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The Problem with Perfectionism with Alana Van Der Sluys

body image diet culture eating disorders emotional eating gentle nutrition intuitive eating midlife women mindful eating self-compassion un-dieting women's health

Do you ever feel like you're stuck in the endless loop of striving for that "perfect" diet? It's a trap many of us fall into. We're constantly pressured to label foods as either 'good' or 'bad,' and it feels like we need to be flawless with every bite.  


In this episode, I had an encouraging conversation with Alana Van Der Sluys, a certified intuitive eating counselor. Together, we dove into the role of perfectionism in our eating habits and diet culture.

Perfectionism often creeps into our diet mentality, making us believe in the existence of 'good' and 'bad' foods. We convince ourselves that if we don't follow a diet 100%, it doesn't count, which is likely a familiar mindset. We shared personal anecdotes, discussing how this pursuit of perfection can lead to feelings of failure and pile on the stress of external validation.

But here's the kicker – perfectionism takes a toll on our overall well-being. When we try to achieve health through dieting, one slip-up can send us spiraling into guilt and shame, creating a never-ending cycle of feeling like we've failed. The reality is, life isn't black and white, all or nothing. It's crucial that we allow ourselves to live in the gray area.

We also honed in on the power of breaking free from the chains of shame. We talked about the importance of enjoying food without guilt. The ability to embrace imperfection is the key to navigating a healthier journey that's less restrictive and more sustainable.

We got to talk about the fact that Alana has an upcoming book called "Freedom with Food and Fitness," and it's a guide to shedding that perfectionism and embracing authenticity. Her book is a blend of personal experiences, expert advice, and practical tips that empower individuals to redefine their relationship with food and fitness.

Lastly, we discussed how perfectionism can lead to exhaustion and a lack of enjoyment in our journey toward a healthier lifestyle. We can't control the outcome of our efforts, and that's okay. Instead of obsessing over perfection, we should commit to the process. Remember, perfectionism isn't a prerequisite for a healthy and happy life, but pleasure and food freedom are! 

In this episode, you'll learn: 

  • How Alana uncovered a need for a sense of safety and control with an eating disorder
  • Why there will never be one “right way” to eat
  • The danger of all-or-nothing thinking
  • Why what you want to be remembered for matters on your food journey
  • How to discover satisfaction and balance in your relationship with food

To learn more about Alana and her work, connect with her on her website at , or follow her on Instagram @freedomwithfoodandfitness.

Grab the FREE book: 
3 EASY Ways to Boost Health With Intuitive Eating
Get $250 in bonus gifts if you 
preorder Freedom with Food and Fitness before November 14- on Amazon and Barnes & Noble


Jenn Salib Huber: 0:00

Hi and welcome to the Midlife Feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, dr Jen Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor and I help women manage menopause without dieting and food rules. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. 

And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the Midlife Feast community, my monthly membership that combines my no-nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community, so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife. Hi everyone, welcome to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. My guest today is Alana Van Der Sluys. 

She's a certified intuitive eating counselor. Like myself, she's an author and a speaker, and I wanted to bring her on to talk about something very specific, which is perfectionism in the intuitive eating dieting world, and so perfectionism is very common amongst people who have had eating disorders, but is also very common among kind of quote normal dieters.

o the all or nothing thinking that we often talk about, believing that there are good foods and bad foods, believing that you have to do something 100% for it to count. These are all examples of how perfectionism might be showing up in your relationship with food and your body and isn't serving you or helping you be healthier or happier or have a more peaceful relationship with yourself. So I think you're going to enjoy this one and, as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. From Alana to the Midlife Feast.

Alana Van Der Sluys: 1:56

Thank you, Jen, for having me. I'm so excited.

Jenn Salib Huber: 1:59

I'm really excited too. Why don't you tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what your focus is?

