It’s tempting to think that if you follow the “right” diet religiously and work out every day, you’ll achieve and maintain the kind of health you want. While keeping up with good habits is beneficial, doing so from a place of perfectionism is not. Here are seven ways that perfectionism can damage your health.
The boomerang effect
If you’re constantly pushing yourself to maintain a particular diet or exercise regime, never cutting yourself any slack, you’ll probably come to resent your routine at some point. We all deserve a break from the gym now and then. We all deserve a little chocolate ice cream from time to time. And when you don’t allow yourself those things, eventually you’re likely to feel so deprived — and resentful of the fact that you feel deprived — that you might just toss your hands up and fall back into old habits. Being flexible and gentle with yourself makes it much easier to maintain healthy habits over the long run.
It stresses you out
If you’re always overanalyzing what you eat, or scheduling your whole life around trips to the gym, you’re going to be walking around with chronic stress. Putting that kind of nonstop pressure on yourself takes its toll. And when you’re living with constant stress, it affects all kinds of bodily functions. Stress impacts the efficiency of your metabolism, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Increased levels of stress hormones can lead to a wide range of negative health effects.
It saps your joy
Sticking to a diet that makes you feel healthy is incredibly empowering. If going vegan makes you feel lively and energetic, then you should feel absolutely no need to give in to the social pressure to eat animal products. It’s not rude to turn down food if you do so in a respectful manner. That said, if you’re refraining from particular foods not out of a sense of empowerment, but out of a sense of guilt or fear, this will make even the most enjoyable experiences feel stressful. If sticking “perfectly” to your diet is having a negative impact on your ability to enjoy your life, it might be time to start being a little more flexible with yourself.
If we believe we have to adhere to a diet 100 percent, then anytime we stray from it, we’re likely to start feeling like there’s something wrong with us. We begin thinking that we’re not disciplined enough, or we lack willpower. But this isn’t the case! No one is perfect — that’s part of being human. And getting down on ourselves will only sabotage our efforts. It will increase our stress, and it may cause us to believe that we just don’t have what it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This could lead to us giving up and falling back on old habits.
Ignoring your needs
Our dietary needs change with time. In the winter, for example, many of us prefer to eat warmer, heartier meals than we do in the summer. As we age, our bodies also react differently to foods. Sticking to a diet unwaveringly may not be the best thing for your health. There is no single diet that’s perfect for everyone. The best thing we can all do is listen to the intuitive wisdom of our bodies, and adapt our diets as the circumstances of our lives dictate.
It makes your life smaller
If you’re regularly skipping time spent with family or friends to work out at the gym, your routine may be a little unbalanced. Yes, maintaining a routine may mean occasionally declining social invitations; if you’re always choosing to go out with friends over going to the gym, you’re not going to keep your routine going. However, if you feel like there’s never any time in your life for anything but the gym and the office, it might mean that your perfectionism is holding you back. It’s okay to skip the gym now and then to spend time with loved ones — or to change up your routine in order to strike a better balance.
It takes the fun out of being healthy
Being healthy — exercising and enjoying healthy foods — isn’t supposed to be something that we make ourselves do. It’s supposed to be something that feels good, and that we do because we love and respect ourselves enough to care for our bodies. But if you’re allowing your perfectionism to take over, your healthy lifestyle isn’t going to feel like a positive, empowering experience. Instead, it’s going to be something you just keep doing because you’re afraid of the guilt and self-judgment you’ll feel if you stop.
Many of us have the best of intentions when trying to maintain healthy habits. But pushing ourselves to be “perfect” can actually have the opposite effect. It can damage our physical and emotional health in a number of ways. So give yourself a break, be flexible, and relax.
Sarah Cooke, is a Certified Body Image and Eating Psychology Coach and writer who is passionate about organic food and helping others heal at the deepest level.