Perfectionism and Balance

Nov 13, 2023
Delyth Williams

When I think about perfectionism I think about a number of things:

  • I have spent a lifetime avoiding doing anything that I couldn’t do perfectly.
  • I managed to get 100% a lot on tests, so I pushed myself in school.
  • I couldn’t win all the races, so I stopped running.
  • I was never happy with my body - parts were tooo… or not enough….
  • I tried golf and suck, so I stopped playing.
  • I played tennis for a while but stopped because I wasn’t the best.
  • I believed my Grandma, “Sonja, boys don’t like girls who are smart”

What happens when we don’t try new things because we can’t be perfect out of the gate? 

We miss out on the delight of NOT being perfect. The relief of no pressure. The sweetness of new.

Instead, we wallow in guilt and shame, anxiety and stress, living in a world of unrealistic expectations, avoiding life. Our self-esteem swirls in the toilet out of an abundance of protection - “what if they see me for who I am?”

Jeez. There are really great reasons to AIM for perfection. 

Here are some positive and negative aspects of perfectionism relating to food - you tell me if this is the handle you want to grab a hold of:

The Blessing and Burden of Perfectionism in Food Choices

Many of us strive for perfection in different areas of life, including our eating habits and food choices. This perfectionist mindset can provide benefits but also lead to problems when taken too far. 

Potential Benefits which can strengthen our Whys:

- Attention to detail - Perfectionists pay close attention to food quality, ingredients, freshness, presentation, etc. This results in meals that look and taste their best.

- High standards - Holding ourselves to high standards around food can motivate us to try new recipes, use high quality ingredients, and develop excellent cooking skills.

- Health-focused - Perfectionists are often very health-conscious and committed to choosing nutritious, balanced meals and avoiding junk food. This promotes overall wellbeing.

- Sense of accomplishment - There is satisfaction in perfectly preparing elaborate recipes and beautifully plated meals. It provides a sense of pride and achievement.

Potential Problems: which can derail us and dissolve our confidence

- Fixation on rules - Rigidly adhering to strict rules around food choices, meal times, portion sizes, or diets can lead to anxiety, guilt, and disordered eating patterns.

- Impossible expectations - Holding ourselves to impossible standards of eating only perfect foods or executing recipes flawlessly every time sets us up for frustration and disappointment. 

- Loss of flexibility - When obsessive about control and precision in our food habits, we lose the ability to enjoy indulgences, social eating, spontaneity, trusted connection, etc. 

- No room for imperfection - Focusing too much on rigid rules prevents us from accepting that perfect eating does not exist. Food and eating should be enjoyable even when imperfect.

Perfectionistic tendencies extend beyond just food into many other areas of life that can push us back into the food. 

Here are some potential pros and cons in a few different realms:



Pros: High standards produce quality work product; attention to detail improves performance; driven to succeed.

Cons: Burnout from unrelenting expectations; impatience with errors or imperfect processes; difficulty delegating.


Pros: Thoughtful partner who values effort and intimacy; desire for stability and security.

Cons: Harsh criticism of partner's flaws; applying unrealistic expectations to relationship; lack of forgiveness.


Pros: Engaged parent invested in children's development; high standards improve outcomes. 

Cons: Pressuring kids to excel at early ages; guilt over imperfect parenting moments; less flexibility.


Pros: Dedication to optimal wellness; knowledge of latest health trends.

Cons: Judgment of others' "poor" habits; excessive exercise due to unrealistic body ideals.

Home Life:

Pros: Well-maintained living space; orderly and organized.

Cons: Clutter brings strong discomfort; frequent exhaustive cleaning/organizing.

As you can see, the desire for perfection touches virtually every area of life. The key is channeling it constructively rather than letting it become pathological. Moderation and self-compassion remain critical.

The path forward lies in finding balance - valuing high-quality nutrition and meals without expecting flawless perfection in ourselves or the food. Moderation and self-compassion are key. With the right perspective, we can derive satisfaction from mindful eating habits without punishing ourselves when inevitable indulgences occur. The joys of food are meant to be shared flexibly, not controlled rigidly.

Letting go of the perfectionist requires releasing something that has served you for a very long time. It has been my constant companion. It has grounded me. It’s been consistent and certain and comforting. And now I’m practicing letting go. It isn’t easy, but once we start noticing it, we can move past the messy middle to that balanced, calm, peaceful place. Try it!

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