Avoiding “all or nothing” thinking

Just thought I would take a few moments to share some thoughts on the importance of avoiding “all or nothing” thinking.  I wanted to write this because in all honesty I need this as a reminder myself, but hopefully it will help some others as well.



I know that I have shared some of my thoughts on focusing on progress, not perfection already.  Well, spoiler alert…”all or nothing” thinking is a similar concept.

I am sure you have heard that “diets don’t work” and and that you need to “make lifestyle changes”, and “allow for splurges”, “calories in versus calories out”…and other similar statements.  Well, there is a reason phrases such as these  continue to weave their way through popular magazines and diet books:  Its the freaking truth!

“Diets” dont typically work.  Losing weight, and maintaining the lost weight, requires serious lifestyle changes.  If you have spent any time looking at the weight loss literature, there is a common pattern that appears:  People can lose weight for 6 months (by decreasing calories consumed and increasing calories burned…no “magic bullet”), but then they start to re-gain the weight starting at the 6-month time point.  One of the reason for this phenomenon is the tendency that we have as humans to engage in “all or nothing thinking.”  Either we are all in on a diet, or all off.  Either eating 1500 calories every day and doing 60 minutes of exercise, or sitting on our asses and stuffing our faces with chocolate, cupcakes, pizza, etc.  And that attitude is a surefire way to fail at weight loss or weight loss maintenance!

Now, Im not trying to oversimplify this issue.  There is obviously more to this problem than just a certain attitude.    But in the three years I spent working in a weight management research center I can attest that the individuals who lost the most weight and KEPT it off were not engaging in this type of thinking.  Again, when trying to lose weight or increase fitness the goal is to strive for PROGRESS…because striving for perfection is a guaranteed way to fail.


I am writing this post because I f have found myself engaging in this thought pattern in the past, and noticed that I have been slipping in this attitude recently.  I lost a bunch of weight in grad school by counting calories obsessively.  And, it worked, albeit a little too well, as I was probably a little too thin.  Then for about two years I maintained the weight with no problem.  Why?  I was NOT engaging in “all or nothing” thinking.  If I had a social event and new I would eat more calories than normal I would exercise a little more that day, eat a smaller lunch and some low calorie snacks, and then enjoy myself at the event.  Then the next day I would go back to normal eating habits.

Well, something happened within the past few months and I have found myself back in the “all or nothing” thinking.  If I ate too much on Friday night, I would do the same on saturday because I would just say to myself “well you already screwed up, might as well throw in the towel for the whole weekend and start a super strict diet on Monday.”  Ummm yeah, it didn’t work.

So Im challenging myself, and those of you reading, to STOP this type of thought pattern.  Because nothing good comes of it.  This holds true with anything in our lives…diet, exercise, budgeting money, housework, etc.  Its such a simple concept, yet most of us struggle with it.



So just a friendly reminder that none of us will ever be perfect.  You have to enjoy life and the food you eat.  I have heard dietitians say its a matter of how much and how often you eat certain foods…you CAN have your cake and maintain you weight but budgeting your calories and physical activity appropriately…but you cant have your cake every day if its making you go over your calorie goal!

I would love to hear other individual’s thoughts on this if you want to share.  Any tips to avoid “all or nothing” thinking???


One thought on “Avoiding “all or nothing” thinking

  1. I am really trapped in all or nothing. For example, I “binged” last night…and now its Saturday and I cannot promise it won’t happen again. Is it good? nope. Its like I’m not “ready” to change which is completely inexcusable. Wow, its not easy to change habits and routines though is it? It’s like its ingrained in me and not easy to overcome. Either that’s a lame excuse or just pure fact, who knows.

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