One of the most common traits of people who are overweight (not necessarily obese), is a lack of portion control or nutritional knowledge.
But this doesn’t describe everyone. In fact there are many people who appear to have ‘perfect’ eating habits but they still can’t lose weight.
Most of these people binge eat, and while for the most part they eat well, an episode of overeating their junk food of choice eliminates their progress, and often exacerbates their weight problem.
If you ever binge eat, you have a problem. (yes, binge eating is considered a disorder, BED for short)
However, by the end of this article you will have a better understanding of why you do it, and I’m going to give you some actionable solutions that you can put into place right away.
What Causes Binge Eating?
The three-factor theory by Bardone-Cone et al. points to 3 factors associated with most cases of eating disorders:
- High perfectionism
- High body dissatisfaction
- Low self-esteem
As far as causing the problem goes, perfectionism is also often the root of body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem, and will be the subject of our focus.
Multiple studies have supported the assertion that perfectionism is consistently elevated in people with eating disorders compared to control groups.
The Perfectionism Problem
Before you can fix a problem you must understand the root cause, in this case perfectionism.
It’s something that affects people of all classes. Martha Stewart, James Cameron, and Serena Williams are all examples of perfectionists who have accomplished great things in their fields.
But for most, the consequences of perfectionism ultimately hinder their chances of success. **Let me also note that there are multiple types of perfectionism, not all created equally. None however, are considered healthy or something you should be aiming for.
Striving to be perfect is something that has different causes. The most common is when your perfectionism is based on feeling expectations of perfection from those around you, which is referred to as socially prescribed perfectionism.
The thing is, when you feel like others expect you to be perfect, whether it’s family, friends, or anyone else, you feel a lot of pressure. When you add other stress or negative emotions to the mix it’s a disaster.
A study of the perfectionism model of binge eating found that there are four high-risk triggers of binge episodes:
- Interpersonal discrepancies (fights or disagreements with friends/family that upset you)
- Low interpersonal esteem
- Depression (which perfectionism can cause)
- Dietary restriction
I bolded the last one because it’s particularly relevant given that this is a nutrition site. Any of these four things can act as the trigger that sends a perfectionist over the edge. As you can probably guess, one way of coping with the stress is to binge-eat, a common form of self harm.
Why Perfectionism is the Wrong Mindset
It’s clear that fights happen, diets change from time to time, and all people go through ups and downs, which means that if we want to prevent binge eating from happening, it’s best to fix the cause of the initial stress – perfectionism.
The most common defense of perfectionism, is that it allows us to have something to strive towards. However, perfection is an unattainable goal, no matter how good you get at anything. On a bit of a side note, not surprisingly, giving up on unattainable goals is good for your health.
The true problem with a perfectionist mindset is that everything is all or nothing; either you do it or you don’t. This is a key point that you need to understand in order to fix perfectionism, so let me give you a detailed example.
Let me explain what you’re looking at. Everyone has drawn at one time or another, so it should be a relatable skill. On the far left is an absolutely terrible circle, it’s where everyone starts at at one time or another. In the middle is an attempt that at least looks like a circle, but still isn’t great. Finally, the right is a great circle.
From the perspective of a perfectionist, both of the 2 circles on the left are bad, simply not good enough. The key thing to note is that there is a vast difference between those 2 failed circles. In fact, the middle circle is quite close to a circle really. However, if a perfectionist drew that they would be disappointed, it would hurt their self-esteem, and will cause them more stress.
Let’s connect perfectionism to binge eating on a diet now, since I suspect that is what most of you are concerned about. Imagine you’ve started a diet, it’s going great so far, but then there’s that temptation. It doesn’t matter what it is exactly, just picture your food kryptonite. You give into it and have a piece, and you feel a rush of guilt and shame. Do you know what guilt and shame do? They hurt your self esteem and can even cause depression. Once you’ve hit a trigger I think you know where this goes…you feel like you’ve failed (even though you’re still doing excellent), and have a nice destructive binge eating session.
This is analogous to our circle example above, where you’ve draw the first three quarters perfect, and then you have a little squiggle or something to mess it up. A binge eater gives up and reverts to the skill of the first picture, while someone with a healthier mindset finishes up as good as possible and has a near-perfect circle.
The Better Alternative
The healthy alternative is to instead strive for excellence. You can still have high expectations of yourself, but you need to accept that no one is perfect. Also, it is ridiculous if someone expects you to be perfect, so set your own internal expectations for yourself.
Most people that care about you just want to see you do your best and be the most excellent version of yourself that you can be.
Let’s go back to that example above of someone on a diet. A perfectionist takes one bite and goes on to binge all night. Someone striving for excellence may still feel some guilt, but doesn’t hit that trigger that starts a cascading effect. Instead, he/she accepts that they aren’t perfect, and that they don’t need a perfect diet to lose weight, just a good or excellent one depending on your goals, which is still attainable. When you have this mindset you can even schedule “cheat meals” and still have excellent results.
Implement These Actionable Steps Right NOW
If you’ve gotten this far you’ve probably already figured out some of these things, but let me clarify, condense, and give you something practical to walk away with and implement.
1) Accept that perfection is impossible. Strive for excellence. Even the best make mistakes, allow yourself to be human and make some from time to time.
2) Set your own self-expectations. It’s impossible to know what others expect of you, and it is unfair for them to expect anything of you. Most people in your life just want to you to do your best, and guess what? They already know you’re not perfect.
A final note I want to give you goes along with these 2 pieces of advice. Stop obsessively judging whatever you’re judging. For some this is counting calories, or weighing themselves, or looking in the mirror every time they pass by. For example, you can count calories, just don’t obsess over every little thing you put in your food log. Instead, have an overall excellent diet and use your calorie log as feedback. If you aren’t getting the results you want after an appropriate period of time, then you can use that to re-evaluate what an excellent diet is for your goals.
Now I have a favor to ask you:
Do you know someone who’s a perfectionist? Send them a link to this article.
Secondly, let me know what parts of this article did or did not resonate with you. I know my writing sure isn’t perfect, so I’d appreciate your comments below so I can know how to improve.