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Ditch the "All-or-Nothing" Mindset & Improve Your Nutrition

By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN

December 3, 2020

"Starting next Monday, I'm going to cut out sugar, carbs and meat and only have salads at lunch". Sounds familiar?

What is all-or-nothing thinking?

All-or-nothing thinking is regarded as cognitive distortion - a negative way of thinking that typically involves seeing situations as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad with little room for gray areas.

If a situation falls short of your ideal, you may see it as a total failure.

All-or-nothing thinking often involves using absolute terms, such as never, ever, always, .

For example, if you've decided to cut sugar from your diet, but ate a spoonful of ice cream, you may think, "what's the point? I'm always messing up".

The downside

All-or-nothing thinking contributes to negative emotions and triggers catastrophic thinking patterns.

Continuing from the example above: after thinking that you're always messing up, you may then feel guilty, followed by an emotional spiral that ends with you eating the carton of ice cream.

If you're able to establish more balanced nutritional goals, you can learn to savor the spoonful of ice cream without being derailed.

Tips to overcome and improve your nutrition

1. Give yourself permission

Ditch the mindset that foods are either "good or bad". Yes, some foods are better for you than others, but the impact that this mindset has on your perceived levels of self-control, cravings and self-worth cannot be understated.

Mind swap: there aren't "cheat days", instead there are days where you simply enjoy a favorite food and move on. This does not derail your health goals, devalue you or make you less worthy...and you don't need to eat less later.

2. Add before you take away

Most times we are told what we should not eat and it rarely works.

Instead, think about what can you add to your plate to make it more nutrient-dense, wholesome and filling. This combo can help you fight your cravings and prevent binge eating.

Mind swap: Having a sandwich? Add fresh vegetables to it. Add some peas/beans and healthy fat, like avocado, to your irresistible rice meal, instead of avoiding rice totally.

3. Celebrate the small victories

Re-evaluate your statements about “ruining every attempt” and contemplate all of the times that you have actually triumphed in spite of having overwhelming feelings of doubt, lack of self-control and guilt.

Mind swap: Healthy eating is a journey and there is no one way to do so. Decide to make this journey unique to you and acknowledge your growth along the way.

4. There are no start-overs, only progress

Embrace the lessons of the past, whether successes or failures, and realize that you're not "starting over", but taking a change in direction...and don't wait until Monday!

Mind swap: Start where you are, learn from the past, create a vision for the future and do a little everyday to help you achieve your goals.

5. Seek support

Get an accountability partner - TODAY. Whether that is a therapist, relative or close friend - but make sure it's someone that is honest with you.

It’s not a simple process to let go of self-sabotaging thoughts and develop the habit of thoughts that help to drive success. It takes practice and consistency.

Mind swap: therapy is not taboo and mental health is an important part of the entire being. Take care of it and give it some TLC everyday.

Take away

All-or-nothing thinking limits your perspectives, triggers negative emotions and can set you up for failure.

As it relates to your nutrition, it can have you jumping on every fad diet that promises a pot of gold, leading to feelings of inadequacy.

Try these mindset swaps and to begin seeing your health journey, not as a 1-month 10-lb weight loss effort, but as something that you're doing for yourself and your loved ones the long haul.

Xoxo- The Cultural Dietitian.

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