We’ve all been there, we’ve all experienced the “all or nothing” mindset that causes us to give up, feel like a failure, and get trapped in a cycle where we are constantly starting over every Monday morning. We set high unrealistic goals and if we don’t hit them 100% we get frustrated, and think what’s the point? Many people think that in order to benefit from something, they have to go all-in. The problem with this is that, for most people, the opposite of going all-in is going, well, all-out. The idea that in order to hit our goal or be healthy we need to be 100% perfect all day all week otherwise we failed is an aspect of a negative thinking pattern. The all or nothing thinking pattern can cause the inability to see alternatives in a situation or solutions to a problem. Everything has to be perfect or else it’s a failure. People who get stuck in this type of thinking think in absolute terms such as never, from now on, every, always, and if it can’t happen or our willpower runs out then we simply choose to do NOTHING.
If you’re reading this and it hits a little too close to home, know this: you can break free from “all-or-nothing” thinking. The two most important things you can start practicing today, to help you step off this ride are: finding your middle ground and letting “good enough” be good enough. Why is the middle ground important for long lasting change? When you ride the roller coaster of ups and downs, every time something doesn’t go as planned, you will default to just giving up for that day and feel like you failed. Instead, what you can be doing is making an effort to do what you can within your circumstances that may not be 100% but can still get you closer to seeing results because you are still doing something. Doing something is always better than doing nothing at all.
When it comes to nutrition the biggest error we see is clients going in with an all or nothing approach which slowly fades after a few days on a diet. Ask yourself the last time that you “dieted” and found yourself in the cookies or ice cream not more than a week after restricting those foods. Restrictions around food only make you crave them more! This is why meal plan are not the best option for most people and why flexible dieting allows you to learn the habits to become more sustainable long term. Good thing you can train your mind to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset to find a solution to the situations that present themselves in your life instead of just giving up in the moment.
How can you learn to find the middle ground and not have this black or white mentality? That comes from allowing yourself to enjoy the foods you want in moderation by knowing you are in control of the situation and can right back on track the very next meal. Yes you are totally in control and as much as the media wants to make you feel like you have to follow some rigid plan, the truth is that you just need to have sustainable nutritional habits long term. For example, from a caloric standpoint, you are far better off adding 150 to 200 calories to your day with foods you enjoy eating, as opposed to torturing yourself with food that someone is “telling” you to eat during the week and then consuming thousands of extra calories on Saturday and Sunday as your “free” day of eating. Those days can literally erase the hard work throughout the week. There is no one right way to follow a nutritional plan. The right way is the one that is the most sustainable for you!
Why do many diets fail people? It’s because there is this all or nothing approach to eating in a specific way. Just look at all the diets out there. There are rules and regulations as to what foods are “good” or “bad” as labels to make you choose or avoid them. Overcoming the labels placed on food give you the power to know and understand that all food is just energy. One key concept we work on with clients is breaking down the barrier of food labeling and learning how to view all food on equal grounds. Putting certain foods on a pedestal while demonizing others leads to binging, backlash eating, over restriction, and of course, a whole heck of a lot of shame and guilt. This is why we teach a more sustainable approach to eating, so you get to choose the foods that you enjoy.
How does food labeling even start? I think what makes our choices around food harder is that we are accustomed to eating foods that we label as more nutritious than others. That doesn’t mean those foods are better than foods that are less nutritious, it simply means they have more nutrients and serve a different purpose. There are many ways food can promote health and fuel your body outside of the nutrients it contains. Providing energy is one. While a snack with lots of added sugar might not provide many nutrients, it does provide an easily available source of energy if you are pairing that with a training session. Then there’s the social aspect of eating. Most people don’t think of a holiday meal as “healthy,” but when you think of it as a way to connect with friends and family, how is it not?
Even if you’re looking at food from a purely nutrition standpoint, it isn’t so black and white. Ice cream provides calcium and fat soluble vitamins. Pasta provides your brain with the carbohydrates it absolutely needs. All food serves a purpose and you just need to learn that placing labels on one food group or another is not preventing you from losing weight.
Are you stuck with food labeling? Here is one strategy we like to use with clients to understand the balance and finding a sustainable approach. First, when you catch yourself labeling a food as bad, I want you to imagine a scale. The bottom means it contains no nutrients, the top means it has the most. Follow your initial thought and put it on the scale. If you put it on the bottom of the scale, see how you can improve your thinking around that food. Consider nutrients it contains and energy it provides. This might be difficult but think back to the basics of where the food comes from. For example, a chip is just potatoes and oil. What kind of nutrition can you get from potatoes and oils? A potato contains fiber, vitamin C, and complex carbohydrate. Oils help you absorb fat soluble vitamins, and fats are beneficial for hormonal health. Now do the same for a food that you placed at the top of the scale. I want you to challenge that. That green juice, while nutrient packed, doesn’t really contain much energy, fat, protein or carbohydrate, does it? The low-calorie snack bar you’ve been glorifying? What does it contain in the way of whole food ingredients? Does it really deserve its spot at the top of the scale? The goal of this exercise isn’t to discover the perfect “balance” on the scale, but to use it as an exercise to challenge you black and white thinking.
Don’t seek perfection, seek to be better than yesterday. Find an individualized program that fits you best and is designed for your specific goals. There is no perfect diet so make sure you allow for some wiggle room and embrace the days that you do need to challenge your thinking around food. This is your journey so live one that makes you happy. If you hate it, you won’t stay consistent with it. Life is not black and white, there are many ways to do things and you need to explore to find your own individual approach. If you are confused or need help overcoming the topic in the article, apply for one on one coaching.