Why All or Nothing Doesn’t Work For Me


There was a time when I had an “all or nothing” point of view on life. I was 250 pounds, starting to swim a few times a week and I decided I was going to start counting my calories in order to lose 100 pounds. Because I had lived so long without doing either of those things, I had to change my habits and thinking in pretty drastic ways in order for it to work.

I knew that I had to eat less than 2,000 calories a day in order to lose the weight; which was a big change from eating 5,000+ calories a day! In order to do this, I wrote down everything I ate. I quickly discovered I was going to have to be more discriminating in my food choices if I was going to stay under 2,000 calories.

Because of this, I had an all-or-nothing attitude about food. I was GOING TO eat less than 2,000 calories a day. I WAS NOT going to eat my trigger foods (pizza, ice cream) until I lost the weight. This meant I did not eat pizza for almost two years. I also stopped drinking my calories for nearly two years. Yep, that meant no wine, beer, daiquiris, juice or regular soda! This is very much an all-or-nothing mind-frame.

I also had that mind-frame about exercise. I had a set schedule for my swimming and I did not want to deviate from that. Part of that was probably a fear that if I did take a day off, that I’d completely fall off the wagon and stop exercising. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t somewhere in the back of mind even today.

But this rigidness is difficult to maintain forever. And I didn’t maintain it forever. After reaching goal weight and keeping it off for 4+ years now, I have loosened my rigidness a bit. I started eating pizza again and drinking alcohol on occasion.

90/10 Rule

I adopted what I call the “90/10 Rule”–this means that I count my calories and I eat healthy, but I still allow myself the treats that I want. If I’m craving a cookie, and I have enough calories in my “Bank” left for the day, I eat that cookie! While I was losing weight, I did not. I practiced great self-restraint and tried my best not to eat the “Bad Foods.”


Practicing this rule has helped me stay SANE, keep the weight OFF and enjoy whatever I want in moderation. Even BEER!


I bring up the all-or-nothing attitude because I think it sets us up for failure. Yes, it worked for me to some extent but like I said, I couldn’t do it forever. I changed my lifestyle to a healthy one, but one that allows for slip-ups, allows for treats, and doesn’t have room for shaming if I make a mistake.

How many of you have decided that on Monday you are going to start your diet? So you spend all weekend binge eating on all of the junk food you’re going to deny yourself. Then Monday comes and either you feel so beaten down by the idea of restricting your food or you decide you CAN’T do it (“I don’t have the willpower”), so you don’t even try. You give up on the goal of losing weight and getting healthy.

We’ve all done it. I know it.

The same thing goes for setting unrealistic goals. Instead of saying “I’m going to lose 100 pounds!” why not try “I will lose 20 pounds in three months” instead? I certainly didn’t set out to lose 100 pounds! That number was huge in my mind. 50 pounds seemed easier.

How Not To Fail

How do you prevent that? First, I would stop with the “the diet starts on Monday” mentality. Start today. Start this moment. Decline that homemade fudge from your coworker, or deep fried happy hour food with friends. Start today making one small change. Instead of “I’m giving up all unhealthy food and just eating SALAD!” try cutting out the unhealthy foods one by one.

“Today I will have soup and a salad for lunch and not pizza.”

“Today I will bring an apple to work for an afternoon snack.”

“Today I will drink more water instead of soda.”

Choose something small. Choose something you can commit to. Don’t set yourself up for failure before you even start! So what about the exercise?

The same goes for fitness. If you’re just starting out, DO NOT say “I’m going to workout for an hour every single day this week!” God, that sounds exhausting and I haven’t even set one foot inside the gym! Instead, why not try this:

“Today I will walk to the library instead of driving.”

“Tomorrow I will go for a walk during my lunch break instead of eating at a restaurant.”

“Today I will go to the gym for 20 minutes and use the elliptical.”

Easy. Small. Baby steps. Set small goals and then reward yourself when you succeed (don’t use food as a reward!). Don’t beat yourself up if tomorrow comes and you haven’t made it to the gym yet. Take your dog or kids for a walk around the block instead and congratulate yourself for getting off the couch.


You have to start somewhere.

QUESTION: Are you an all-or-nothing thinker? How do you change that?