Can Perfectionism Lead to an Eating Disorder?

Woman with her chin in her hands

Striving to obtain a fit, strong physique is admirable, but aiming for perfection can be detrimental to your health and well-being. A perfectionist mindset can lead to an unbalanced body image, and perfectionists with eating disorders are relatively common.

Perfectionists With Eating Disorders

Perfectionists with eating disorders hold themselves to especially high standards, and when they perceive their bodies as being less than perfect, they may turn to extreme methods such as severe dietary restriction and excessive exercise to achieve an ideal figure.

Unfortunately, when they find their ideal body impossible to obtain, perfectionists with eating disorders continue to lose more weight in an effort to rid their bodies of imperfections. This can lead to a diagnosable condition such as anorexia or bulimia.

What the Research Says

Research has supported the link between perfectionism and eating disorders. A study published in Personality and Individual Differences suggested that perfectionists with eating disorders might embody a specific type of perfectionism called physical appearance perfectionism.

The study found that this type of perfectionism was linked to eating disorder symptoms. Perfectionists with eating disorders therefore may be especially preoccupied with having a perfect physical appearance, which increases the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Types of Perfectionism

Perfectionists with eating disorders don’t just suffer from an internal desire to look perfect; they also believe that others expect them to be perfect.

In a 2017 study in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, researchers assessed the effects of self-oriented perfection and socially prescribed perfection, which is the belief that one needs to be perfect in order to be valued by others. They found that people who displayed both types of perfectionism experienced the most eating disorder symptoms.

Perfectionists with eating disorders may feel that they need to look a particular way in order to be worthy of love and respect from others. With high-quality treatment, perfectionists with eating disorders can learn new ways of thinking and coping so they can develop relationships that do not focus on weight or appearance and improve their well-being.

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