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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.



Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.


Restricting, Eating Disorders and Striving for Perfection

Perfection as Safety through Restricting Food

  1. Perfectionism and Food Restriction as Coping Mechanisms: Individuals with eating disorders often strive for perfection by restricting food intake to manage anxiety and fear, equating thinness with safety and control. This drive serves as a way to soothe and distract from emotional suffering.
  3. The Illusory and Exhausting Nature of Perfection: The relentless pursuit of perfection is unachievable and exhausting, leading to constant anxiety about maintaining an unattainable standard. This obsession undermines self-worth and emotional stability, impacting relationships and overall life satisfaction.
  5. Path to Genuine Recovery: True safety and health come from abandoning the fantasy of perfection and embracing imperfection. Building trust with a therapist and committing to recovery allows individuals to develop internal strength, ultimately leading to more fulfilling and authentic lives.

Perfection is often the goal in early eating disorder recovery work. Whether clients suffer from bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating, or binge eating, the desire for perfection often looms large. When anxious and frightened, they may attempt to control their body shape and size by restricting their food intake in their drive to be perfect.

This drive to restrict food is viewed as a way to soothe, numb, and distract from suffering. The idea of becoming smaller can be thrilling because, in their minds, being thin and tiny equates to a fantasy of ultimate safety.

While self-improvement and striving for excellence are natural, the relentless pursuit of perfection is exhausting and can blind individuals to opportunities for joy and satisfaction.

How Perfection Relates to Restricting and Eating Disorders

Perfection is a pinnacle to reach where no criticism is possible. The person is now flawless and incomparable. Unlike simply being the best, which implies comparison, perfection suggests an absolute ideal.

However, since perfection is impossible, even when a person reaches their sense of perfection, they need to be vigilant to maintain that condition. Their anxiety now is based on slipping from the pinnacle.

Plus, since they know being perfect is always out of reach, they now have two terrors. One is that they can’t quite get to real and lasting perfection. Two: that they will lose what they have accomplished. Climbing the endless and steep mountain while always having a precarious grip on the rocks is an agonizing way to live.

Relying on being the best for self-worth can lead to emotional instability, problems with relationships, and problems reaching realistic goals in life due to underlying insecurities. Even with accolades and recognition, the anxiety and drive to achieve an impossible standard of perfection undermine any satisfaction or freedom to be natural in work, love, or play.

The Goal of Attaining Perfection

The quest for perfection is not necessarily about being better than others. It is about reaching an ideal state where no flaws exist. This belief drives communities like pro-ana, where individuals support each other's starvation, aiming not to compete but to attain the mythical state of perfection collectively. The hope is that achieving this state will silence both external judgments and internal critical voices.

The belief is that perfection will bring ultimate safety, free from harm, fear, flaws, vulnerabilities, or judgments. However, this ideal is unattainable. The endless pursuit of perfection leaves individuals feeling sad, defeated, frightened, and desperate due to inevitable failure and lack of nourishment.

Courage to Find Your Path to Health and Safety

True safety comes from health, internal strength, and wisdom. Achieving this requires the courage to abandon the perfection fantasy and commit to genuine recovery. It may initially feel like surrendering to catastrophe.

This stage is critical. The person will be frightened. She may view her psychotherapist as an enemy who doesn’t understand and who wants to lead her to disaster. The emotional pain is acute.

This is why psychotherapy often begins slowly. Before a person can even consider leaving the pursuit of perfection, she needs to develop trust in her therapist and trust in the healing process. Once trust is present, she can use her developing courage to risk moving toward a more healthy and imperfect state.

Over time, letting go of perfectionism brings relief and allows individuals to embrace their wonderfully imperfect selves. This acceptance opens the door to rich relationships with other imperfect people and the possibility of building a happy, satisfying life.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.

She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

Appointments are virtual.

For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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