The Difference of Coaching From a Non-Diet Perspective

Alana Van Der Sluys: 2:07

Sure. So my name is Alana Vandersloos and I'm a certified intuitive eating counselor, so I focus on coaching women how to approach nutrition and fitness from a non-diet perspective. So I do focus on health. I think health is important. I know not everybody wants to be on a health journey, and that's totally fine too, but for those who do want to keep pursuing health, I help them to do that without the restriction and the obsession of dieting, counting calories and all of those things.

The Challenge of Battling Perfectionism with Food

Jenn Salib Huber: 2:37

And that's what we're here for. So, very similar to the work that I do and lots of the guests that we've had on, you and I had an Instagram conversation many months ago where we were kind of talking a little bit about how the perfectionistic or perfectionism mindset often shows up in the diet mentality, and so, whether you want to call that all or nothing, thinking good or bad, it often is. 

I don't want to say it's an obstacle, but it's a place where people get stuck because we're so used to thinking of food as something that we should be striving to be perfect, but it's a good thing to try and do your absolute best when it comes to food, and I think that that makes it a bit of a hard place for people to feel just kind of safe and comfortable in. So, yeah, so tell me about your thoughts and how you perceive perfectionism showing up in the diet mentality.

A Recovering Mal-Adaptive Perfectionist

Alana Van Der Sluys: 3:37

So I used to say I was a recovering perfectionist and then I read this book about perfectionism and I told I think it's Kathleen Schaeffler, she wrote a book all about perfectionism and she said you know, you want to own your perfections, like, if you're a perfectionist, that's just who you are and you have to own that. But there's a difference between maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism. So I'm a recovering, maladaptive perfectionist and you know when? 

How it showed up for me was when I was a kid. I got a lot of external validation. I was a good student and good extracurriculars and I would get praise and that was wonderful and everything. But it created an environment where I didn't know how to build up any intrinsic validation and I felt like I kept having to be performative and be perfect in order to be worthy. And I think you know that was definitely the catalyst for my three eating disorders that went completely undiagnosed because everyone thought I was like the thin fit one and they were like, asking me advice and I'm like well, if you want an eating disorder, here's how you look like me, right? 

But I do see it in. It's the dieting world. It's you have to follow this plan and you have to eat this amount of calories or this amount of macros and weight, this amount of weight, to be ideal and healthy, and it's just, it's so rigid and structured and there's no wiggle room. And couple that with the fact that we are evolutionary wired to want control, because that means safety, and you have like the perfect storm where you know people, they want to follow these parameters because they want to do the right thing and you know, be the good girl and, and you know, have, you know, pursue health. But it's like you have one quote unquote slip up and you feel like everything has gone out the window. 

Your health is in the toilet, you're a failure and you know, screw it. And then you don't pay attention to any helpful behaviors and you kind of swing the pendulum in the other direction and I see clients swing back and forth from following the diet plan so rigidly and you know not having any fun with their nutrition and fitness all the way over to you know I'm going to bite my nose to spite my face and not care at all about my health. It's like we can live in this gray area, but we have to allow ourselves to do it and understand that life isn't black and white all or nothing. It has to be somewhere in the middle.

The Danger of All-or-Nothing Thinking

Jenn Salib Huber: 6:02

Yeah, absolutely. A couple of things really resonated with me and you know, as somebody who's also a recovered clinician, you know this idea of people praising us for the behaviors that are so clearly disordered. You know the number of times that people would say, oh, I'm so jealous of your, of your discipline, oh, I could never be that good. How good? How are you saying no to this? It looks so good, you know, and so, and even if you don't have a needing disorder, even people who are quote unquote normal dieters have probably had people say those things to them and it reinforces that that is the goal.

When it's not like that, you know, and so I think it gets really, really messy for people who are, like you say, trying to do the right thing, trying to support their health, trying to be on a journey to feel better, but they don't know how not to strive for 100%. You know, I think that there's there's a fair amount of research, I think, looking at personality traits, and you know people who maybe go down that disordered relationship with food, and but I think that everybody who has attempted to lose weight through following a diet has set the bar at 100% Right. It's like I'm going to do this. I'm going to do it 100% and it's going to work this time and nobody can, in a healthy, flexible, allowing you to live your life way, do anything with food 100%, which I think comes as a surprise to people.

