More than half of Kiwis battling 'diet perfectionism' according to new study

A nationwide survey has found more than half of Kiwis are battling with "diet perfectionism": An 'all or nothing' approach to eating which can seriously damage a person's relationship with food. 

The study of 600 New Zealanders from nutrition practice Sage Wellness found that 55 percent of respondents have rigidity around achieving a perfect day of eating. 

It also found that 33 percent of Kiwis plan almost all of their meals ahead of time, and 23 percent would feel anxious if they ate something that wasn't part of their eating regime. 

In a particularly troubling stat, 15 percent feel like they would be letting their family or partner down if they didn't strive to be the perfect shape.

Sage Wellness didn't say what the survey's margin of error was.

According to the company, a number of respondents left additional notes about how diet or body perfectionism has a negative impact on their lives. 

"As much as I try not to, I am still often critical of my body. I don't feel comfortable in some clothes which makes me want to stay home, or I have a complete meltdown before going out complaining I have nothing to wear," one woman wrote. 

"It also has an impact on my husband who constantly tells me I am beautiful and look great. I am back to weighing myself and feel disheartened when every week I weigh exactly the same."

Nutrition and eating psychology coach Michelle Hall says that perfectionism is one of the most challenging issues she has seen since establishing her business. 

"So many people are looking for the perfect body, perfect weight, perfect diet, the perfect nutritional system, and more. It seems like such a high-level approach to life - just do everything perfectly and we will reach that pinnacle of success," she says.

"Unfortunately, perfectionism isn't all it's cut out to be and it does have a toxic side to it that can be quite debilitating and often overwhelming. It can taunt us, set us up for constant failure, and keep us in a perpetual state of never feeling good enough about who we are, how we eat, and what we look like."

Hall says people often fall into the trap of thinking perfectionism in food and body often feels like the only way the individual can achieve their goals. But she points out that even if people with a perfectionist mindset do achieve their goals, it doesn't necessarily make them happy.

"There are those that may succeed and achieve what they think is their perfect weight or create their perfect body - only to find themselves living in a constant state of anxiety for fear that they will lose their perfect achievement and feel immense pressure to keep these perfect results," she reveals. 

"Let me tell you that is a very tough and stressful place to live."

Hall says she encourages a non-diet, holistic approach to health, and has offered a few small changes which help set someone off in a more positive direction:

Focus on progress, not perfection 

The journey to having the body you want is all about progress - consistency, putting one foot in front of the other. It isn't about unsustainable extremes. It is about slow progress in the right direction, often with a few detours along the way. Those detours are important, as that's where the learning happens.

Ask your friends and family if your perfectionism impacts them

If they say 'yes', ask them to tell you honestly about the details of how your perfectionism shows up for them. Ask for their advice on how you can improve.

Let go of perfectionist rituals

Do you constantly weigh yourself? Count calories and fat grams way too often? Do you look in the mirror and quickly launch into criticism? If so, practice waking up, and start catching yourself in the act of trying to be perfect. Gently let go of the inner self-talk – notice when it happens and look at how you can speak in a kinder, gentler, more supportive way.

Work on finding that middle path

Create an alternative that creates elements of both. Let go of outdated dietary beliefs - include your treats once or so a week. Schedule these into your meals -give yourself permission to not be perfect. Letting go of dieting is a self-graduation, its saying goodbye to an outdated way of thinking. Let go of a dearly cherished idea of perfection and choosing a new balanced path.

Live life more - have fun

Put your attention back to the things that truly matter most.