The link between eating disorders and perfectionism has been studied extensively, with most researchers and clinicians maintaining that one of the common central features of all EDs involves the desire for physical or emotional perfection, or both .
Most of this research supports the relationship between perfectionism and anorexia and bulimia nervosa (AN and BN).
However, studies have also looked into the relationship between perfectionism and any pattern of dysfunctional eating behaviors.
A specific type of dysfunctional eating, known as Orthorexia Nervosa (ON), begins as a desire to treat or prevent illness or break free of “bad” eating habits but manifests into an unhealthy obsession with eating “good, pure, or clean” foods.
Individuals with ON spend inordinate amounts of time “planning, purchasing, preparing, and eating their meals,” so much that it interferes with other aspects of their lives .
ON symptoms are positively correlated with perfectionism. In fact, all components of perfectionism have been shown to predict ON problems, i.e., problems “that turn healthy eating into an unhealthy obsession that negatively affects one’s life .”
When Good Intentions Fall Apart
ON may not begin with a desire for perfection, but it seems inevitable that a passion for perfection eventually becomes a facet of the disorder.
One reason this may be the case is the pure desire an individual with ON has to eat “the best” way possible. As individuals become fixated on this goal, they create more food rules that take attention-to-detail and perfectionism to follow.
If these rules are not followed to the T, shame, guilt, and self-condemnation follow.
Perfectionism and Self-Worth
ON eating patterns are sometimes referred to as “righteous eating” because the individual will often self-praise their ability to eat “clean” and take pride in their ability to resist temptation and eat a “near-perfect” diet .
Researchers posit that these feelings of superiority provide individuals with a way to “overcome their low self-esteem and vulnerable ego .”
When an individual’s concept of self-worth and identity are wrapped up in such stringent and unhealthy behaviors, the pressure to maintain perfection only worsens, resulting in the continuation of the disorder.
No matter what is behind the relationship between ON and perfectionism, the simplest way to combat it is to remember a fundamental truth: perfection does not exist.
For those with a tendency to continually strive for perfection, this may be a scary realization that begs the question “then what is all of this for?!”
That is precisely the point.
Striving for perfection is a useless waste of your precious time and matchless energy.
Don’t let this realization scare you.
Instead, let it set you free.
Free from the expectations society places on you.
Free from the expectations you may have placed on yourself.
Free from the pressure to do everything right and have it all together all the time.
No one can hold up under such scrutiny and pressure, and you don’t have to.
Let go of the concept of “perfection” and embrace the belief that you are a beautiful, unique, imperfect person and that is enough.
About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
References: Bardone-Cone, A. M. et al. (2007). Perfectionism and eating disorders: current status and future directions. Clinical Psychology Review, 27:3, 384-405.
 Oberle, C. D., Samaghabadi, R. O., Hughes, E. M. (2017). Orthorexia nervosa: assessment and correlates with gender, BMI, and personality. Appetite, 108, 303-310.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on February 5, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com