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? 

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

23 thoughts on “Why All or Nothing Doesn’t Work For Me”

  1. HI Lisa Eirene – First…I’d like the glass second from the left please:) I used to be the all or nothing person. Not just with food and drink, but in nearly every aspect of my life. It set me up for a lot of disappointment. I don’t have hard specific rules for life anymore, just guidelines.
    Marc recently posted..Healthy snacks – sorry they fooled you

    1. A dark beer man, eh?

      I agree with you about setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment. I am experiencing that a lot lately and need to change my thinking so that I don’t get disappointed. It’s definitely a hard habit to break.

  2. Yes! I have a HUGE problem with the all-or-nothing mindset. Most recently, this can be seen in my 3 week vegan/veggie challenge, as it came to a crushing halt Saturday evening. When I don’t stick with the plan I’ve got set in my mind, I feel like I’ll never achieve my goals, and why am I even trying. Remembering to roll with the punches and compromise is helping me conquer this problem one day at a time!!
    Samantha (@Brownie8727) recently posted..Weekend Detox Recap and My Yoga Goals

    1. YES!!! I think a lot of people that decide Jan 1st is when they will start to lose weight get discouraged and end up quitting before the end of January because they have set unrealistic expectations. Like, why not vow to do a vegetarian/vegan night 3 days a week instead of every day? Then if that’s successful switch it to 4 days a week and so on. Instead of giving up completely for ONE BAD DAY, keep going!!!

  3. Just a couple days ago I decided to start a list of the small steps I am taking everyday to live healthier and eat better. I am listing things like “tracked all of my food today, even chocolate chip cookies,” “had a large glass of water before finding a snack,” “threw away leftover Christmas candy,” and things like that. I am hoping it will remind me to make small changes all day long, and also encourage me when I fall off track.

    1. That’s a great idea. I once saw a blogger keep a journal of all the foods she DIDN’T eat. Like “today I wanted to eat 4 cookies and some ice cream for lunch but I didn’t” and it showed her what she overcame.

    1. The emotional part plays a huge part of it. I didn’t address any of the emotional aspects of obesity and weight loss until after I lost my weight. In a way I am still addressing the issues. It’s hard.

  4. I love moderation, all or nothing backfires always, in every way. I have a friend who yo-yos, and he says he can’t do anything not extremely. He goes low-carb, then gives up and has a huge pizza plus two beers for lunch every day. I ask why not one beer, a large salad, a small pizza, but he doesn’t do that sort of eating. So he loses 75, gains 80, etc.

    Makes my head spin. It seems a lot of people really don’t like moderation, and their attitude seems to be that since they can’t make it work, it works for nobody. I’m sorry, good thing we’re all different.
    julie recently posted..No thanks

    1. Great point! I have a friend who does the same thing–the diet is always going to start “next week” and she gains and loses and gains even more back. It has to be frustrating and at some point these people just give up and stop caring or trying. It really doesn’t have to be that way! I’m proof!!

  5. Awesome advice. It is exactly what I tell people who are starting their weight loss journey!

    I was an all or nothing person. I tried to lose weight many times and I ended up burnt out and angry because I wasn’t ‘allowed’ a cookie or cake or whatever. Cue binging and failure. This time around I have been much more lax with myself. I probably follow more of an 80/20 plan. I have lost weight slowly (40lb in a year) but I have stuck to it. It helps to know I CAN have a cookie, I just have to decide if I actually WANT one. And the answer is usually no, which is fine because if I want one tomorrow I can have one. You always want what you can’t have, and by removing that factor I found I don’t want bad foods very often, or if I do they aren’t in huge amounts.

    1. I am so glad to hear it worked for you! I think your attitude is great.

      I also lost weight slowly–almost 2 years. I don’t regret it taking that long because I never once felt deprived. I did eat treats and things I wanted (for the most part) just in smaller portions. Had I eliminated everything “Bad” from my diet I probably would have lost it faster–but I’d be miserable. And probably gain it back!

      Thanks for the comment, Jess.

  6. I am so guilty of all or nothing thinking, and not just in my weight loss, but in every single thing I do. I either have zero interest in whatever it is, or I am completely obsessed with it, and as so many people have said, it does not work long term. Leaving that mindset is something I am working on, but its tough. I backslid over the holidays, but even when I screwed up, I did NOT just throw in the towel and give up til another day. Those days weren’t great, but they weren’t “nothing” days either- a change I’d like to see in the future when slip ups happen.
    Deb recently posted..FMM – Simple Questions

    1. I understand Deb, I’m kind of the same way. When I get into something I go all-in and can get obsessed. Don’t beat yourself up about the holiday backslide. You’ll get back at it this month!

  7. Definitely guilty of all or nothing here! I’ve found I do better with small short-term goals. If I tell myself exactly what to do and have a specific time frame, I’m more likely to stick with it the entire time. Telling myself to diet until I lose XX number of pounds NEVER works because I get discouraged and give up. But you’re absolutely right – it’s the small changes that add up over time if we stick with them and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
    Ali @ Peaches and Football recently posted..Cookie Monsters

  8. I definitely have all or nothing mindsets! I was more so when I first started losing weight but recently have figured out it doesn’t have to be that way. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist so when things don’t go perfectly I get upset and tend to give up. Finally, after much trial and error, things started to click. I finally realized just this winter/holiday that I can still squeeze in my normal routines and it will actually help me handle stressful situations better than thinking ‘oh forget it! I can’t do it if I’m not at home in my normal routine!’ Finally I decided to be confident in doing what I knew would help me stay healthy and realized it’s not only do-able but it’s easy to fit in! I found many ways to sneak in fruits/veggies while away for christmas week and not just give in to every single treat I saw. I chose which treats I really wanted and wouldn’t have the rest of the year. I found ways to stay active and not disrupt family time. I found ways to keep to my normal habits of tracking my food which gave me a huge perspective on days when I was eating a few too many cookies. I still got to indulge and enjoy the Holidays but I didn’t just give up. And that is HUGE for me! I finally found compromise within my perfectionist mindset and realized I can do this long term! Stress and special events will happen all the time but it’s learning how to enjoy those moments without thinking all health is hopeless that has made a huge difference. It’s helped me bounce back to my regular routine so much faster, too! Life is more consistent and less dramatic.
    Sara recently posted..Horsey Christmas!

  9. Great post, Lisa! Enjoyed reading your posts as I haven’t been able to blog hop for a few days. I’ve been an all or nothing thinker for as long as I can remember. That’s why I’m also the perpetual beginner my husband talks about so often. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. I just need to not give up completely when things go downhill – that’s the hardest part for me, but I’m working on it!
    I ❤ 2 Eat recently posted..Mustard Power Part 1: Trial and Error Mustard Fish

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