WEIGHT MANAGEMENT ∙ 5 minutes read

5 ways perfectionism can hold you back on your weight loss journey

By Uxshely Carcamo

When you decide that you want to get healthy and change your diet, you may end up putting all of your energy and focus into achieving your goal. Suddenly, those weekends with friends in the pub become hours in the gym, meals out with family become salads at home and you find yourself skipping work events to ensure that you don’t “fall off the wagon”.  Whilst setting goals and being focused on these goals is a great thing, being “too focused” on these goals can actually end up holding you back from achieving them.  

Unhelpful perfectionism describes where someone sets very high standards or goals for themselves and pursues these high standards despite negative consequences arising (e.g. feelings of exhaustion or feeling down and anxious).  Often, unhelpful perfectionism involves focusing on one (or two) areas of your life to the detriment of all others.  So when it comes to weight loss and health goals, unhelpful perfectionism would mean that perhaps you set very tough goals or standards for yourself (e.g. I need to lose 10kg in the next 2 months or fit into clothes that I haven’t worn for 5 years in the next 4 months) and you also focus on these goals to the detriment of other areas of your life such as your personal life or your professional life. 

So whilst goal setting can be a positive thing, unhelpful perfectionism can hold you back from feeling your best and achieving/maintaining your goals. Here is the difference between helpful goal setting and unhelpful perfectionism:

Unhelpful perfectionism can stop you from achieving your goals in many ways. Here are 5 ways unhelpful perfectionism is holding you back:

1. Perfectionism can negatively affect your mood 

Research indicates that perfectionism can make you more likely to experience depression or low self-esteem. Often, perfectionists base their worth or their self-esteem on whether or not they’ve achieved or are achieving their goals.  This can mean that when you’re “on track” and doing well you may feel good about yourself but when you’re not “on track” you end up feeling hopeless or very down about yourself. It can be much harder to pursue your goals when you’re feeling down or stressed and you may even feel inclined to give up on your goals if you don’t feel that you’re making enough progress. Experiencing low mood or low self-confidence can also make you more prone to binge eating or comfort eating, sabotaging your health and weight goals. 

2. You give up or procrastinate because the change feels too daunting 

When the goals we’ve set feel too scary or hard to achieve, it can be easy for us to give up altogether. So if you have unrealistically high standards for yourself and set very tough goals, you’re less likely to succeed. For example, you may think “I have so far to go, there’s no point in even trying” and then give up on your goal. Or you may think “I have so much to change and achieve that I may as well put it off until next week, a few days aren’t going make that much difference”. This is why setting small and manageable goals is much more helpful than aiming to make very big changes very quickly.  If you don’t succeed at making these very big changes very quickly, you could give up on trying to change at all.  

3. You become too obsessed with the number on the scales

When you’re very focused on achieving a goal, you can also become very focused on measuring and seeing results.  Usually, on a weight loss journey, this can mean getting obsessive over the number that you see on the scales. This can be extremely harmful. Our weight can change for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with fat gain or fat loss. How much water we’ve drunk (and how hydrated we are), whether we’ve had a bowel movement and how much we’ve been hitting the gym (muscle is denser than fat) can all affect our weight. Yet if you’ve been obsessing about your weight and you see the number go up on the scales, you may end up feeling deflated and down. You may think “all this work is for nothing, this isn’t even working” and give up on your goals when your weight gain was nothing to do with fat gain. It was, in fact, just that you were more hydrated or had put on some muscle mass. Secondly, becoming too obsessed over your weight and a number on the scales can also lead to disordered eating patterns and thoughts. It’s important that you don’t try and weigh yourself more often than once a week as this can lead to obsessive thoughts about your weight and also mean that you read too much into slight fluctuations on the scales. 

 4. You spend a lot of time beating yourself up 

Unhelpful perfectionism tends to involve putting a lot of pressure on yourself to achieve your goals. Many people also try to motivate themselves to get to their goals in a very harsh and critical way.  We all have a critical internal voice that resides within our minds and this critical inner voice can mean that we’re very mean to ourselves.  Many people tend to assume that by being unkind to themselves, they will then motivate themselves to make changes in their life. However, for many people, being harsh on themselves actually means that they end up experiencing low mood, low confidence and feeling down about themselves and they’re less able to cope with stressors and challenges in their life. When it comes to a health and weight loss journey, being harsh on yourself can mean that you then feel bad about yourself and you may then end up turning to food (or alcohol) to cope with your negative emotions. This can become a very vicious cycle so it’s important to practice self-acceptance and positivity.

5. You don’t enjoy the journey or day-to-day life

A significant downside of unhelpful perfectionism is that it can stop you from enjoying your day-to-day life. You can end up getting so focused on your goals that you turn down dinner invites, stop seeing friends and family, perform poorly at work and life ends up getting dull and repetitive.  You may decide that you’ll start doing things again only once you get to your goal weight. Whilst this may seem like a good idea short-term, it’s very unhelpful long-term as it doesn’t create a routine or way of life that’s sustainable for you long-term. Many people will be “ultra-focused” on their weight loss goals and cut many things out of their life, however, as soon as they go back to living and eating “normally” again, they will just end up putting all of the weight that they’ve lost back on. The changes you make to your diet and lifestyle need to be compatible with your social life and how you wish to live your life long-term. 

The bottom line

Whilst it can be very beneficial to be dedicated to your goals, getting ultra-focused on or obsessed with these goals can be very counter-productive. Setting unrealistic and tough goals and focusing on these goals to the detriment of other areas of your life can in fact hold you back from achieving what you want to achieve. Ultimately, unhelpful perfectionism can mean that you aren’t able to sustain any success that you achieve long-term.