Q. “I need help with the way I see myself! I know that balance is important and I know you preach about our weight not being tied to us as people and I’m on board with that message… but even knowing that, I still don’t believe it about MYSELF. I hold myself to higher standards than I would anyone else. I know those concepts reign true for others, but I can’t seem to apply them to myself. I started going to the gym a lot to feel better about myself and now I just feel awful if I ever miss a session, I can’t stop measuring my macros and my friends are all starting to hate my because I keep turning down going out for coffee to work out. And throughout all this, I haven’t even changed my weight that much. So how do I unlink my weight from my self-worth?”
Louise, you’re in a terribly bad place at the moment, and it’s a place that I don’t recommend that anyone visit. Not even for a holiday.
I call it “Fit Cult Island” and it’s a bad, bad place.
Because almost every “trip” there (what starts off as dabbling in the worlds of restrictive diets and excessive gym time) ends up the same… with your sense of self worth being inextricably tied to diet and fitness.
When everything that you are is so tied to a particular diet or fitness mentality, you fall into a ‘this’ vs ‘that’ mentality; everything becomes ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and you start to tune out the fact that others have different nutritional and fitness needs.
This is problematic on multiple levels – even ignoring needs and bringing it back to wants. Aside from everyone having different needs, we all have different wants that don’t always correlate with our needs. Sometimes, for various reasons, we just don’t want to explore nutrition and fitness as options for ourselves.
Use my three A’s as your guiding principles: acknowledgement, awareness and acceptance.
We all need to be aware that how we eat and how we exercise does not define us, as people. We need to know that going to the gym 6x a week doesn’t make you “better” than someone who only goes once. We need to know that eating paleo doesn’t make you “superior” to those who eat processed foods.
We’re all different. That’s okay. Food and exercise aren’t religions, and we need to stop treating them as such.
Many of us know these things, so at a surface level, you could say that we’re aware.
But when you boil it down to the core issues, if you’re not applying the same principles to yourself that you apply to everyone else, you’re missing a big part of the awareness that you need – and this is tied deeply to perfectionism.
When you have the realisation that you’re applying perfectionist tendencies to the way that you’re viewing your body, everything clicks into place – the way you hold yourself to higher standards than you hold others to; the way that what should be simple lifestyle choices become borderline obsessive rituals; the way that you feel like a disappointment unless the number on the scale matches the number in your head.
In this regard, taking into account that you’re tying your self-worth directly to your weight, it might be helfpul for you to view the underlying theme here that needs to be addressed as perfectionism rather than just a body image issue.
And looking at perfectionism in a general sense, people struggling with perfectionism often find that it seeps into more than just one area of their life than their body image. When you cut down perfectionism to it’s roots, it’s a form of self-hatred. We often confuse it with an ambition or a desire to achieve a personal best, but in reality chronic self-hatred and unhappiness with yourself is anything but positive.
The way to overcome this lies in the polar opposite… self-compassion.
This means doing some introspection into your “why’s”.
- What lead you to this place of self-hatred?
- Is there anything in your life that’s actively keeping you trapped in that place?
- Do you find that you secretly take pleasure in perfectionism as a means of control?
Once you’ve worked out your the rationales the triggered the start of the slippery perfectionist slope into body loathing, you can then begin to acknowledge those reasons.
Remember, acknowledgement is part of the three A’s that we discussed above!
From there, you can begin to cultivate awareness, diminish comparisons and find acceptance.
Now, an important point to note on perceived failure and it’s incompatibility with perfectionism – If you’re deeply rooted in a place of self-hatred and perfectionism right now, your attempts at self-love likely will be unsuccessful… it’s just too big of leap to make all at once!
Feeling like this can make you feel like you’re failing (which you’re not) and worsen your perfectionism, so it’s helpful to take things one step at a time.
Body neutrality is the bridge between body loathing and body loving, and when we’re trying to extract ourselves from a negative place, it’s that accessible middle ground that we need to be aiming for in the short term.
If you’re not already talking to a therapist or counsellor, I’d also highly recommend it – perfection is rarely a surface level issue, and there’s usually a lot of emotional baggage to unpack that you might not even be aware is holding you back.
The key takeaway in this situation:There is no perfection in balance Click To Tweet
Remember: a balanced relationship with food and exercise and your body doesn’t mean that every day is PERFECTLY balanced.
It means that, on average, how you eat and how you move is in sync with your mental and physical needs.
Striving for perfect balance in every single day is an oxymoron – because in finding balance, one can never achieve perfection.