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What Does Perfection Mean to You?

By Alex Raymond, RD, LD

The topic of “perfection” has been coming up more often both in my sessions with clients and personally. It got me thinking about the idea of perfection—what it actually means and why it’s important.

For me, perfection meant (maybe sometimes still means) doing everything right, whether in work or with family/friends, leaving little to no room for mistakes. Mistakes either meant that I wasn’t working hard enough or that I wasn’t good at what I was doing. Looking back on some conversations with clients, I’ve reflected on my own thoughts about perfection and how “perfect” isn’t always perfect. Here is what I’ve learned about “letting go” of perfection and how this idea can be used to support eating disorder recovery.

1. There is no such thing as “perfect” eating.

Your ED wants you to think that you must eat a certain way to be “perfect.” There’s no such thing. It’s a construct that the eating disorder and society has created. Why should eating a certain food make you any less of an awesome person? Enjoying cake on your birthday doesn’t make you bad. Having French fries with your double bacon cheeseburger is okay. Making sure you have a few servings of fruits and veggies is important, but it’s also important to enjoy all the foods you love. Now, I do believe in a few concepts called mindful eating, intuitive eating and normal eating. I could go on for hours, but in summary, these concepts are all about truly enjoying food and being able to nourish your body with all different types of foods, including fruits, veggies, carbs, fats, dessert, fried foods, dairy, protein….

2. Letting go of perfect does not mean you have to stop working hard.

I find that many people get this confused. Personally, I sometimes think that if I let go the idea of my life being “perfect” then that will mean I won’t work hard and will achieve none of my goals. What is the point of working hard if there isn’t a “perfect” end result? I’m not sure where this idea comes from, but as I am typing it, this idea sounds so silly. If my goals are something that I am truly passionate about, I will find a way to achieve them. I may have to take a few detours to get there! But, that’s okay. In the end, any mistakes bring you closer to your goals and you can learn from them! Mistakes do not mean failure. It means you are human and doing the best you can. A therapist we worked with once likes to compare this idea to plate spinners at the circus. They have to accept that some plates might fall, but if no plate ever did, then they are playing it too safe. Making mistakes means we are taking risks that are allowing us to grow. What are some situations where you were able to learn from mistakes? What are some areas that you may be struggling with this?

3. Letting go of perfect does mean treating yourself with kindness.

To this day, I remember Rebecca (Bitzer) telling me, “you have to be kind to yourself.” This has stuck with me in times when I am truly struggling with the idea of perfection. Instead of bullying myself into thinking I always have to be “perfect,” I remind myself to be kind and give myself a break. So, I am going to challenge you. Be kind to yourself. I would like you to attempt to reframe some of those thoughts into neutral, or even positive ones. Here are some examples

  • “I suck.” Instead, “I am having the thought that I suck and at the same time I need to remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes.”
  • “I can’t do anything right.” Instead, “Hey self, let’s be kind today. I know this isn’t true. I’m okay as I am right now.”

4. “Perfect” isn’t always perfect.

Firstly, actually achieving “perfection” is completely impossible. There will always be something that you want to make better; trust me I’ve been there. And it’s honestly quite exhausting. Instead of expending brain energy on trying to achieve this made-up concept, think about doing activities you actually, unconditionally enjoy. This will be a great opportunity to learn more about yourself. Here are some ideas from my personal list of things I love to do:

  • Laughing with friends
  • Singing along to favorite songs, even though I’m a terrible singer
  • Spending time with family
  • Traveling to new places
  • Cooking new recipes
  • Reading
  • Going to bed early and snuggling in my bed
  • Watching (and excessively) quoting Friends

All the activities I listed above do not require me to be perfect. They require me to be authentically myself.

If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, and would like to meet with Alex, please click here or call (301) 806-0556 to make an appointment today.

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