And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:32

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfectionism and Emotional Eating

Christmas isn’t easy for emotional and obsessive eaters. I don’t know how many Christmases I’ve stuffed myself so full of goodies that by the time New Year’s rolled around, I weighed five or ten pounds more than I weighed at Thanksgiving just five weeks earlier.

I can still remember driving west on I-90 after marrying my husband in North Dakota 27 Christmases ago and throwing cookies out the window as we drove along because it was the only way I could keep myself from eating all of them in one big shot as we headed back to Montana.

Eating too many Christmas cookies isn’t good for our health, our figures, or our morale, but we make a bad situation worse when we take an extra step and condemn ourselves for eating them. My guess is that there are more than a few of you out there who are now beating yourselves up because you didn’t eat perfectly this holiday season!

So I decided to write a post today about perfectionism and emotional eating. I'm hoping you'll read this and stop beating yourself up if that's what you're doing - because perfectionism will hurt your efforts to break free from emotional eating.

Here are just a few of the areas where perfectionism kicks in to slow down our progress in breaking free from emotional eating:

1. Wanting a PERFECT body.

The lie we believe here is that the only thing that’s acceptable is a skinny body. Is this true? Of course not! If life is about loving God and loving others, then it’s loving God and loving others that makes us acceptable, not being skinny. Not to mention the fact that God accepts us “as is.” He doesn’t demand that we shape up before He's willing to love us.

Believing we need to be skinny to be acceptable will actually hurt our weight loss efforts because it leads to self-condemnation when we break our boundaries. “Well, I’ll never be skinny anyway after all that food,” we think, “so I might as well just eat this and this and this.” And then we go all out in the eating department, which of course, is counter-productive to losing weight.

If we instead focus on the truth that life is about loving God and others, it won’t be such a big deal if we break our boundaries. God is far more merciful and gracious than a world who demands physical perfection. He won’t beat us up because we eat too much, but He will want us to have the right attitude about food and our bodies. So He’ll be hoping we come to Him and to His Word so we can see both food and ourselves through His eyes.

2. Trusting in the PERFECT boundaries.

The lie we believe here is that “if we can just find the right set of boundaries it will be easy to control our eating and/or lose weight.” So we try new diets and new boundaries, just waiting for the right one to come along that will make us lose weight and keep it off.

The problem is that unless we radically change the way we think about food, people, and life, we’ll eventually go back to our old ways of handling life’s problems with food, and we’ll gain our weight back—no matter what program we used to lose the weight in the first place.

The boundaries are a good framework for eating, and I believe they’re necessary for the emotional eater, but we’ll never have enough will power to make ourselves stick to our boundaries until we change the way we think about food.

3. Expecting life and people to be PERFECT.

If we expect life and people to be perfect, we’ll eat when they’re not. At least, we will if we’re emotional eaters. Developing a lifestyle of gratefulness, grace, and dependence on God will help us do away with a good share of those negative emotions that make us feel like eating in the first place.

4. Relying on PERFECT foods.

It’s easy to get in the habit of thinking we deserve to eat well, and that if we only eat what our body really wants to eat—the perfect food, in other words—we won’t feel like overeating.

While this might be true for people who have never turned to food for emotional reasons, it’s usually not true for the emotional and obsessive eater, because it’s often not taste and hunger that’s driving us to eat.

5. Condemning ourselves when we don’t follow our boundaries PERFECTLY.

This is a biggie. I might as well eat because . . . I will never get over this because . . . I am such a failure because . . . I will always be overweight because . . . All of these sentences can be answered with the same phrase— because “I broke my boundaries.”

But the truth is that it would be an absolute miracle if we could break free from emotional eating without breaking our boundaries time and time again. And I mean that literally.

God doesn’t normally choose to solve our problems with a one-time magic swipe of His hand. Instead, He allows us to go through trials, leaning on Him for strength, truth, and wisdom because He can teach us more by having us lean on Him than He can by doing everything for us.

Failure paves a good share of the pathway to success. But failure only leads to success when we step from failure toward God. Our normal operating mode is to step from failure to the refrigerator.

I did that for years, but it wasn’t until I was willing to make the sacrifice of taking the time to renew my mind that I began to experience significant change. God used the truth to transform me. My next blog post will be a renewing the mind challenge to you to start the new year off right!


eliz said...

Quote from blog post-
God doesn’t normally choose to solve our problems with a one-time magic swipe of His hand. Instead, He allows us to go through trials, leaning on Him for strength, truth, and wisdom because He can teach us more by having us lean on Him than He can by doing everything for us.
Wow! Barb, this is a GREAT post! :o)
I was just telling my daughter/accountability partner that it is like the "Zone" for me. (remember the Zone diet! This zone is not the same) I have to be in the "Zone" with God always!! And only God can accomplish what I need if I remain in Him. When I start thinking worldly, I am out of the zone and my heart is weak to idols of this world, and perfectionism.
So each day I spend much time re-newing my mind to stay there with Him!
Thanks for this joyous post Barb!

Unknown said...

I'm glad you reminded me that God is much more merciful than the world is regarding our eating and bodies. I need to remember that. Good post! As you know, I am a perfectionist! But not as bad as I used to be.

Unknown said...

Elizabeth, I like your zone comparison - that is so so true. My goal for this year is to stay in the Zone!

Kathy, I could say the same thing - I'm a perfectionist, but not as bad as I used to be. Here's to giving ourselves grace in 2010!