This article from Jessica Setnick’s Eating Disorder’s Boot Camp monthly newsletter really struck a chord in myself and I would like to share it with you. Please check out her site, she has a great monthly newsletter you can subscribe to, as well as many other great resources. I believe her idea of perfection can not only apply to eating disorders, but to life in general. I am a perfectionist for sure and I’m still trying to tone it down and just accept the fact that it’s okay to not be absolutely perfect in everything or compare yourself to others. We can’t keep thinking perfection is the only way because we are keeping true happiness from ourselves. It’s a very interesting article, and while it’s not in it’s entirety here (you can find it on her website above), I believe these paragraphs are the most moving. Let me know what you think!
Martha Beck wrote the perfectionist credo that I repeat in my practice at least once a day: “If I do everything right, then everyone will like me, I will always be happy, and everything will turn out the way that I planned.” (This is not a direct quote, please forgive me Martha.) The perfectionist credo does not in any way assure perfection. It does not guide us to perfect actions or thoughts or outcomes. But it does deceive us that perfection is possible, and therefore when we perform at an ordinary or even exceptional level, we are not good enough, since we didn’t “do our best.”
Now I have a real issue with the whole “Do your best” concept, because some situations don’t warrant our best. If my best effort at something meaningless takes a lot of time and energy, then why on earth would I want to do my best? Just to say I did? I would much rather give a half-baked effort to things that are minor (like blow-drying my hair or peeling an orange) and save my “best” energy for things like raising my stepkids and recycling. But EVEN THE THINGS FOR WHICH WE DO OUR BEST do not always turn out the way we were expecting. I can recycle all day long and still not save the planet. I can give those kids all the love I have and still not know if they’ll be happy. And I’m not sure I want that much responsibility – that everything I do must be the best or else I am a failure.
The problem is that the perfectionist credo is insidious. Even though I can accept my semi-best at peeling an orange, if nobody eats the orange that I peeled, maybe it’s because I didn’t try hard enough to peel it attractively. If Peyton and Derek aren’t the happiest kids on the block, maybe it’s because I told them to turn off the tv. Even though I don’t want this much power, I prefer an explanation of the world that puts me in control. That way, instead of realizing things might not go my way AND THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!! I can tell myself that things didn’t turn out right THIS TIME, but since I have identified myself as the weak link, I can prevent this bad outcome next time by being and doing better. Whether or not I do my best, if the outcome is not what I was expecting, I can take away that I wasn’t good ENOUGH, or didn’t try hard ENOUGH. The perfectionist credo in reverse says that anytime that things go wrong, anytime someone doesn’t like me, or anytime I’m not feeling happy, IT IS MY FAULT because the only explanation is that I wasn’t perfect. Because if I was, I would be happy, liked, and get expected outcomes. Not to mention that if I do my best and STILL get a tragic outcome, THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL I CAN DO – I AM DOOMED! And that is completely unacceptable. Better to not do my best, or not do anything at all, rather than find out even my best isn’t good.
My patients are shocked to hear that perfectionism isn’t people who are perfect, it is people who are afraid of messing up so they do nothing at all. It is people who don’t study till the last minute so that if they don’t get a good grade, they can say, “I could have done better if I had tried.” Perfectionism is a defense mechanism for explaining the world for people who don’t know how to handle “bad” feelings.
If I eat the perfect foods, then I will never gain weight. If I ever gain weight, then I have eaten something wrong. This is the perfectionism of the patient who weighs many times a day to see how each and every food is reflected on the scale.
If I eat the perfect foods, then I will never feel guilty. If I ever feel guilty, I must choose a food to blame, and never eat that food. If I do eat that food, I will feel guilty. And if I don’t eat that food, but feel guilty anyway, I will need to find another food to blame and promise myself never to eat. This is the perfectionism of the patient who has eliminated dozens of foods, yet binges on the very same foods that are “bad.”
If I always look perfect, then I will always have friends. Since I am feeling lonely, it proves that I don’t look good enough. This is the perfectionism of the patient who is already underweight but insists on losing more.
If I were good enough, then my parents wouldn’t fight, my mother wouldn’t have cancer, my husband wouldn’t be having an affair, my children would be in college, my bank account would be full, and so on and so on ad infinitum. The patients we see who are seeking perfection are trying to explain why their lives feel so wrong. But they’re only wrong compared to what they were expecting. No one that I know of has a guarantee in life that things will go well, or even feel good. But the culture we have that sells looks and perfection as keys to happiness gives the impression that these attributes are within our control. Instead of understanding that feelings are chemical reactions, and processes beyond our conscious control, we prefer to believe that we can orchestrate a happy life by achieving perfection – in grades, in our families, in the cleanliness of our homes. We can’t achieve perfection, I am 100% sure, but believing it exists, and that those who have reached it are happy is a terrible trick that we play on ourselves.