Hope For Finding Balance & Satisfaction

Alana Van Der Sluys: 7:42

Absolutely. I mean it's. It's like anything else, like you can't do anything 100% of the time perfectly, and that includes nutrition and fitness. And what you just said I kind of want to expand on is like oh, you're being so good. I could never be that good. We start to conflate how we eat and how we move our bodies with our self-worth and they become kind of wrapped up in each other. And diet culture. It's like I had cake and cake is bad. Therefore, I'm a bad person for having a cake. 

You know what I'm saying? It's just it's it's. And that's why I think it's so tough sometimes to walk away from diet. Culture is we feel like who we are as a person is being put into question. If we're not on a health journey or if we're not on a weight loss journey, there must be something wrong with us, because everybody and their mother is on a weight loss journey and that's what we're supposed to do. To be a good girl, we're supposed to look a certain way.

Jenn Salib Huber: 8:38

Yeah, I mean, that's where the saying you are what you eat comes from, right. Yeah, like. How many times have we said and heard that it's like, well, I'm eating garbage food, therefore I must be garbage, or like I must be bad, right. So what are some other examples of how this perfectionism shows up in an unhealthy way for people, maybe even people who aren't actively dieting? But how do you see it show up in a way that keeps them from having just kind of this healthy, normal relationship with food?

Alana Van Der Sluys: 9:13

You know it's I see it a lot in again. It's like the all or nothing thinking. So some people, when they're trying to be perfectionists, they swing the pendulum and it says all or nothing, thinking back and forth between, let's say, like heavy restricting or calorie deficits to binge eating. That's not the way it presented itself to me. To me it was more just like a whole lot of internal shame. Once I messed up, there's a whole lot of internal shame. I would never let myself swing over to the I don't care at all type of thing. But it was always like you know, tomorrow or Monday, starting the next day, I'm going to be perfect. 

And it was like I never allowed myself to really sit in a negative emotion that I felt about myself. I never allowed myself to sit in the shame or sit in the or to really ask myself like, well, why did this happen? Why did I binge or why did I do this thing? And it was like I was trying to erase it. I tried to pretend it wasn't there, I wasn't processing it and I just kept pretending like my life was perfect and that everything was perfect and I was trying to show this persona to everybody else. But it wasn't real, and I think that also made it hard to connect with people on a true, deep level is because I wasn't allowing myself to show the messy parts.

Jenn Salib Huber: 10:36

Yeah, and we're all messy, like we're just all messy.

Alana Van Der Sluys: 10:40

And that's the thing. Like I don't understand why we're not all coming together and saying you're a mess, I'm a mess, we're a mess, oh, it's OK to be a mess.

Jenn Salib Huber: 10:49

Yeah, like it is such a human trait to just be a mess at some point or at all points. The other thing that came to mind when you were talking about the food piece and the all or nothing is how perfectionism often shows up in not allowing the quote good foods and bad foods to be on the same plate, right? So it's like, oh, I'm being good today, so I'm going to have this salad with chicken, no croutons and definitely no dessert, right? But the minute that you have the croutons or the minute that you have the dessert, it feels like it negates anything you got from the salad, right? 

And so oftentimes, when I'm talking to people and I'm like, well, put them both on the plate, literally have a cupcake next to your salad, and they're like you can do that it's like, yeah, you can and you should, and you know what it's going to change your life. Like just having that, letting that go, that they're really neat. Like food is never meant to be perfect, ever. It doesn't need to be. My favorite thing is that you and I wouldn't be here having this conversation if food needed to be perfect, because we would not have survived as a species. Like we have an infinite amount of resiliency and flexibility when it comes to food that isn't going to kill us today, right?

