On why perfectionism in eating leads to over-complicating the eating process and why it’s important that you don’t overthink intuitive eating.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’ve played the perfection game in almost every area of my life, but especially with food. It feels sort of falsely, momentarily exhilarating. Like a power rush. But one that flatlines when you just can’t anymore. And suddenly, you’re face-first in a bag of chocolate chips. Costco-size. You know the one. Food-perfectionism is a struggle for power. But for me–and I think for most people–the more I tried to exercise power over food, the more power it had over me.
That’s why, when I stumbled into intuitive eating, it seemed so revolutionary. Not to mention dive-back-under-the-covers intimidating. Eat when I’m hungry? Stop when I’m full? When the nutrition label on the bottle of ginger-pear kombucha you picked up from Whole Foods on your way home is enough to send you into deep research (of the internet variety, very scientific) and then a subsequent panic attack, radical statements like those are downright shocking.
And when you’re used to playing the perfectionist with food, it’s hard to trust that you’ll know what to do. It was for me. At first, overthinking habits from my restricting phase and my “clean eating” phase bled over into my intuitive eating attempts.
Intuitive eating didn’t seem to be working. And for good reason.
Perfectionism and intuitive eating don’t jive. Intuitive eating is the art of rejecting the diet mentality, of saying no to the food police. Food perfectionism means overthinking–overthinking what to eat, when to eat, how to eat. It embodies succumbing to the food police. Overthinking and intuitive eating in conjunction leads to a form of eating that’s neither sustainable nor enjoyable. And sustainability and enjoyment are kind of the point of intuitive eating.
Here are three setbacks with intuitive eating I experienced by overthinking the process:
1) Deciding what to eat was neither sustainable nor enjoyable. I was fixated on doing intuitive eating “perfectly.” So I spent ridiculous amounts of time agonizing over what I felt like eating. Like standing in front of the open fridge for half an hour, getting progressively hungrier. While I waffled between having strawberry or blueberry lime jam on my peanut butter toast.
When you overthink intuitive eating, choosing what to eat becomes a time-zapping chore. It’s good to be deliberate about your food choices. But when you’re overthinking it, it’s easy to make choices based less on what your body actually wants/needs and more on what you think you might maybe possibly want/need.
2) Figuring out how to eat was neither sustainable nor enjoyable. I’d sit down to eat lunch and spend the whole time worrying. Am I being mindful enough? Am I enjoying my food enough? Answer: I wasn’t being mindful or enjoying the meal whatsoever because I was too busy stressing out over whether I was or not.
When you overthink intuitive eating, you remove the joy from the process of how to eat.
3) And finally, figuring out how much to eat was definitely not sustainable or enjoyable. I wasn’t actually practicing intuitive eating, I was following what Isabel Foxen Duke calls “the hunger and fullness diet.” Meaning I’d read way too much into my hunger and fullness cues. Sometimes, I’d think I was full after the second bite, stop eating, and then, of course, feel hungry a whole thirty seconds later.
When you overthink intuitive eating, it’s easy to fall into the hunger and fullness diet trap as you decide how much to eat. You second guess your hunger and fullness cues. You stress out because you’re “full”, but there’s a few bites of sautéed sugar snap peas left on your plate and you really want to eat them.
Intuitive eating is about more than being “full.” It’s about being satisfied. That means you might have eaten enough dinner to nourish you physically, but everyone’s going out for ice cream. Going out for ice cream with friends will nourish you mentally, emotionally. It will satisfy you.
Of course, “don’t overthink intuitive eating” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what and how you eat at all. It just means there’s no place for perfectionism in intuitive eating. It can be an intimidating thought, but also a freeing one. It’s why I, as much as I can, don’t overthink intuitive eating.
So don’t overthink intuitive eating. If you, like me, are prone to food perfectionism, this is what I want for you: to know that you don’t have to micromanage yourself. Sure, if you’ve had a disordered relationship with food, learning intuitive eating takes hard work. But it doesn’t take perfection. Striving for perfection will only lead to dissatisfaction–and the point of intuitive eating is to be satisfied.
In what ways is/has perfectionism and overthinking contributed to an unhealthy relationship with food in your life? What could you do/have you done to let go of that?
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