How to let go of the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to health
All-or-nothing thinking is also known as black-or-white and it’s when things are viewed as all good or all bad.
All-or-nothing thinking often means that anything less than ‘perfect’ is perceived as a failure.
Having these incredibly unattainable standards sets you up to feel like a failure believing: “Nothing I ever do it good enough”, “If I just weighed less…” or “Everyone is prettier and thinner than me”.
All-or-nothing thinking keeps you stuck, unhealthy and unbalanced…
…unable to eat anything in moderation and constantly yo-yo-ing from one extreme to another. Flipping from restriction to binge eating. Inactivity to killing yourself at the gym. From feeling motivated and excited to feeling like it’s not even worth trying.
But you are not the problem. All-or-nothing thinking is holding you back.
You don’t need to change yourself. You are enough just the way you are.
You just need to stop thinking it’s ‘all-or-nothing’.
The first steps to letting go of the all or nothing approach is to realise when you’re doing it. Awareness is key. Take this short test to help you work out if you are a black or white thinker:
Is an ‘all or nothing’ approach to food holding you back from being healthy?
If you can relate to one or more of the following, you probably have an all-or-nothing approach and can benefit from making a mindset shift (more on that later).
- I try to be ‘good’ when I’ve eaten something ‘bad’.
- I eat really well during the week but I blow out on the weekend.
- Seeing a number on the scale that I did not want makes me feel like I’ve failed.
- I punish myself with exercise, detoxes, counting calories when I haven’t been good enough.
- I have tried to quit sugar/alcohol/carbohydrates only to binge on them later.
- I feel like nothing I ever do it good enough.
How to let go of the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach:
1. Notice when you’re stuck in black and white thinking
The first step is to become aware of when you’re using an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach. Often, using words like ‘always’, ‘never’ or ‘nothing’ will give you a clue that you’re stuck in the cycle.
Try this instead: Count your success. At the end of each day, take 2 minutes to note the things you did well that day.
Just before turning off the lights to sleep, I tell my partner the things I am grateful for about myself that day. This is important for me as my normal default is to run through all my flaws and faults. I don’t talk about the things I didn’t do well enough, only the things I am proud of doing or grateful to have learned.
2. Give yourself permission to enjoy food throughout the week
If you spend Monday to Friday being incredibly ‘good’ (aka strict), then when it gets to the weekend, you’re going to feel like you deserve a treat for your hard work. When you’re feeling deprived, one cheat meal will often turn into a cheat weekend.
Try this instead: Give yourself permission to enjoy treats during the week.
I personally like to have a couple of squares of chocolate every day. If I’m at a birthday party and there is cake, I’ll have it if I feel like it and often I’ll share. Say to yourself: “I am allowed it if I want, but do I really feel like it?”
3. Food is neither good or bad. Adjust your language about food.
I get that you’ve been taught to think that there are good foods or bad foods. There aren’t. Enjoying a piece of cake is not bad and salad is not good. Having cake and feeling guilty about it defeats the purpose. All food can be enjoyed in moderation at some time.
Try this instead: Don’t refer to food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Become aware of your language. You’ll notice just how common, socially acceptable it is to label food as good/bad (black/white).
Just because everyone else refers to food as good or bad doesn’t mean you have to. Your thinking will change when your language does – and your behaviour will change with it.
4. Find the silver lining and practice being an anti-perfectionist
Good enough is really is good enough. Something is better than nothing. Any small effort is worthy of being recognised and applauded.
Try this instead: Add the word ‘but’ to negative statements.
Like this: “I didn’t get to exercise today BUT I did get to bed an hour earlier tonight and my body needs rest” or “I overate at dinner tonight BUT I understand why that happened” or “I ate chocolate today BUT I really enjoyed it” or “I didn’t eat enough vegetables today BUT I did have two pieces of fruit”.
When I’m feeling less than perfect, I’ll repeat to myself “I accept myself and accept others”. It helps me let go of my need to be perfect and my expectation that everyone else must be perfect too.
Want to stop binge eating and get out of the all-or-nothing mindset?
Check out Keep It Real. for binge/emotional eaters or Back to Basics if you need a little support.