Alana Van Der Sluys: 12:11

So yeah, so go ahead 了吧. We both have so much to say, right? How do you so adaptive? Like people are like, oh my God, like I ate this extra thing, it's like your body will always try to get to homeostasis. Like you have a weight set point, a weight set range, it's always going to try to get there, whether it needs to bring your weight down or bring it back up. And I love the idea of embracing the and right, Just as you said you could have the salad and the cupcake. And the thing is, when we talk about intuitive eating and approaching nutrition from a non-diet perspective, we're not only talking about hunger and fullness. 

We're talking about satiety and satisfaction in food, and you need that. If we didn't need that, we could eat like cauliflower rice and kale and we would be happy as clams. And that's not the case. That's why we end up putting desserts on this pedestal and then binging at them at some point. Because we're not allowing them is because we need that sense of satisfaction.

Like humans are hardwired to seek pleasure as well as avoid pain, so you have to consider your satisfaction and not just your fullness. Because if you eat a whole bag of cauliflower rice, you know as well as I do you're going to be like searching for that other thing to eat that's going to give you that ah, that really hit the spot factor. 

And it ain't going to be the cauliflower rice, it's going to be something else, something more fun. And so, yeah, I always tell my clients if always go with what you're craving for first. So if you want pizza, have that pizza and then maybe think to yourself OK, well, what's a little more nutrient-sensitive? I could pair with this. That will leave me feeling good after the meal. So, like pizza and a salad or pizza or whatever, whatever makes you happy, don't shove healthy, quote unquote food in your face if you don't like it. I never eat kale. I hate kale. It's like the worst. I hate the cow eating grass and I just think I don't care. If it's a superfood, it's not superfood for me, I want it.

Why Un-Dieting is Necessary to Lower the Bar

Jenn Salib Huber: 14:08

That's so funny. I think we all have our diet culture, foods that we just can't do. I pick on kale a lot, too. I have found ways that I eat kale that I actually really enjoy now, but it's still not my favorite green Like it's way down on the list, right. So one of the things that I find hard and when I'm talking to people about letting go of some of these rules, either about food or how we eat, especially for people who are drawn to that perfectionism as like one of like their core personality profiles, of like I do something and I do it right, I do something and I do it a hundred percent is really helping them work through the idea that it's not letting go, that it's not a failure on their part if their body changes one way or the other, and that there is no one way to be an intuitive eater. 

And you know, sometimes I can literally see, like you know, their brains breaking right in front of me because they cannot imagine a world where they don't have some kind of rule, structure, guide, plan that they're trying to follow. How do you, how do you help people kind of move through that? Because if I'm, if I'm being honest, the people who aren't perfectionists are often a lot easier to kind of guide down this path. But it's really the perfectionists and the people who have that tendency who are like I don't know if this is for me, I don't know if I can do this.

Why There Will Never Be One “Right Way” to Eat

Alana Van Der Sluys: 15:46

Absolutely. We know what it is. I tell them a look at diet culture. They there's keto and there's low carb and there's, you know, low fat. There's all of these different. If there was one right way to eat, there would be one diet plan out there and everybody would be striving for it. You know what I'm saying. So there's no right way for anybody and, like, our genetics are all different. 

So it just, and what is right, like what is good, what is right like you get to write those rules, it, you know. You don't have to follow the society prescribed picture of what is right. You know, if someone thinks what is right in terms of diet is no refined sugar, no refined flour, that's not right for me. Like that will just make me completely miserable. That's not my definition of right. So understanding that we as individuals are empowered to make those decisions and call those shots for ourselves, I think is really important to know.

Jenn Salib Huber: 16:42

Yeah, and I think that's where sometimes, before learning the intuitive eating, there has to be some unlearning, so what I call undiating. So this you know. Okay, we need to examine where this framework of perfectionism came from. You know you weren't born thinking that you had to eat in a certain way. You just knew that when you were hungry you ate, and at some point we all lose that innocent attunement, them you know that children are born with. But I think that people who have this, you know, are wired for perfectionism, really tend to strive for the best all the time. 

