You’ve been here before.
You started a new diet a few weeks ago. And it was going really well. You were following the diet exactly. Resisting the snack bowl at work, your post-work cocktail, and any other things the diet said you couldn’t have.
Now though, your enthusiasm is waning. You’re getting bored. You’re craving foods that are “off limits”. You’re finding it harder and harder to resist the many opportunities to eat things that are off plan. That said, you’re still managing to stick with it.
Until one day, you get home from a really hard day at work and start aimlessly wandering around your kitchen, opening up the cupboards and refrigerator over and over again. As if the contents inside will be different than the previous 5 times you looked.
You start to contemplate having a cookie. There weren’t any cookies in the pantry yesterday. Your partner must have bought them. Either way, now they’re in the house and you want one.
You’re willpower is worn down so you inevitably cave.
“Just one won’t hurt.”
But then one doesn’t feel like enough. You haven’t had cookies in what feels like ages.
“Screw it. I’ve already messed up my diet with the first cookie. Might as well...”
You end up eating a lot of cookies. Afterwards, you feel guilty about it. You start feeling like a failure.
This is a textbook example of perfectionism.
Truth be told, perfectionism is one of the main reasons people fail in their fat loss attempts. So it’s time to let that shit go.
It’s not helping. In fact, it’s actively working against your goals.
Just to be clear, perfectionism and striving for perfection aren’t the same thing.
The former being when you feel that if things aren’t absolutely perfect there’s no point. It’s an “all or nothing” mentality. Either your on a diet or off a diet. There’s no room for anything in between.
Whereas the latter is simply when you always focus on improvement -- you have high standards for yourself so you constantly work hard to get closer and closer to those standards regardless of mistakes. You know quitting isn’t going to move you forward so you just keep chugging along, acknowledging that it’s all part of the process.
Perfection doesn’t exist. When you have to choose between all/perfection and nothing, your only real option is nothing. Whereas, if you work to constantly improve, aiming for perfection, you get closer and closer to your goal, even if you never reach it.
You can’t beat perfectionism if you can’t recognize and acknowledge that it's a problem.
So what are some signs you’re falling into perfectionist thinking and sabotaging your own efforts?
1. You try and finish off the whole package of treats so it’ll just be gone and you don’t have to think about it
If there’s ever something off plan around, you eat it quickly to “get rid of it”. You want to finish it off so it’ll be out of the house. That way, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Once it’s gone, you can go back to being “on the wagon”.
This doesn’t make any sense when you think about it.
7 cookies is worth the same amount of calories whether you eat them all at once or over the course of a week.
So this thinking is irrational... unless you have an all or nothing mindset. In which case, you’ll want to eat them as soon as possible so that tomorrow you can do things perfectly even though this is actively working against your long term goal. After all, today is already a write-off, right?
This brings me to the next point.
2. You use slip-ups to justify overeating
If you eat something off plan you interpret that as meaning your diet is “ruined”. You see any deviations from 100% adherence to your plan as indicating you’ve donked everything up so now you might as well just give in to your cravings finish the whole tub of ice cream.
If you got a flat tire, you wouldn’t get out and slash the other 3, right? But that’s essentially what’s happening here.
In fact, if you would have stopped yourself a few bites in, the caloric impact would have been pretty negligible. But using a brief lapse in mindfulness to justify a binge turns a small mistake into a larger one. But even then, it’s never too late to get back on track with your mindfulness.
Fat loss isn’t a zero sum game.
You can’t reverse poor decisions, but you can make them worse. What’s better? Overeating by 200 calories or overeating 1000?
Overeating by 1000 or overeating by 2000?
You get the idea.
3. You start and stop all the time
You go really hard at the beginning. Then, when you can’t keep up the unrealistic pace you set for yourself, you quit.
If you feel like you’re either on or off with your health, then you’re falling into perfectionist thinking. You view change as something that happens overnight once you find the right diet or the right workout plan.
In reality, change is a process. It happens bit by bit.
Rather than being on or off, take a dimmer switch approach. Adjust your intensity however you need to in order to always be “on” in some way.
Sometimes you’ll be on brighter than others. That’s sort of the point. To adjust your intensity so you’re always working towards your goal in some capacity. Rather than yoyoing, you build steady forward momentum.
You’ll find you make much more progress this way. Plus, fitness will become a lot easier and more enjoyable.
4. You have shiny object syndrome
This means you get easily distracted by the newest, shiniest thing, even when what you’re doing is working.
You start doing something, whether it’s a diet, meal plan, or exercise program. But when you see something else that sounds better, sexier, and newer, you drop what you’re doing for the new thing.
This means you’re constantly hopping from program to program, diet to diet, never sticking with anything long enough to see solid, consistent results. Never building any long term behaviors that stick. Plus, diet hopping is mentally draining. It wears you down. You have less energy in the tank for when you need to make good decisions.
Fear of missing out plays a big role here. You’re worried about missing out on that perfect diet, the diet that will be “the one”. So you bounce around from diet to diet, never really knowing if any of those diets could work with your desired lifestyle because you never give them a proper chance.
You may also be easily distracted because you’re placing too much responsibility on the diet, and not enough on yourself. This perpetuates FOMO because with this sort of fatalistic view of dieting, that there’s a diet out there that’s “the one”, you’ll be terrified of missing your chance.
Fortunately, this isn’t how it works. There is no perfect diet. So no need to worry about missing out.
Any diet can work if you stick with it. If your mindset isn’t in the right place though, if you’re not taking complete ownership of your decisions, no diet will work.
This is the most difficult part about losing weight and/or improving your health. It’s reforming your mindset, often letting go of beliefs and perspectives you’ve held onto your whole life.
Don’t put so much faith in the diet itself. Instead, you need to learn how to stay focused, patient, and responsible for your actions.
You shouldn’t be thinking, “Will this work for me?”. Instead try thinking, “How can I make this work for me?”.
5. You’re never content with your results
This is when you start actually losing weight but it’s still not enough. And it doesn’t matter how fast you lose weight, you always want it to be faster.
This can result in downplaying your efforts and your victories. Not to mention the fact you’re constantly moving your goal post around. This means you’re never satisfied with your results or the work you’ve put in. This seems to defeat the point of doing this whole thing.
Why try and get results, if you’re never going to feel happy with your results?
That’s the thing about perfection: because it doesn’t exist, it lacks a clear definition. So if you’re only happy with perfection, you’ll never be happy.
Instead, celebrate every win, every victory. Celebrate progress of any kind. This is necessary if you want to stick with your plan and see consistent, long term results.
Because if you want to make progress you need to be aware of the progress you’ve already made. That way you can continue to do what works. Plus, it’s super motivating to see what you’ve done well and how you’ve improved.
A “never enough” mentality is discouraging, demoralizing and overwhelming -- a recipe for inaction (or inconsistent action at best).
- Consistency is everything.
- Perfection doesn’t exist.
- Everyone makes mistakes -- shrug them off and move on.
That’s the point of all this.
To make real, lasting progress you need to stay focused on improving just a little bit each day. Do this everyday for a long time.
It’s not all or nothing. Instead, stay focused on always doing something towards your goal, regardless of how small or insignificant it seems. Those little decisions are what make or break success.
It’s not the seemingly big things like starting a new diet, it’s the build up of small improvements over time that will completely change your relationship with your body and food.