Perfectionism and Disordered Eating

Perfectionism is a term that is often thrown around when we talk about disordered eating and body image. We may not realize it, but a lot of chronic dieters engage in perfectionistic tendencies. They often feel like they are to blame when a diet or fitness program doesn’t as planned, and that they are never quite good enough to reach their ideal goal in their mind.

So today, let’s dive in on what is perfectionism? and How can we learn to control it?

First things first: What is perfectionism??

This definition can vary from person to person and how they experience perfectionism. A perfectionist is someone who is very focused on getting everything exactly right. Perhaps even over working themselves by doing EVERYTHING all the time. Often, perfectionists don’t allow themselves to focus in one area at a time because they are holding themselves to such a high standard across all parts of their life (like relationships, finances, work, etc.). As a result, there is a degree of obsessiveness that develops, as the need for perfection is so high!

Example: some people may go through their previous conversations earlier in the day/week and just ruminate over this conversation by telling themselves “I can’t believe I did that” or “I should have done this instead”. There is a lot of beating ourselves up and asking ourselves to do something that is just not really possible for a human to do.

Why do we become so hard on ourselves?

There are MANY reasons!

One common reason is related to developmental or relationship trauma. For example, imagine a child whose caregiver is emotionally absent and negligent.

  • When we are young, we are dependent on our caregivers to take care of us. So as a child, we aren’t going to think “something is going on with my mom’s parenting style”, we will likely think “I am not important enough for my primary caregiver to show up for me the way that I need and want them to”.
  • As a result, we start to become very aware of other people’s behaviours and change our own behaviours to be accepted by them. If we aren’t getting the response we want all the time, then we feel like we need to “step it up”.
  • This can develop to the point where people don’t even know what they are trying to control anymore.

THEN Perfectionism develops! It becomes your friend, someone who makes you feel empowered and makes you feel like you have SOME control over your circumstances.

Perfectionism, Body Image and Disordered Eating

Body Image can be one way our minds decide to manifest our perfectionism. Our bodies are a place where we can become hyper-focused and feel like we need to take control over it when our world seems so chaotic.

One of the most common ways someone may try to take control over their bodies, is by trying to control food. This can be in the form of dieting, restriction, portion sizing etc. As a result, we can see changes in our bodies AND other people see these changes too.

  • Because we live in diet culture, it validates these change! And now,  you are receiving so much validation from other people because your has body changed.
  • Now your perfectionism starts to tell you how great and wonderful you are because you are being praised and appreciated by other people. This feeds into the perfectionism so the cycle of restriction and validation continues!

We may not realise that the changes in someone’s body can be a byproduct of their deeper struggles.

We may be complimenting someone’s pain.

Is being a perfectionist a bad thing?

A lot of people get really attached to their perfectionism because on some level, it keeps them safe. But, being a perfectionist definitely comes with a cost.

One of the most concrete consequences about perfectionism is how it can affect our relationships. Perfectionists are always trying to achieve really big, and often unrealistic goals! They are always “on” and they are trying to be connected to other people. Sometimes they try to find ways to relax, but they can’t disconnect themselves from others or their goals. You can’t be doing both simultaneously!

If you are always trying to achieve some unrealistic standard, you don’t have the chance to be YOU, you don’t get to experience life in the way you may want to.


A LOT can be said about how perfectionism and perfectionistic tendencies impact the way we view food and view our bodies. Perfectionism is about more than re-reading an email multiple times to make sure there are no mistakes. It can develop into something more powerful that can affect your overall quality of life!

Tips to start managing your perfectionism:

  • Practice Mindfulness

    • This takes PRACTICE. It’s not about being zen all day, everyday. It’s about bringing awareness to your body and mind and noticing if something is unpleasant/pleasant, if it’s savory/bitter, critical/kind etc.
  • One step at a time

    • You can’t just STOP being a perfectionist. It’s more about learning to give it less control. Start with small goals like giving your perfectionism less control over 1 task today.
  • Be kind and gentle with yourself

    • Remember that this takes TIME and that’s OKAY. It’s supposed to be a whacky process.

“Give yourself permission to celebrate and revel in the day that you created for yourself, without the expectation that it’s supposed to be like this forever.”


Want to listen to the full episode? Access it here!

I HIGHLY recommend you listen to the full podcast episode on this topic. I had a wonderful, eye opening conversation with Rebecca Newkirk,  a lisenced therapist who works with Type A and B perfectionists.

Need support?👇

The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating. Our mission is to help as many folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!

We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.

Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian and Founder of  The Balanced Practice


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