And so it's like, yeah, I can't be saying, but isn't there like a best way to eat? Isn't there what is the best of the non diets? And so this undiating of kind of calling those you know beliefs into question and examining them like are they actually true? Is there any evidence that if you eat perfectly, you live a longer, happier life? There is not. The best evidence we have is like spend time with people that you enjoy, and that's probably eating cake, not kale, right? 

Yeah, and I just really love this because, you know, within two debating conversations, a lot of it is around hunger, fullness, satisfaction. We're talking a lot about accepting. You know that genetics play a large role in our bodies and that there's A limited amount that is under our willful control, but the mindset that we have to adopt in order for it to feel comfortable, it needs to be much more flexible and forgiving than most, even just normal dieters, have been used to. Is that something that you encounter in your work as well?

Considering the Legacy You Want to Be Remembered For

Alana Van Der Sluys: 18:26

Yeah, you know I use a couple of different phrases to kind of Challenge the perfectionist mine and one of them is give me minus work, you know. I mean like don't strive for a plus, because I was me like all throughout schools, like I had to get the hundred by god, and ninety nine it was like why? And like it's just strive for being in this work. It doesn't have to do the do the best you can, but it doesn't have to be perfect. Give yourself that wiggle room, give yourself that breathing room, give yourself that space. Another thing that I say is do it shitty, do it.

 It gives a little bit of levity to it, because another thing that I do with my clients is I call it tombstone thinking, which I think some people find morbid but I find very liberating. It's this whole idea. Think about the end of your life, like you're ninety, hundred, whatever, and you're sitting in your death bed. Are you gonna be like, well, I white knuckled my way through perfection so I had a good life. It's that you're probably gonna regret the fact that you Didn't give yourself grace and you were so hard on yourself all of the time. And you get to the end of your life and you're like what was that all for?

Jenn Salib Huber: 19:36

Yeah, I love that we have so much in common. Certainly all my listeners will recognize the lower the bar philosophy. It's literally like the motto in our community it's lower the bar. And also I ask people when they're having the struggle with like letting go of something, I'm like is this something that someone is going to put in your obituary? You know, is someone going to remember you after you're gone for the diet that worked for a while? They're not right? 

Or that you made a fantastic keto crust pizza? No one's going to remember that. No one's going to pass down that recipe like for generations. So I think that that you know, having these kinds of perspectives of like okay, does this actually matter in the big picture? Really helps to bring us back to like. What are we doing here?

Alana Van Der Sluys: 20:23

Right, and let me tell you, jen, like I had body dysmorphic disorder that was like one thing and it was all around my stomach. And like I wanted six pack abs, like Britney Spears circa 2000,. You know, and I thought to myself one day I'm like, oh my God, like what if that was the thing that people said at my funeral? Like what if that was? She had great abs. That's what I want to be known for. Like, oh my God. I want to do so much more with my life. I want to touch people in a way that matters. 

I don't want that to be my legacy. And you know, I could tomorrow start training for a bikini competition and I could get my body composition down to whatever that's supposed to be. I would be miserable, you know, like I want to live my life in a way that I could live it for the rest of my life that way and be happy. Because I think that's another way that perfectionists get stuck is they're so focused on the end goal, they're so focused on the finish line that they will beat themselves up mercilessly, mercilessly, mercilessly, until they see not perfect, not perfect. 

So they get to the end and they'll get to the end goal, and then they'll be so tired and exhausted and hating themselves that it won't even feel good to get there. So I've definitely started to adopt this idea of if I'm not enjoying the journey, no matter what the goal is, if I'm not enjoying the journey, something is wrong and I need to reevaluate.

Jenn Salib Huber: 21:46

I love it. I love it. Commit to the process, not the outcome. Yes, right, and because we can't control the outcome, it doesn't matter how well intentioned we are. You know, I had an acquaintance a few years ago who was, you know, training for one of the very large races in the States and broker ankle. The day before Broker ankle getting off the plane, you know, and literally saw months and months and months of training just like go down and I mean I can't even imagine that kind of recovery from that. But it just goes to show that like you can't control everything Right, and especially when it comes to food and our body, we just can't control that.

