Welcome back to part two of How to Overcome an All-or-Nothing Mindset.
In the previous post (check it out if you haven’t already) we went over what an all-or-nothing mindset is, and why it’s dangerous. But how do we overcome an all-or-nothing mindset?
Overcoming an all-or-nothing mindset takes time. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Think about it; you’ve likely been having all-or-nothing thoughts when it comes to food (and potentially other areas of your life) for quite some time. So it’s unrealistic to think we can abolish it in a matter of days. This work takes time, but I can tell you that it’s so, so worth it.
Let’s get into it.
1. Recognize when you’re doing it
Recognizing when we’re limiting ourselves to an all-or-nothing mindset might not be as obvious as we think.
Some of the most common phrases we tell ourself with an all-or-nothing mindset include:
“I better finish this bag of chips today, so there’s none left for me to eat tomorrow”
“I’ve already eaten junk food today, the day’s already ruined. I’ll start tomorrow”
“I can’t eat chocolate today, I ate it yesterday!”
“I’m off sugar”
“I’m on vacation! I can eat whatever I want. I’ll detox when I get back”
Try to notice when you’re having these thoughts. You don’t need to worry about doing anything about them yet. But simply noticing that these thoughts are crossing your mind, or you’re saying them out loud, can be really interesting.
2. Question why you’re having these thoughts
Now that you’ve recognized that you’re having these thoughts, as yourself why you’re thinking them. Have you heard someone else say these things before? Maybe you’ve fallen prey to diet culture (spoiler alert, most people have). Or maybe you’ve had a family member or friend make you feel bad for eating certain things at certain times. Either way, blaming ourselves for the things we think and feel surrounding food is unproductive and unnecessary. Instead, try to spend that energy thinking about how you can change the way that you feel to help cultivate a healthier relationship with food.
Tuning into ourselves to determine why we feel a certain way will help us to get to the root of the issue, and therefore make it easier to address. It might be easier for you to start recognizing the all-or-nothing mindset in other people, first. Start becoming aware of media that suggests some food is ‘guilt free’, and other food is a ‘guilty pleasure’. Start recognizing how family and friends talk about food. Become aware of when people on social media are praised or berated for eating some things instead of others. Recognizing these patterns in other people may help you to see it more clearly in yourself, too.
3. Recognize when you’re most vulnerable to the all-or-nothing mindset
It’s no secret that we are emotional beings. So why do we think our food choices are any different?
There may be times of the day, week, month or year that you feel most triggered by an all-or-nothing mindset. Maybe this is right before you go on a beach vacation, and vow to ‘eat clean’ leading up to the vacation and have a ‘yolo’ mindset during it. Maybe it’s when you’ve had a particularly stressful day at work, and you soothe yourself with food, telling yourself you’ll ‘get back on track tomorrow’. Or maybe you tell yourself that ‘indulgent’ food should only be eaten on the weekend, and ‘healthy’ food should only be eaten during the week. Whatever the case, it’s important for us to remember that our thoughts and emotions play a huge part in what we choose to eat. The story we tell ourselves in our head about our food choices and what they determine about us can be hugely detrimental to having a healthy relationship with food.
I’m not saying you need to overhaul these thought patterns and emotions overnight, but simply recognizing them can take away a lot of their power. Try to truly question why you tell yourself certain things about food, and where these thoughts might come from.
If you’re someone who frequently deals with emotional eating, please reach out to a Registered Dietitian that you trust.
4. Allow yourself to have certain foods during no occasion at all
Oftentimes we associate certain foods with specific occasions. Birthday cake on birthdays, creamy mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, and chocolate on Valentines Day. But, what if you were allowed to eat these foods all the time? With no occasion at all? Would they still have the same draw?
Have you ever gone out to eat with a friend or partner who allows themselves to eat whatever they want? Oftentimes, you’ll find that they don’t clean their plate (unless they’re hungry, which by all means, go for it). Have you ever wondered how that person can have such restraint, to have this delicious looking food on their plate and not eat the whole thing? News flash, they’re probably not showing restraint. More likely, they simply don’t want the food anymore. They ate what they wanted, until they were full and satisfied, and moved on. It’s groundbreaking, I know.
