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Take perfectionism out of your recovery! What to do when you give into a compulsion:


“Oops, I totally gave into a compulsion. UGH! I’m such a failure- I’ll never get OCD (or eating disorder) recovery right.” Does this sound familiar? Picture this: you’re trying your best to overcome OCD or an eating disorder, you’re doing exposures, going to therapy, doing all the things, but somehow, OCD or your eating disorder always seems to find a way in. You give into a compulsion because you just can’t take it anymore.


As an Eating Disorder and OCD specialist, I want you to know this is so common and you are not a failure if this happens. You are a human being trying to recover from one of the most debilitating illnesses of any kind. Of course there are going to be slip ups. My own recovery changed dramatically for me when I took perfectionism out of the equation- and started looking at what would be more helpful for me during those slip-ups. Research shows that shaming ourselves or beating ourselves up when we make a mistake only reinforces the likelihood that we will keep making mistakes- it doesn’t actually lead to change!


So, here is what you can do instead. This is the same step-by-step process I walk my client’s through in both OCD recovery and Eating Disorder Recovery.


  1. Have some self compassion. Without this step, the next two won’t be so effective. You must learn to be kind and caring towards yourself even when you mess up. This is hard, but one helpful skill is to imagine what you would say to a loved one in the same situation and then practice saying that to yourself. Remember, you are recovering from a debilitating mental illness- this is not a choice. It’s extremely hard and it will be up and down.

  2. As soon as you become aware, stop giving into compulsions. OCD or your ED will want you to keep compulsing. Even though you gave in at first, you can back out now. Harm reduction is a valid part of recovery. Maybe you can’t give up all behaviors just yet- but can you decrease the amount of time spent on them, or decrease the frequency you engage in them? Small steps are still steps in the right direction.

  3. Undo the compulsion. For example, let’s say you gave into compulsive exercise. You can now go eat a fear food or have an extra snack! This is a way to undo the eating disorder’s rules. For OCD; maybe you googled a symptom to reassure yourself. You can do an exposure and write out an imaginal script about your fear coming true- to undo the reassurance. This time, make sure to embrace the uncertainty.

  4. Let go of the expectation of perfection. Recovery from both of these conditions is always non-linear. Meaning, you will have good days, bad days and blah days. Sometimes you’ll tackle several exposures in one day, other days you won’t even be able to do one. That is okay, ERP (Exposure Response Prevention Therapy) does not have to go perfectly for it to be effective.


If you found this helpful, I would love to hear about it. As always, if you are looking to start therapy, you can reach out to my practice and book a free consultation today. I’m sending you lots of hope and encouragement!


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