Contemporary society is permeated by pressures to maintain a specific level of physical fitness, dietary health, and aesthetic appeal. We are constantly exposed to idealized aesthetics in the media, whether on television, in magazines, or online. It’s becoming more and more likely that these stresses are influencing many of us to be unhappy with and overly critical of our physical selves.
The Western ideal of a woman’s body has been a thin one for many years. Even though the media also features models who are fit and voluptuous, the effects of these standards on our mental health remain negative. This is especially true when people compare themselves unfavourably to others and internalise unrealistic expectations of how their bodies should look. For example, being subjected to unrealistic body ideals has been linked to low mood, obsessive behaviour, and eating disorders.
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An Increase in the Prevalence of Eating Disorders
It’s no surprise that eating disorders have increased because the COVID-19 pandemic has increased both stress and uncertainty in people’s daily lives. Obsessive thoughts and a negative perspective on one’s body and the way it looks are hallmarks of those who suffer from eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa, and other feeding and eating disorders are examples of eating disorders. (OFSED).
Both anorexia and bulimia stem from insecurity about one’s physical appearance. When compared to bulimia, the restriction of food intake that characterises anorexia is a key distinction. Bulimia is characterised by a lack of self-control around food intake and the subsequent use of compensatory behaviours, including purging, to regain that control. An abnormal fixation on eating quality, rather than quantity, characterises those with orthorexia.
Other than the full criteria for conventional eating disorders, OSFED is a clinically significant source of suffering. An individual’s health and quality of life might suffer greatly when dealing with an eating issue. Significant suffering can be experienced even by persons who have no diagnosable mental health illness.
The Correlation Between Perfectionism and Eating Disorders
Many aspects of who we are influencing how likely we are to struggle with an eating issue. One attribute that has been identified as a particularly high-risk factor for disordered eating is perfectionism, which is characterised by the setting of unrealistic standards and harsh self-criticism. Those who strive for perfection often do so because they believe they should meet unreasonable expectations set by themselves or by others.
There has been a rise in perfectionism, much like there has been in the prevalence of eating disorders. In the realm of body image, perfectionists are said to be more prone to disordered eating because they place such high and unattainable expectations on themselves in terms of their weight and physical appearance, and then harshly critique themselves when they fall short. These people think in absolute terms and consider anything below.
Perfection a Setback
The pursuit of a flawless public persona is typically a power struggle. Those who believe they lack control in other areas of their life typically seek to exert control over other, more superficial ones. Even if they manage to get a handle on their eating and activity habits, they may find themselves spiralling out of control.
On the other hand, perfectionists may try to mould their appearance to match the expectations of others or society at large. Having to impress other people is a major motivation for all this effort. This is why perfectionists tend to feel vulnerable in social contexts when they are subjected to scrutiny and comparison. Furthermore, perfectionists are more prone to suffer from severe depression and anxiety, leading them to resort to extreme measures like dieting to hide their perceived physical imperfections. These compensating activities are attempts to create an illusion of perfection or to hide the existence of flaws. Given that concealment is a hallmark of disordered eating and eating disorders, the unwillingness to admit or reveal faults is crucial.
The Hallmarks of a Perfectionist Personality Are:
- Having incredibly high expectations of oneself that you wouldn’t apply to anyone else
- Black-and-white thinking (when the right answer or way is either this or that, no in between or grey area)
- Being honest about your shortcomings (“I was wrong” = “I am wrong”)
- rigidly insisting on a single best course of action
- Don’t give yourself any slack
- Lacking the ability to show oneself mercy and love when you screw up
- Taking every precaution to guarantee success
- Refusing to give yourself the time and space you need to grow from your mistakes
- Having a rigid code of conduct that must be observed
- Rewarding success only if it can be measured (pounds lost, grades earned, etc.)
- Blaming oneself when an error is the collective responsibility of a team
- Wanting to impress others outside of your circle
Examples of Perfectionism in an Eating Disorder Include:
- Justifying your own need to diet or restrict by saying that you differ from other people and can’t eat the way they do
- Bad food labelling and good food labelling
- Self-flagellation for overeating (usually through purging)
- To eat in the one best method possible (by trying different diets, cutting out food groups, etc.)
- Never giving yourself a chance to relax or slack off.
- Restricting your intake to a predetermined amount of calories, chips, almonds, etc.
- Taking all precautions possible to prevent gaining weight
- Believing that you must instantly make up for “bad” food consumption (through exercising, skipping meals, drinking a smoothie for your next meal, etc.)
- Rules regarding what you can and cannot eat
- Putting the pursuit of weight loss ahead of more intangible goals like improving one’s health or feeling better
- Needing external validation of your physical appearance
So, What Can We Do to Fix This?
The increasing prevalence of perfectionism and eating disorders can be slowed if more people are willing to question their self-image as beautiful and accept that their value lies in more than only their physical appearance. If we want to normalise our eating habits and reach a healthy weight, we need to let go of rigid norms. Treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy can aid in the identification and correction of erroneous patterns of thought, emotion, and action.
It’s also crucial that we develop a kinder and less critical relationship with our physical bodies, a trait known as self-compassion. Increasing our capacity for self-compassion can soften our views and soften our need to be perfect. Being less critical of ourselves can help prevent eating disorders and open the door to greater self-acceptance. Embrace healing and seek professional support to address childhood trauma in recovery.
Are There Any Positive Outcomes From Treatment?
Recognising and dealing with perfectionism could be beneficial because of the correlation between it and eating problems. One of the world’s foremost authorities on perfectionism has proposed the following questions as a means of determining if a person may benefit from professional therapy for their condition:
- Do you think you have higher standards than other people?
- Can you live up to your expectations?
- Do you beat yourself up too much if you fall short of your expectations?
- Would you consider other folks to be up to par?
- Do you have an unreasonable reaction to people who fall short of your expectations?
- Do your standards assist you to reach your objectives, or do they hinder you in some way (by causing you to be too disappointed or angry when they are not fulfilled, for example, or by preventing you from meeting your deadlines, etc.)?
- What would happen if you lowered a standard or disregarded a regulation you currently have?
- Just what would improve if you disregarded or loosened up on one of your standards?
If you feel that any of the above questions resonate with you, visit this site to seek out the help you need from the comfort of your own home. Discover effective coping mechanisms and strategies for managing addiction and anxiety to support a balanced and healthy recovery journey.