The Unhealthy Trap of Health Perfectionism
I struggled with an eating disorder for nearly a decade. Though I healed from it a number of years ago, I didn’t realize I was still holding onto one way of thinking that was keeping from complete well-being. I’m talking about health perfectionism.
What is health perfectionism?
Here’s how it would go: I’d read an article in a magazine about the benefits of a certain food, or the benefit of a certain way of eating (like fasting or following the Mediterranean diet), or about a particular health risk and how it could potentially be prevented, and I’d go down a rabbit hole. A deep one.
I would gather all the information I could, some of which was research-based, some of which was not, and oftentimes throw myself into a new way of being or eating in order to be as healthy as possible.
That may not sound too detrimental, but a few things would happen that would ultimately be making me feel less than my best.
Why is health perfectionism unhealthy?
For one, I’d get a little obsessive, which is something I try to avoid. I’d listen to a podcast about it, whatever “it” was, in the car, I’d want to read a book about it when I was at home, and I’d want to talk about it with whoever would listen. I’d write notes and grocery lists and think about it all the time, much like my dieting days. That does not make for good mental health.
I’d also end up falling into that same old restrict then overeat cycle. Not in a way that was really chaotic or out of control, but if I got it into my head that I shouldn’t eat ingredient X, Y, or Z because this supposedly super healthy way of being didn’t include it, then food X,Y, or Z is all I’d want to eat. When you tell me not to eat cheese, all I want to eat is cheese. When I’m allowed to eat it, I eat some, then move on; in general I eat a more balanced diet when I’m not focusing on every single detail of what I’m eating.
Lastly, I realized that my obsession with the “right” way of doing things was simply me trying to control situations which are, in many ways, beyond my control. I think just about every diet cult is operating on the premise that they can “save” you, aka make you live longer and healthier. Sure, there’s some pretty solid research that shows us eating leafy greens (and some other things, too!) are beneficial, and I’m all for that, but when you get down the specifics, many foods are in the grey area. It may even be different for each person.
How to avoid the unhealthy trap of health perfectionism?
I do want to eat a wide variety of foods, mostly ones that are from the health categories. I don’t want to get attached to the idea that if I eat perfectly I’ll be happier or live forever, because I think that mindset ultimately makes me less healthy, especially when I consider my mental health.
The reason that I’m telling you this is that I want to encourage you to honor yourself and your health, and make choices that make you and your body both feel good. If you find yourself veering into obsessive territory or to a place where you’re very worried or upset if you eat something that’s not part of your program, perhaps take a step back and reassess what’s really best for your well-being. Working with a mental health professional can also help you make certain you’re doing well in all areas of your life, not just focusing on what’s on your dinner plate.
Have you experienced any foot complications from diabetes?