As I continue to work with people focused on creating healthier lives, I become increasingly aware of the commonality of their issues. In other words, we are all so much more alike than we are different. Basically, we all have the same wants and needs and struggle with the same issues. One of the issues that consistently comes up and interferes with weight management is perfectionistic thinking.
A perfectionist is someone who allows no room at all for error. It must be done to the letter or all is lost. The typical weight loss pattern for a perfectionist is – once they vary from their program, even slightly, they abandon the entire effort. I’m sure many of you will identify with this pattern. This kind of thinking leaves you incredibly frustrated and can make weight management seem like the impossible dream.
For example, let’s say that you have followed your weight loss program perfectly for a couple of weeks when, in a moment of weakness, you eat a piece of cake. Now, because you are a perfectionist, you don’t just chalk this up as a minor slip and get back on the program. No way! Being a perfectionist you equate a minor slip with total failure and, as a result, may now even consider yourself a failure. And since you have failed why not eat the rest of the cake. And, of course, what’s cake without ice cream. You see how this pattern develops?
This is how perfectionistic thinking sabotages your best efforts at weight control. Since no one is perfect, this “all or nothing” mentality dooms you to failure before you even begin. When you equate a “minor slip” with total failure you have no chance of succeeding. Perfectionism in weight control is a built in guarantee of failure.
All right let’s take roll call. All of you who are perfectionists please raise your hands. Just as I thought – there are quite a few of you I see. Well, rest assured, you are definitely not alone. In my work and research with The Inner Diet over the years, I have gathered research on thousands of overweight people. This research revolves around perfectionism and several other emotional issues relating to overeating and weight control. By the way, that’s a substantial sample size. The theory in statistics is this — the larger your sample size, the more confident you can be of your findings. Anyway, perfectionism is one of issues I’ve tracked and tested for over the years.
My findings reveal that 51% of all overweight individuals have a serious problem with perfectionism regarding weight control. That’s a little more than one out of every two people. So, as you can see, this is a major issue for a great many of you. A perfectionist is someone who brings an unrealistic attitude to weight management. They have an “all or nothing” mindset when it comes to managing their eating and their health. The problem is that perfectionists expect the impossible of themselves. That is — to be perfect.
So, if you happen to be one of these people, what can you do? Well, the antidote for perfectionism is a three-step process. First you must set realistic goals. The principle problem here is that, as a perfectionist, you allow absolutely no room for error. To a perfectionist, a minor slip is equated with total failure. That’s simply untrue and unrealistic so you must incorporate some reality and flexibility into your thinking.
The second step involves changing the way you think. It’s this “irrational belief” that you must be perfect, that you have held onto and reinforced over the years, that leads to the “negative result”. For example, to the perfectionist, the thought that a minor slip means total failure promptly leads to the negative result of bingeing or giving up. One leads directly into the other. The thought leads directly into the action. You can’t have the negative result without the irrational belief. So you must challenge the irrational belief.
The third step in combating perfectionism is preparation. You must learn to be prepared for minor slips so I suggest that you have what I call a “retracking plan” in place like I offer in The Inner Diet. It’s a technique to get you right back on track once you slip. Here’s how it works. Take out a piece of paper and write down a days worth of healthy meals. I then suggest that you go to the store and purchase what you need for these meals so that you have the ingredients available at all times. Then, when you slip, you immediately make these your next three meals. This prepares you to get right back on track when you slip. Set realistic goals, challenge irrational beliefs and be prepared. Now that’s the perfect solution to perfectionism.
Wishing You Great Health, Dr. Sklare
Dr. John H. Sklare
John Sklare received his doctorate in counseling from Northern Illinois University. He spent 15 years of his professional life seeing patients in private practice during which time he also served as a member of a medical team providing pre and post psychological services to surgical patients. He has served as a consultant to business and industry doing personality assessments and compatibility evaluations, taught psychology and learning theory to both graduate and undergraduate students and conducted numerous workshops and seminars on a variety of topics. Dr. Sklare has appeared on both radio and television and is also a USPTA certified tennis professional and is the feature writer for Atlanta Tennis Magazine. He also provides the “Daily Inspiration” wellness message for Lifescript.com, is a contributing author for the ASBP Medical Journal, and currently consults with Doctors, Dietitians and Corporate Wellness Programs on wellness, the psychology of lifestyle change and weight management. Dr. Sklare is also the author of The Inner Diet Personal Assessment System, a program that addresses emotional eating.