Alana Van Der Sluys: 22:28

Absolutely, and that's something that I'm seeing with my book that's coming out on November 14th is I put my heart and soul into this book. I put two years into this book and sometimes I want to get hung up on the early reviews, the bad skating right, and sometimes I want to get sucked into the metrics on Amazon of like where am I ranking? 

And then like, it makes me miserable and I have to take a step back and look at the broader picture and say what was the purpose of writing this book? It had nothing to do with rankings and metrics or any any of the ego stuff. Right, I have to. I have to have the journey from now until when this book comes out, everything that I have to do for it. It has to be fun. It can't be this white knuckling thing, otherwise I'm not going to enjoy the outcome and, as you just said, I can't control that outcome of how successful this book is. I can only do what I can do.

Jenn Salib Huber: 23:21

Well, I'm sure it's going to be an amazing book, so tell us a little bit about it.

Introducing Alana’s Book: Freedom with Food and Fitness

Alana Van Der Sluys: 23:24

Sure. So it's called Freedom with Food and Fitness, how intuitive eating is the key to your happiest, healthiest self. So it's it's same title as the business and it's I like to say it's it's part memoir and it's part kind of really tactical, practical, actionable strategies to implement intuitive eating into your life, especially if you have a busy schedule, because I certainly do so. 

It's all of the strategies that I learned in my journey from eating disorder to full recovery and also what I learned to become a certified intuitive eating counselor. So it's a lot of my personal, raw and vulnerable stories, really embarrassing stories. I think other people need to hear to know that they're not alone, if they had those experiences too. But again, very tactical and practical strategies and the book is divided up, half about food, so how to approach non diet nutrition and how have fitness, how to approach non diet movement.

Jenn Salib Huber: 24:17

Amazing, a much needed book in this space, and you said it comes out November 14.

Alana Van Der Sluys: 24:23

Yes, with your honor publishing. So I it's on Amazon, it's on Barnes and Noble. If you preorder the book, I'm offering $250 worth of free gifts and resources. So if anyone wants to go on that, they can go to freedomwithfoodandfitnesscom. Slash preorder.

Jenn Salib Huber: 24:39

Awesome, and we will have that in the show notes as well. So this has been such a great conversation because I've loved the focus on the mindset and the perfectionism. Is there anything kind of any parting words of advice around perfectionism that you would like to share with people?

Alana Van Der Sluys: 24:57

I'm going to volley it over to my girl, Brunet Brown, because what she said in her book Gifts I think, the Gifts of Imperfection, I think it's called really resonated with me. It's this perfectionism, is this 20 ton shield that we lug around thinking that it's going to keep us safe from the criticism of others? But it's, it's, it's not real. It perfectionism is not real, it is subjective, it's a moving target and it really keeps us chained down instead of embracing who we really are authentically. 

We kind of lose ourselves and mute ourselves who we really are in this pursuit of perfectionism. So any of my fellow perfectionists out there, come, come, find me on Instagram and let's chat.

Jenn Salib Huber: 25:48

Amazing. So what would you say is the missing ingredient in midlife?

The Missing Ingredient in Midlife According to Alana

Alana Van Der Sluys: 25:54

The missing ingredient in midlife is just just like, like embracing your authenticity, embracing your body as it is right in this moment, as it is changing, because we're all changing and just not not striving for that perfectionism. It's not real. Just be be exactly who you are in this moment and embrace yourself exactly who you are in this moment.

Jenn Salib Huber: 26:18

Amazing. I love it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, alana. I know that this is going to be a conversation that is well loved, and all the best on the launch of your book.

Alana Van Der Sluys: 26:27

Thank you, Jen.

Jenn Salib Huber: 26:30

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the Midlife Feast. For more non-diet, health, hormone and general midlife support, click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing, because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.


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