Perfectionism. It’s that sneaky little voice in the back of your head. It tells you, ‘who do you think you are?” Or maybe, “yeah that was o.k., but you know you could do this better.” When you’re struggling with your body image, food or anxiety that perfectionist voice may not feel like a separate voice, maybe it feels like it is you. It could be that every other thought you have is critical. Your thoughts could be all about how you’re not pretty, smart enough or thin enough and all the things you need to do to be better.
Beginning to identify that critical, perfectionist voice and step away from it is one of the first steps to having a better relationship with food and your body and reducing feelings of anxiety. Until you identify and challenge that critical perfectionist voice it will color everything you do. For example, you may be embracing the awesome body positive movement that’s trending right now. Yet you find yourself thinking “I’m not body positive enough.” Or, “I should be the kind of person that can embrace my body.” Or even, “why can’t I get it together, all these other women love their bodies.” The problem here is that you’re bringing that old perfectionist thinking with you. Until you heal that perfectionist thinking it will continue to follow you. We must realize we can’t do anything perfectly. That includes accepting our bodies or being body positive. Even people with amazing body images or great relationships with food have their struggles.
Health and positive body image are about balance and acceptance. Learning to see the grey in things v. black and white. Learning to be gentle with ourselves and realizing we can’t and don’t have to do everything perfectly. This is the opposite of our perfectionist voice that tells us what or how much we can eat or what our body “should” look like.
To begin identifying that perfectionist voice try writing down all the critical, rigid thoughts or commandments you have. It may be hard to identify these thoughts because they may feel like “just the way things are” or a part of you. Try anyway. Just jot down any expectations you have of how your body should look, how you should be, what you should/’nt eat etc…you get the idea! Maybe you think you should exercise 2 hours a day, be a certain size and not eat more than 1,600 calories a day. Now imagine how you could be gentle with yourself. Even if it seems like a “no way ever” idea try to imagine what a gentle thought would be. For example, instead of “I should exercise 2 hours a day” could you say, “I exercise an amount that feels good for my body. I stop when my body is tired.”
It takes time to begin to identify and challenge our perfectionist thoughts. It’s not an overnight process and we don’t want to become critical of ourselves that we can’t get rid of our perfectionism! Be patient with yourself. Beginning to identify your “shoulds” and rigid expectations is a great place to start. All change begins with awareness. Give yourself the time to notice your self-critical thoughts and imagining what it would be like to be gentle. That’s a great step toward healing that perfectionist critic!