Does Perfectionism Have a Hold on You?

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 6.46.55 AM If you are a BirthFit mama, soon-to-be mama, eventual mama, or even grand-mama, I'm certain you have a perfectionist tendency.  That’s because perfectionism exists, to some extent, in all of us.  We measure ourselves against this standard and, unless you have actual superpowers, we typically fall short.  I’d like to explore the cascade of effects that perfectionism has on digestion and offer some strategies to change these stubborn habits.

Perfectionism and I coexisted rather casually for as long as I can remember.  Pregnancy, however, was the driving force that transformed my perfectionism from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  I was going to have this perfect pregnancy and perfect baby and it was going to start with eating only the most perfect foods.

With a delicate life on the receiving end of my decisions, I found my willpower to say “no” to imperfect foods nearly doubled.  I declined my way from frozen, to fresh, to organic, to locally-grown organic, to locally-grown organic prepared under low-heat/ no-heat, to what on Earth am I going to eat?

Indisputably, the worst part was the stress, guilt, and fear associated with any deviation.  Perhaps some of you can relate to these emotions with food regardless of pregnancy.  I’m slowly appreciating the fact that the food we eat is only part of the equation.  Hauling stress, guilt, and fear to the dinner table plays a significantly comparable role in both digestion and assimilation as the food itself. 

This truth is rooted deeply in our biological instincts for survival.  In the Autonomic Nervous System (the system that CrossFit doesn’t actively train), there are two branches: the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.  The Sympathetic Nervous System is the branch responsible for “fight or flight” when our survival is threatened and also regulates stress responses.  When you need to get away from the lion, this is the branch you want running the show.  In the event you are literally or metaphorically running away from said lion, digestion is the LAST thing about which your body is worried.  By contrast, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is the branch responsible for “rest and digest” or “feed and breed.”  When this branch is active, survival is not threatened; we can digest and assimilate nutrients efficiently and signal our body that it’s safe to be fit and lean.

Let’s back up to the dinner table scenario with stress, guilt, and fear sitting alongside you.  Although there is no actual lion threatening your survival, your body is receiving those very same signals.  At this point, the quality of food you’re eating is virtually irrelevant.  So how do you address this? 

There are two simple and effective ways to switch from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic dominance.  First, practice some deep breathing: long inhales and forcible exhales.  For me, when I can do three breaths in a row that can be comfortably held for 8 seconds at each inhale-hold-exhale-hold, then I know I’m in Parasympathetic mode.  Depending on the level of stress, some days it takes a few extra breaths and other days it takes many, many more.  Second, express gratitude for your approaching nourishment.  By demonstrating to the brain that you have time to slow down and thank your higher power, the burning flame that is the Sympathetic Nervous System can fade, making room for “rest and digest.” 

Largely because of time and resources, eating the perfect food at every single meal is impracticable for most people—making the stress, guilt, and fear a regular occurrence in our lives.  These disruptive emotions only have a seat at the table when we give them permission.  All we can ever do is the best we CAN do with our time, resources, and experience.  After reframing this perfectionist tendency to “is this the best I can do,” I have noticed a huge reduction in stress.  On top of a more stable milk supply, I also have more energy for my family, job, and workouts.  Your energy is precious.  How are you spending it?

-Melissa Hemphill


Melissa enjoying some pastries from one of the finest Peruvian Bakeries in Los Angeles.




3 Rounds:

5 Thrusters

10 Shoulder Taps in Plank

50 Singles



4 Rounds:

5 Thrusters

20 Shoulder Taps in Plank

100 Singles



6 Rounds:

5 Thrusters

25’ Plank Walk Right Leads

25’ Plank Walk Left leads

50 Double Unders



  • Thrusters can be done with dumb bells or barbell. Pick a weight that you can do at least 5-10 reps in a row with no problem at all.
  • Plank walk means your transport your body from one end to the end while moving in the plank position.
  • Double Unders or Single Unders with jump rope are fine. If no jumping, then do walking lunges or a 200m Farmers Carry.
  • Rest as needed.