and "bad" foods
Perfectionism loves rules, particularly when they are clear cut. But the idea of a food being inherently "good" or "bad" can be very fraught and can send those perfectionistic tendencies into overdrive as overthinking sets in. This can sometimes look like restricting more foods unnecessarily, or can show up in others as the "stuff it" mentality, where you have spent so much time worrying about whether or not a food is "good" or "bad" that you start eating all the foods you have previously tried to limit. Or it could show up in other ways.
Beginning to let go of any moral values you have tied to food can be really helpful here. Because the truth is, food is just food. It's not "good" or "bad" or otherwise. It's just food. And no matter what anyone tells you, you can eat any food that you feel like*, enjoy it and move on. It doesn't have to be an internal battle. Sometimes we just need a little help to get there.
Start experimenting, and stay curious
Beginning the process of letting go of dieting allows for so much exploration and a new and greater understanding of your own experiences with food and your body. It can be bring up some mixed emotions – perhaps a little fear as you begin to loosen the grip of dieting; joy as you experiment with delicious foods that have been “off limits” for years; and perhaps some relief as you learn that you can actually trust what your body is telling you around food.
Giving yourself the permission to embrace imperfection and expect a little trial and error as you get to know your body again can be helpful in this process. Staying curious can also allow you to think of each of your new experiences with food and your body as what they are – information. Over time, you gather more and more information about food, your body and yourself. What hunger and fullness feels like in your body, which foods you really enjoy (or don’t actually like that much) and so much more.
When moving on from dieting, perfectionism can hang on for the ride for a while. Try looking at challenges as opportunities to gather more understanding of your experience, rather than as evidence of you not doing it right - because there is no way you can do this "wrong".
*Diagnosed food allergies or intolerances are instances where it is important for your wellbeing to avoid the foods causing your symptoms.
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I'm a non-diet dietitian specialised in supporting women to move on from dieting, heal their relationship to food and feel good in their bodies exactly as they are. Read more..
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