As a dietitian, I am constantly explaining that there is no perfect way of eating that will always fill your stomach the exact right amount, there is no perfect weight that will make you fit all the clothes that you admire in the magazines, and there is no perfect you that will snag you the perfect mate. I once read a book on careers that said the game is already over – it is too late for everyone to like you – there are people out there who don’t like you for reasons completely beyond your control. This concept felt so freeing, although I admit I have had to relearn it again and again in my life.
-Jessica Setnick, MS, RD/LD, CSSD
Wow, kinda makes you think, right? I know I don’t usually get so deep on my blog, but I thought this was fitting and an important topic to discuss and just think about. I have to say that I think even the blog world is striving for perfection sometimes? I love all the foodie blogs out there because it’s so interesting to see what others are doing, eating (yum!), achieving. I miss it terribly when I can’t look and I just love the community because everyone is so nice and thoughtful. But, sometimes it gets me thinking, wow, my blog sucks, I need to do this, I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that, I need more traffic, I need to blog more, blah blah blah. And I just have to step back and realize that this is what I love to do and I can’t think like that. Bad energy!
I’ve been a pretty serious dancer since I was 8, and always want to do better, strive harder (I was never the best mind you and never portrayed this at all, but secretly loved the thrill of competition and performing). While I don’t dance as much now, I’ve moved on to other goals to tackle, including learning more about photography and getting better at road cycling (expensive much?). Sometimes my perfectionist mind gets the best of me and I think way too much. This is just a general thing that tends to happen in my life and there is a fine line between perfection that is helpful and perfection that is destructive. What will others think if I make a mistake? Where is my life/career going? Why am I not better? Need a perfectly cleaned house, perfect mate, perfect food and on and on lol. It will get there, everything doesn’t have to be set yet. Easier said then done, eh? I think this ‘let it go’ mantra should be applied to life in general in so many ways, and I’m still working on this throughout my own :) Whew! I was kind of nervous submitting this post really, and what you all will think.
On a lighter note, I also have a recipe for you! Another take on quinoa-stuffed bell-peppers . . . kind of golden around the edges, filling oozing out, toppling over, not so perfect but once you take a bite, it’s bright with flavor and oh so yummy! (Had to throw that in there!)
Pesto-Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 3-4 bell peppers, sliced in half and seeds/ribs removed
- 16 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half and extra juice squeezed out (I used the heirloom ones from TJ’s)
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken or veggie broth
- 1/3-1/2 cup of lemon pesto (depending on your liking, see recipe below)
- good shake of all-purpose seasoning like Mrs. Dash
- 1 inch knob of herbed goat cheese
- 8 oz of fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half
Preheat oven to 400 F. Prep bell peppers and place in baking dish. Sauté the tomatoes in a little olive oil until slightly charred (you could also roast them in the oven). Remove from pan and place in a large bowl.
Add the quinoa to the pan and toast for 1 minute; add broth, cover and cook about 15-20 minutes until broth is absorbed. Pour into bowl with the maters.
Add the pesto, goat cheese and seasonings to the bowl and mix well. When the mixture has cooled slightly, add the mozzarella balls. Place mixture into the bell pepper halves in a baking dish. Pour a little water in the dish, cover and bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the peppers are tender. Uncover and cook another 15 minutes to brown the tops. Enjoy! I also drizzled mine with a balsamic reduction.
Lemony Pesto (approximate since I just threw stuff in there!)
In a food processor place a hefty bunch of basil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, zest and juice of one lemon, 2 garlic cloves (or more if you like it garlicky like me!), salt and pepper, and about 3 tbsp of olive oil drizzled in at the end. I had a little of this left over, so I used it on roasted veggie sandwiches the next day and in an omelet, so yummy. Pesto makes the world go round! Hope you enjoy it :)
I especially like the last sentence of the quote below and I love to dance! Getting on stage or the dance floor with the music just takes me to another place, and I can actually just let go. Now if only I could make life my dance stage!
“Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.” -Satchel Paige
Are you a perfectionist? Let me know what you think about this conundrum of perfectionism, harmful or helpful?