Is Perfectionism Getting In the Way of Your Intuitive Eating Journey?


Several months ago, I wrote about the fake “empowerment” messages of wellness culture. (You can find that here.) I’ve also talked before about things like the problem with many intuitive eating dietitians on Instagram—they’re (we’re) mostly thin, white women, and social media posts really only scratch the surface of what it’s like to leave dieting and disordered eating behaviors behind. Now, I want to go over another part of intuitive eating that’s hard to talk about: How perfectionism gets in the way of truly healing your relationship with food.

You don’t need more diets and food rules. You need a better framework for health and self-care. For more about orthorexia recovery, intuitive eating, and the anti-diet approach, subscribe to the weekly Quit Your Diet Newsletter. 

A couple years ago, I heard feminist marketing consultant Kelly Diels on an episode of Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast. I highly recommend listening to the episode, and reading through Kelly’s blog to learn more about what she calls the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand (FLEB). Here’s an excerpt from one of MANY great posts she has on there:

What I see is this: a legion of women entrepreneurs, many of whom used to be in ‘the display professions’ (models, actresses, dancers) are now running online businesses selling other women “empowerment”.
Or so they say.
What I think they’re actually selling us is an exclusive fantasy: how to be youthful, white, skinny, very pretty and very privileged.
That’s not empowerment. It’s empowermyth.

Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing COnsultant, on what she calls the “female Lifestyle empowerment brand”

Mind you, this was written in 2016, before “influencer” was such a popular job. Now, it’s not just former models, actresses, and dancers selling you these fantasies: It’s anyone who can afford to make their lives look enviable and has the time to do so.

People use these same tactics to sell intuitive eating. Often unintentionally (I hope), they (we) make it seem like one you do the work of breaking free from diet culture, everything will be better. But that’s only partially true.

Yes, intuitive eating and true body acceptance can be liberating. It is life-changing to realize that when you stop fighting your body, you’re actually better off, mentally and physically. And in many ways, it’s a relief to realize that being fat isn’t inherently bad, that food isn’t as powerful as you may have once believed, and that it’s possible to stop worrying so much about what you eat and how you look.

But stepping away from “wellness” culture is also really scary and often difficult, because it means that you have to figure out YOUR OWN values instead of just swearing by someone else’s.

Plus, when you stop spending so much time and energy thinking about food and body, it’s not always easy to figure out WHAT TO DO WITH THAT TIME AND ENERGY. You need to figure out your own values and accept that you might not get external validation for living them, the way you probably did when all of your “self-betterment” was geared towards tangible results like weight loss.

I’ve noticed in client work that some people who DO eat intuitively, can’t quite believe that they’re doing it right. 

We’re so conditioned to always be striving to do something EVEN BETTER, or PERFECTLY, that it’s almost impossible to accept that you might already be where you need to be.

The truth is that being in tune with your body (AKA, eating, moving, and living intuitively) doesn’t ALWAYS feel amazing. You’ll still get sick. You’ll still have days when you feel uncomfortable, or second-guess your choices, or hate your body. There are anti-diet, “empowerment”-focused people out there implying that it’s possible to reach some higher state of being and avoid all uncomfortable feelings. They’re lying.

There’s no anti-diet nirvana that you should be striving to reach. You’ll never be absolutely, 100%, totally confident and comfortable in your relationship with food, body, or anything else. It’s hard to accept that no matter what, but it’s even harder when you’re surrounded by messages that tell you it IS possible to feel this way.

Intuitive eating and body trust can absolutely change your life for the better, but that doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly be easy. And you’ll never do it perfectly, because perfection doesn’t actually exist, in eating or otherwise. It’s a hard truth to wrap your head around, but fighting back against your own perfectionism is so crucial in healing your relationship with food.

If you’re sick of falling for terrible diets and “wellness” trends, we can help. We’re a group of dietitians who specialize in eating disorders, intuitive eating, and a gentle nutrition approach to managing health conditions. We take a weight-inclusive, gender-affirming, patient-centered approach. Learn more about our nutrition counseling, offered to clients in several states and in-network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

You might also like:

What Is Orthorexia — And Do I Have It?

What is Set Point Weight? Does It Matter?

How to Stop Binge Eating Without Restricting Yourself

Best Body Image Books: Acceptance and Liberation

Free Intuitive Eating Course

Looking for a free intuitive eating course? Whether you’re new to the anti-diet approach or you’ve been trying to work towards intuitive eating for a while, our 5-Day Intuitive Eating Starter Course is a great start for anyone who’s tired of obsessing over “wellness” and constantly struggling with food and body acceptance.


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