Perfectionism is often a trait that people associate with Anorexia Nervosa, likely owing to the popular belief that restriction requires perfectionist tendencies. The truth is, perfectionism and bulimia are frequently associated with each other, and it is a trait commonly found in all eating disorder diagnoses.
Not only that, a lab out of Dalhousie University just published the most complete research study to date, looking at the link between perfectionism and Bulimia Nervosa (BN).
The short version of their results is that individuals that show perfectionist traits were found to have higher odds of developing BN and that these individuals are at a higher risk of developing bulimia as time passes .
What is Perfectionism?
This term is commonly thrown around, but what truly distinguishes an individual that is particular or knows what they want from an individual that is a perfectionist? Perfectionism is roughly defined as the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
One of the key researchers in the study mentioned above, Simon B. Sherry, expands on this definition in stating that “perfectionism involves striving relentlessly for flawlessness and holding unrealistically high standards for oneself and others .”
He goes on to say that “perfectionists are rarely satisfied with their performance and engage in harsh self-criticism when their efforts fall short of perfection .” With this comprehensive definition, it is easy to see what symptoms perfectionism and bulimia have in common and how the two may coincide.
Perfectionism can be challenging in-and-of-itself, as individuals that struggle with perfectionism often go to extreme lengths in an attempt to achieve perfection, often resulting in strain being placed on them, their loved ones, and their lives.
Perfectionism has been linked to relationship problems as well as reported feelings of sadness .
Perfectionism and Bulimia
The study mentioned above set out to clarify how perfectionism specifically relates to BN with compelling results. Researchers learned that “perfectionism predicted increases in bulimia nervosa…this suggests that perfectionists are at risk for developing more bulimia nervosa as time passes .”
Not only that, the study indicated that “perfectionism is centrally important to the personality of people who go on to develop bulimia .”
This link is not surprising, considering the impacts that perfectionist tendencies have on self-view, mental health, identity, and relationships, as strain in any of these areas is also common in individuals with BN.
In fact, replace the word “perfectionists” in some of the descriptions above with “individuals with BN,” and you would still be accurately describing both.
Research always has the intention of not just knowing information to know it. The point is to learn more about these disorders to improve treatments and increase recovery rates.
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This is precisely on what the perfectionism and bulimia study emphasizes, stating that “our results suggest treating perfectionism as early as possible may help to stop the development of bulimia nervosa .”
This new information shows a clear call-to-action for mental health and medical professionals to “assess and to treat both bulimic symptoms (e.g., vomiting) and underlying perfection (e.g., self-criticism) .”
Resources: Kehayes, I. L. et al (2019). Are perfectionism dimensions risk factors for bulimic symptoms? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Personality & Individual Differences, 138, 117-125.  Sherry, S. B. (2018). Perfectionists more likely to develop bulimia: new research. Medical Xpress.com.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC 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 Hope 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.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a 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 June 18, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 18, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC