List: Sixteen Tips to Avoid the All-or-Nothing Mentality

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Sixteen ways to avoid the all-or-nothing pitfall.  

Central Obesity

Central Obesity

All-or-nothing usually ends in nothing but diet failure.   The all-or-nothing mentality is enemy of successful weight loss or maintenance.  Unfortunately, this type of mentality leads to unrealistic expectations.  Recently, I was required to take a trip for work.  This trip required that I take a flight and you know airplane food is the most healthy food on earth.  Of course,  many of us feel that we paid for the food so we must eat the food so just like them, I ate the food that was served to me.  I immediately felt regret and guilt.  I took the rest of the trip off and soon spiraled.  One week of a required work trip soon became the nightmare of binge and splurge.   

Why do we spiral out of control?  There is the uncontrollable urge to eat the good in from of us and to finish the plate.  We feel regret because we gave into that small temptation.  We can all do better.  We will do better.  This is a form of “black and white” thinking is very fatalistic in nature.  Life events are not either a disaster or complete success.  Most are in between and contain elements of both success and failures, but yet we continue to view them as one or the other and not a shade of both.  This type of thinking makes you think you are a failure in life and will ultimately end in depression.  For this reason, all-or-nothing thinking will ultimately fail. 

In dieting, you have to believe in shades of gray.  This is very hard in today’s new diets.  Almost all of the newer diets are extreme in nature and very strict.  For instance, detox diets, low carb, and ketogenic diets are all very strict.  Having a burger and fries on a Friday night does not make your diet a complete failure.  Strict deprivation usually leads to overindulgence, but a single overindulgence does not have to lead to failure.  When you go out with friends on a Friday night, there are ways around this.  Escape this vicious cycle that has you in a constant flux between failure and success.  Instead, see the middle ground and be positive that you would be successful this time.  I wrote a prior post on the all-or-nothing myth.  This list may help you avoid this mentality.



Ways to avoid the all-or-nothing mentality:

  1. Accept you for who you are.  No one is perfect, but you have to love and accept yourself for what you are.  The only way to maintain a strict diet is to be perfect.  People and imperfect and slip up by nature.   The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will accept yourself and stop expecting more than what you can deliver.  People rarely have a positive view of themselves, but we need to value who we are.
  2. Stop rationalizing your choices.    Don’t justify bad behavior.  Understand that we make mistakes and accept them for what they are.  If you had a stressful week, don’t blame your overindulgence on the stress at work.  Except it was a mistake and move on.  Justifying it would just give you a mechanism to justify further mistakes in the future. 
  3. Separate yourself from the mistake.  You made a mistake.  The error in your ways does not make you a bad person.  You need to be more empathetic and compassionate with yourself and avoid negativity.  Acknowledge your mistake but do not dwell on it.  Your performance should be an educational opportunity, and you should evaluate for what it is.
  4. Understand that less is sometimes more.  Focus on baby steps. They and change one small thing at a time.  Large changes are overwhelming.  Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare.  Sure, the hair was much faster than a tortoise, but the tortoise was consistent.  We all need to remember that success occurs one small piece repeated over and over until the entire task is completed.  In this instance, less in the short run can end up being more if we continue to follow through and add a little bit each time.  Instead of focusing on every meal being healthy or one massive period of exercise, focus on consistency day in and day out that will add up to a significant degree of success over time.  When you do this, a small slip up will seem insignificant.
  5. Man and woman workout with jumping rope

    Man and woman workout with jumping rope

    Focus on the positives.   You have a lot of great qualities and do a lot of good things.  Instead of focusing on your mistakes and poor decisions, focus on your successes.  Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.  Try to focus in on inclusive thoughts and not exclusive thoughts.  This focus will lie you to be less judgmental and more understanding of both ourselves and others instead of focusing on absolutes like “good” or “bad” and “success” or “failure.”  

  6. Stick with slow, simple workouts and work your way up.  This concept is similar to the tortoise and the hare, but in this step,  I’m referring to burnout.  If you go hog wild every time you work out, you’re likely to injure yourself or get burned out.  Instead of trying to accomplish everything on the first day, work your way up slowly.  If you focus on goals that are too large, you will also become discourages and be less likely to continue.  
  7. Know your options.  Do not start a diet without know what you are doing.  Know why the diet works and what research backs the use of said diet.  Know what type of foods you like and can eat.  It does not good to start a Paleo Diet if you do not like nuts and meat.  If you are vegan, some diets may be difficult or impossible to maintain.  Making decisions without all the information is like voting for a candidate because you like their hair.  
  8. Focus on making a better choice most of the time.  Avoid absolutes, and you will be more successful over time, and you will feel better about the choices you have made.  If you make a better choice 75% of the time, you will lose weight.  Each “better” choice you make will make the next one easier the next time.  
  9. Avoid extremes and absolutes.  Moderation is the key to longstanding success and maintenance of a healthy weight.  Total deprivation will only set you up for cravings, binging, and disappointment.  The world won’t end if you occasionally choose poorly for one meal or have a dessert.    
  10. Be and eat mindfully.  Strapping on the feedbag in front of the television is the enemy of healthy eating.  Before you know it, the bag will be empty, and your belly will be over full.  Research has proven that we cannot gauge how much we are eating when our concentration is distracted so just don’t do it.  
  11. Meal prepping

    Meal prepping

    Practice reduction instead of banishment.  Many dieters swear by the method of marking foods off the acceptable list.  This vilification of foods or banishing them from your diet just make them more attractive to our minds and leads to a feeling of deprivation.  While it may seem like a simple means to lose weight, it will do more harm in the long run.  off all unhealthy foods, even their favorites. While this may seem smart, it can result in feelings of self-deprivation and frustration, ultimately leading to setbacks.  Over time, you will crave the treats you are avoiding and ultimately give into temptation.

  12. Stop vilifying foods.  Ice cream is not evil and having it should not be the end of the world.  You need to avoid guilt and regret because these foods will just lead to you eating more.  These foods are not worth your focus.  You are better than this so focus on eating more healthy foods instead.
  13. The power comes from within you.  You need to remember that only you have the power to change yourself.  Focus without dwelling on failure is the key.  Remember how you felt before losing weight and resist going back there.  You have all the tools you need to lose weight, and most of us do not need any help.  
  14. Stop quitting and starting over.  Quitters never win.  There is no place to start like the present.  Once you start off on a new journey, you are one step closer to success.  Every dietary success starts with someone failing to avoid weight gain.  That does not make them a failure.  It makes them an opportunity for success.  
  15. Plan, plan, and plan again.  It is a good practice to plan a mission with two-thirds of the time and spend the last third spend implementing.  The same is true with your emails and exercise plans.  Have a plan and try to stick to it but be flexible because things do come up and cause you to deviate.  
  16. Consider seeing a medical professional.  If you have tried a bunch and seem to never lose weight, a medical provider, dietician, pharmacist, or trainer, might be able to provide valuable insight into what else might being on to prevent you from having success at weight loss.  Hormone problems are rare, but they do happen.  

The bottom line: The all-or-nothing cycle is destructive because it is too rigid and is anything but helpful.  Focus on things that might inspire you to be successful.  Encouragement and positivity will cultivate more success and help you be happier with the results you attain instead of focusing on that which you do not.  Remember, the enemy of good is better.  


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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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