Allowing ourselves to eat the food we want, when we want it takes the power away from the food. We might even realize that the food we think about all damn day doesn’t even taste that good.
Take a moment in the middle of eating. Assess how you really feel. Are you still enjoying the food? Are you still hungry? Does your body want more? Continue if you’re still hungry, or if what you’re eating is so damn delicious you don’t want to stop. But if you’re not hungry, or if the food is tasting lackluster, put the fork down. You can reassess how you feel in five minutes, and give yourself permission to continue eating if you’re still hungry, and also stop if you feel good. The food will still be there tomorrow, and yes, you’ll still be ‘allowed’ to eat it.
5. Challenge yourself to continue the next day as is
One of the most detrimental effects that an all-or-nothing mindset has is the perception that we need to ‘get back on track’ the next day. This usually is accompanied by restriction, vowing to ‘never eat that food again’, or reducing the amount that we eat or the variety of food that we eat, sticking to foods we’ve labeled ‘clean’, ‘healthy’ or ‘safe’.
Let’s give an example of chocolate. I love chocolate. I have chocolate pretty much every day in some form or another. Some days, I have more chocolate than others. Because I’m human, I even have some days* where I eat more chocolate than makes me feel physically comfortable (i.e. I get a stomach ache). Some might think that because I’ve eaten more chocolate than felt right for me physically, the next day I won’t have any chocolate at all. I’ll probably only eat salads, cut out carbs for a few days, and put myself on a juice cleanse, right? Wrong.
Actually, I’ll continue on the next day exactly as before. I’ll eat what I want when I want it. Maybe I will crave a salad, but you can bet that I won’t be telling myself I need to have one. Maybe I’ll want pasta for dinner, and I’ll definitely have that too (especially if it’s this recipe). And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have chocolate again tonight *gasp*.
Adopting this mindset only perpetuates a binging and restricting cycle, and gives power to foods that are just food. Not good, not bad, just food.
*BTW, this happens to me much less often now that I don’t have an all-or-nothing mindset.
6. Recognize gentle nutrition
You might be thinking at this point that if you adopt this mindset, that you’ll go on forever eating only ice cream and donuts. But this isn’t true.
Yes, you might have them a bit more often at the beginning. And sure, you’ll probably absolutely love it. But our bodies are smart, and they know exactly what we need, as long as we tune in and listen.
Eventually, we’ll crave vegetables. We’ll crave delicious, ripe fruit and whole grains, and beans and lentils (if you like them). And yes, you’ll still crave chocolate some days. But other days you won’t. You’ll allow yourself to have that chocolate because it’s exactly what you want in that moment, and then you’ll move on.
In my opinion, gentle nutrition is about knowing that there are foods that are objectively good for us. Veggies have tons of vitamins and minerals that are good for my health. Whole grains will give me the energy to power through my day. Legumes will provide important protein for my muscles to function properly, and avocado will provide fat for my brain and cells to thrive. Gentle nutrition is more about knowing what foods are good to add into our everyday eating pattern, rather than what we take away. You can eat whole grains and still have a donut when you want it.
7. We are more than our bodies
You are a whole, complete human being. You have thoughts, feelings and emotions. You make people smile, laugh, and grateful to be around you. Your boss thinks you’re an awesome worker, and your friends think you’re the best listener. You have so much more to offer to the world than your body. Our physical body is fleeting, and news flash, it’s going to change a lot over the course of a lifetime. It’s important to remember that we are more than our bodies.
Do you have an all-or-nothing mindset? Are you interested in overcoming it? Let me know in the comments below!
This information is for entertainment purposes only and is in no way a replacement for personalized, professional health care. Please reach out to a Registered Dietitian that you trust to discuss this further and get personalized help.