The difference between putting in effort vs. striving to be perfect? The former helps you move forward, while the latter holds you back. Here’s how to move past whatever is limiting you from your fullest potential.


When it comes to intuitive eating, there’s an emphasis around trusting your body and learning to be at peace with food. Through the work I do in helping my clients with disordered eating and chronic dieting, much of it revolves around recognizing perfectionistic, rigid and all-or-nothing thinking with food, eating and nutrition. Letting go of perfection with food is critical, because perfect eating doesn’t really exist.

Perfect eating isn’t healthy eating, and healthy eating isn’t perfect eating.

Often times, having the impossible, idealistic goal of perfection is the very source of chaos and dysfunction with food.

Perfectionism is sneaky, though. In fact, I think of it as a shapeshifter. You may knock it down in one area of life, only to see it resurface in another. Healing your relationship with food—in many cases—requires a deep, hard look at your perfectionism in all areas of life, and not just with food.

Here’s an important thing to understand about perfectionism according to Brene Brown. She says: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield.”

So, there’s a distinction to be made here: it’s not wrong or bad to try to be your best.

Whether that’s with food, self-care or other areas of life, there is nothing wrong with putting in the effort.  But if you take an honest look at things, it’s important to separate whether you are truly trying your best, or whether you believe that acting, living, or appearing perfect is somehow acting as a shield to protect yourself in avoiding pain, judgement, or shame.

And, because perfectionism is a shapeshifter that morphs and adjusts as you attempt to rid yourself of it, it’s critical to look at how you might be able to work on letting go of perfectionistic thinking altogether (imperfectly, of course).  Here are 3 things that can be helpful and effective in challenging perfectionistic thinking from different aspects of your life.

1. Invest in quality therapy with a credentialed mental health therapist.

Sitting in a therapeutic setting where you are able to explore all areas of your life and your beliefs around perfectionism and beyond is such a gift. Having someone outside of your familial and social circles who allows you to explore your authentic self can be incredibly healing.

Therapists are trained to help you explore your beliefs and thoughts and help you uncover your authentic, imperfect self. Therapy doesn’t need to be dry and boring—in fact, it can be one of the most life-giving hours of your week. Consider finding someone in your area who can help you examine your perfectionistic thinking and help you figure out who you are under your perfectionistic shield.

2. Read insightful books.

There are some incredible books and resources available on the topic of perfectionism. I recommend starting with Brene Brown’s work. She has many titles that explore the concept of perfectionism but two of my favorites are: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.

3. Practice mindfulness meditation.

Don’t let those words scare you—you can start by simply practicing sitting with your thoughts and feelings. There is so much to say and explore about this concept beyond what the word limit of this article will allow. On the surface, it’s about non-judgmentally giving yourself the space to experience what you are thinking and feeling, which can be a powerful way to find answers about how to best move forward for you. There are many great resources and books about this topic as well. Simply setting aside a few minutes each day to breathe and experience your thoughts and feelings can be healing in and of itself.

Unfortunately, the concept of perfectionism is baked into the very culture and society we live in. It makes sense that we fall into the trap of perfectionism, but with time, we can understand for ourselves that holding onto perfectionism is often the very source of chaos and distress that we’re trying to avoid. After all, there is far more peace in being relatively good, kind, calm, and happy than in pushing yourself to be 100% anything.

Shedding the false shield of perfectionism is a step toward that peace.

Adapted from the original article.

Paige Smathers, RDN, CD is a nutrition therapist based in Salt Lake City who helps individuals find positive ways to overcome struggles they experience with food and body image. She specializes in practical, down-to-earth solutions for those in eating disorder recovery and chronic dieting through a weight-neutral positive approach. Paige hosts the popular Nutrition Matters Podcast and runs her private practice, Positive Nutrition.

1 Comment
  1. “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield.” Really agree with this! Perfectionism is the ultimate fear of seeing who we really are. Afraid of learning from mistakes. We are humans, to live not to be perfect but to be useful.

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