How Challenging My Perfectionism Is Helping Me Recover From My Eating Disorder

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By: Colleen Werner

I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. From afar, perfectionism can seem positive because it often leads to productivity, however, being productive is not the same thing as being effective.

I am doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as part of my recovery from an eating disorder and an anxiety disorder, and one of the major concepts of DBT is being effective. Being effective is about accomplishing things in a healthy, mindful way. It is about doing just what is necessary in a given situation, not creating extra work for yourself, or stressing yourself out about tiny details. Being effective does mean getting things done, however it is not just being productive. It’s choosing to do what actually works in a situation instead of what might be “right” or “wrong.” “Right” and “wrong” are extremely subjective, and don’t lead to accomplishing much. Instead, when we focus on doing what works for us, we are able to complete tasks AND prioritize our mental health.

One of the biggest ways that I’ve been challenging my perfectionism is by learning new skills. For a long time, I convinced myself that aside from being a dancer and singer, I couldn’t be artistic. However, I recently started learning the art of hand lettering after being inspired by several friends who do it. It was really challenging for me to learn something completely new to me because I knew there was no way I was going to be perfect at it. I knew that it was going to take time for me to learn the technique and that it was going to be messy and imperfect at first. I got very frustrated in the beginning (and honestly still do) when I would mess up a piece I was working on, or when I struggled to learn a new font. I could have easily given up and decided that hand lettering wasn’t for me, however, I didn’t want to let my pesky perfectionism win. I decided to embrace the imperfection that comes along with learning something new, and chose to accept that imperfection doesn’t mean failure — imperfection means you are trying, and trying means you are living.

Perfectionism is robotic. Perfectionism is stifling. When I give into my perfectionism, I give into the idea that if it’s not done impeccably, it’s not worth it, and that’s complete BS.

By challenging my perfectionism, I’m also strengthening my recovery from my eating disorder. Like many eating disorder sufferers, my disorder thrives off of my perfectionism. Whether it’s in regards to what I’m eating, how I look, or the temptation of engaging in unhealthy behaviors to gain a false sense of control, my perfectionism is deeply intertwined with my eating disorder.

I’ve learned that when I choose to fight perfection in one area of my life, it helps me fight it in all areas. When I decide that it doesn’t really matter that much if I mess up one letter when I’m hand lettering, it helps me decide that it doesn’t really matter if my body lines up with society’s standards. When I decide that it doesn’t really matter if I get a B on a paper, it helps me decide that it doesn’t really matter if my food intake matches that of an unqualified “wellness blogger.” When I decide that it’s okay to ask for an extension on a deadline, it helps me decide that it’s okay to post a photo of me that doesn’t fit the “aesthetic” standards of Instagram.

I’m finding the freedom that lies in imperfection — the freedom that my eating disorder told me I could only find in perfection. I’m learning that every time I fight perfection, I’m furthering my recovery, and allowing myself to truly live. I’m realizing that real life isn’t meant to be perfect because perfection is boring and mechanical. I’m accepting that imperfection is the most effective option for me, and imperfection is pretty damn beautiful.


About the Author: Colleen Werner is a professional dancer, singer, writer, and mental health/body-positivity/self-love advocate who was born and raised in NY. She is a member of Long2 Dance Company in NYC, and teaches dance on Long Island, NY. Colleen is also a YPAD (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance) Certified Dance Professional, as well as a member of their Advisory Panel. Colleen is currently studying Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury, and she plans on going to graduate school to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She also aspires to start an eating disorder treatment program created specifically for dancers. Her Instagram account/blog, @leenahlovesherself, which centers around body-positivity, self-love, and mental health, has deeply inspired thousands, and after creating the hashtag #BopoBallerina, Colleen was featured by Yahoo, National Eating Disorders Association, Dailymotion, A Plus, Dance.com, and by several international news outlets. Her experiences with her eating disorder and anxiety disorder have inspired her to share her story in an effort to help others. Colleen is devoted to using dance to make a difference. In her free time, Colleen enjoys playing with her two yorkies Tidbit and Zen, coloring, journaling, writing, reading, and watching Food Network.

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