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Perfectionism, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.

Change: A Mental Makeover
Dr. John H. Sklare
Part III
Perfectionism: 

In blog posts I & II of this six part series, I addressed the influential role that Stress and PsychologicalDiscomfort play in one’s ability to stay on program, lose weight and manage their eating.  The third, of the six most common mental roadblocks to weight loss, is called Perfectionism.  In order to frame this issue appropriately, please consider the following questions:

  • Does the person feel like once they cheat on their diet…the diet is over?
  • Does the person believe that dieting means they can never eat foods they truly like again?
  • Does the person equate a minor slip with total failure?

One of the issues that consistently comes up and interferes with dieting and weight loss is perfectionistic thinking.  A perfectionist is someone who allows absolutely no room at all for error.  In other words, it must be done to the literal letter or all is lost.  The typical weight loss pattern for a perfectionist is this – once they vary from their program, even slightly, they abandon the entire effort.  This kind of thinking leaves the dieter incredibly frustrated and can make weight loss seem like an insurmountable mountain and an impossible dream.

For example, imagine the following scenario.  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’re a perfectionist, you don’t just chalk this up as a minor slip and immediately 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.  Do you see how this pattern develops, takes shape and marks the end of the diet?

This is how perfectionistic thinking sabotages a dieter’s best efforts at weight loss and leaves them feeling like a failure.  Since no one is perfect, this all or nothing mentality dooms them to failure before they even begin.  When you equate a minor slip with total failure you simply have no chance of succeeding.  This pattern of thinking is called Cognitive Rigidity or black and white thinking.  It’s a learned behavior that all perfectionists have in common and it can typically be traced back to childhood.

According to research, perfectionism is a personality style that has been frequently cited as a central feature in eating disorders.  This is because those with eating disorders tend to view success in black and white terms which means that anything that comes up short of perfection is viewed as failure.  This is part of what makes dieting and weight loss so difficult for the perfectionist because the negative side effects of this kind of thinking are devastating in numerous ways.  They include issues like poor self-esteem, guilt, pessimism about the future, depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, low motivation and lack of self-belief to name only a few.  In short, for a lot of people, perfectionism creates an enormous mental roadblock to successful weight loss.

As a matter of fact, about half of all weight loss warriors struggle with this issue.  My research, with The Inner Diet, reveals that 51% of all overweight individuals have a serious problem with perfectionism when it comes to dieting and weight control.  That translates into about one out of every two people who seek help with weight loss.  So, as you can see, this is a major struggle for a great many dieters.  A perfectionist, by definition, is someone who brings an unrealistic mindset to weight management.  The problem is that perfectionists expect the impossible of themselves. That is – to be perfect.

So, how can you help someone who is struggling with this issue?  Well, the antidote for perfectionism is a three-step process designed to help the individual incorporate reality and flexibility into their weight loss program.  Step one demands that they must set realistic goals. The principle problem here is that, as a perfectionist, the person allows absolutely no room for error. To a perfectionist, a minor slip is equated with total failure and that’s simply an untrue, unrealistic and irrational thought.  So step one involves identifying these irrational thoughts.

The second step for combating perfectionism involves Cognitive Restructuring or changing the way you think.  It’s the irrational belief that the person has held onto and reinforced over the years (I must be perfect or I’m a failure), that leads them to become frustrated and fail.  For example, to the perfectionist, the thought that a minor slip means total failure promptly leads to the end result of bingeing or giving up.  One thought leads directly into the other creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The thought leads directly to the behavior.  You can’t have the negative result without the irrational belief.  So step two demands that the dieter begins to actively challenge their irrational belief system.

The third step in combating perfectionism is also the motto to the Boy Scouts…Be Prepared.  Since falling off the diet wagon is very common, the dieter must learn to be prepared for minor slips when they occur.  For this occasion, I suggest that they have a Retracking Plan in place for this very situation.  It’s a technique intended to help the dieter get right back on track immediately after they slip.  Here’s how it works.  Take out a piece of paper and write down a days worth of healthy meals and snacks.  I then suggest that you go to the store and purchase what you need for these meals so that you have the ingredients available in the house at all times.  Think of it as a diet emergency kit.  Then, when you slip, you immediately go to your Retracking Plan and make these preselected items your next 24 hour meal plan. This prepares you for the inevitable slip and gives you the exact formula you need for getting get right back on plan.  Set realistic goals, challenge your irrational perfectionistic beliefs and be prepared.  Now that’s the perfect solution to perfectionism.  Thank you for your time today and I look forward to seeing you in my next blog post where I will introduce you to what ranks fourth on my list of the six most common mental roadblocks to weight loss called Inner Control!

Wishing You Great Health,

Dr. Sklare

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AuthorPerfectionism, One of Six Mental Roadblocks to Weight Loss.