Never Skinny Enough: 3 Things to Know about Perfectionism and Anorexia

a girl facing a mirror with the word fat written on itEverybody knows that nobody’s perfect, but in the mind of a person who struggles with anorexia, it’s different. Most studies show that perfectionism and eating disorders (EDs) have a significant relationship. Though it’s not yet clear if there’s a causal link between the two, psychologists believe that anorexia nervosa treatment should address a patient’s thoughts and behaviors.

To help you get a better grip of the relationship between perfectionism and EDs, here’s a breakdown of the facts from different studies:

Anorexics are often perfectionists.

Most people who suffer EDs have perfectionist personality traits before the health problem started. So some psychologists view anorexia as a manifestation of that perfectionism. Just to be clear, a perfectionist differs from someone who simply wants to be better, because they distinctly have a level of obsession with doing everything right in everything they do.

In the case of people with anorexia, that obsession in doing everything right manifests in strict dieting, keeping body weight at a certain number, and living up to the image of beauty the media flaunts. Their self-worth is tied to the ability to achieve these unrealistic standards.

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Anorexics are driven by failure.

There’s a fine line between high achievers and perfectionists. High achievers celebrate small victories and get motivated by the desire to excel. Perfectionists, on the other hand, focus on what they did wrong and keep going because they’re afraid of failure.

So, a patient with anorexia would go to radical measures to lose weight precisely because they fear committing mistakes. In their minds, there’s no in between; they’re a success or a failure. And this all-or-nothing attitude could drive them deeper into the disorder.

Anorexia treatment involves changing thought patterns.

Since anorexia is closely tied to the belief of achieving perfection, psychologists believe that breaking that thought pattern could help in treating the ED. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the process of making patients aware of negative or inaccurate ways of thinking, with the aim of changing their behaviors as their beliefs are challenged. CBT has been found effective in addressing both perfectionism and anorexia.

Some people with anorexia struggle with perfectionist attitudes, too. If you think your loved one is suffering such problems, let them get the treatment they need.

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