It really never has to be all or nothing, all in or all out...
The scenario: You’ve got a plan, you’re eating healthy, and things are going great! You feel strong and upbeat, some of your symptoms are disappearing and you’ve lost a bit of weight. You’re coasting!
Then one night, your friends want to go out for dinner. You really don’t want to turn down the invitation, because you’ve been so ‘perfect’ with your plan for the last 2 weeks, eating only those foods that are on the program, anti-inflammatory and health promoting. You deserve a treat don’t you? This is especially true because you have been diligently avoiding dinners out because your plan does not seem to allow a lot of the foods that are on restaurant menus.
You go for the meal, dessert, a second bottle of wine, and who knows what else.
You wake up the following morning feeling bloated and defeated. You threw caution to the wind and overindulged the night before so you feel like you might as well extend the party though the weekend. Off you go to brunch, and later on in the day, the cookies come out of hiding. The next day, you feel like such crap about yourself for ‘failing’, you can barely stand to look in the mirror.
You decide to get back onto your plan, on Monday. Right now you have a serious craving for some ice cream. And why not? You’ve already blown it. You might as well get it now before you are back on trakc once again and can’t have any.
This all or nothing attitude towards food is probably the single most common way I see my clients sabotage their healthy eating efforts. It’s time to stop this and get rid of this destructive cycle! It’s time to reframe:
Stop expecting perfection.
I consistently tell my clients that ‘in nutrition, there is no such thing as perfection’.
One thing that tends to drive all or nothing behaviour is the quest for perfection, but perfection does not actually exist in life. You need to find the perfection in imperfection (even though it may sound a little Hallmark card-like).
When you expect some sort of divine perfection in your eating habits, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Even the healthiest of eaters (like, nutritionists perhaps?!?!), eat junk food and blow the doors off sometimes. A ‘perfect’ diet is not only undefined (what is perfect and who is to tell you what how it is defined for YOU?), it is unheard of. You learn from each slip, each stumble. Take those experiences, learn your lessons and use them to change your habits. Don’t forget to breathe and relax at the same time. Focus instead on ‘healthy-ish’ and ‘good enough’ – those are great goals for eating, because they give you some wiggle room. ‘Perfect’ never does, and that becomes unrealistic for anyone.
Remember too: No matter what you eat, and even if your diet is ‘perfect’, you will remain the same person inside. You are not the food you eat or the food you abstain from.
Change your tape.
We all have a tape, and that I mean, that voice in your head that tends to tell you negative things about yourself. This tape can be really destructive to your feelings of self-worth. Some people hardly even realize that they spend their time constantly putting themselves down because it has been part of their world for so long.
Instead of calling yourself a failure and other nasty things when you feel like you may have messed up with your eating (or anything else in life), consider whether you would say those words to a friend? Would you tell someone you love that they are no good, that they are a failure and that they are not good enough? Probably not. So why are you saying those things to yourself?
Berating yourself for what you believe you may have done wrong vs. focusing on what you have probably done right is a common thread for all or nothing eaters, and this tends to result in them giving up their quest for healthier eating habits.
Instead of getting into that vicious cycle when you feel like you’ve digressed, show yourself some love. Tell yourself what you would tell your friend. Remind yourself that it is okay, you are a good person and not a failure. Focus on your wins, however small. Each step is a step in the right direction, because, once again, you learn from everything.
Remember again: Your diet, your food choices or your weight do not determine your self-worth (notice a pattern developing here?)
For an all or nothing person, a restrictive diet is the road to guilt and shame. If you are not on a diet, then you are off one. By off, I mean OFF, no happy medium.
Stop dieting. It may sound a little scary, but bear with me here
I am not saying you should not make healthy food choices, but rather, find your meaning of , ‘healthy-ish’ or ‘good enough’. Forget about the diet mentality of restriction, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, guilt and shame around food, and linking your value as a person with what you eat. It will never make you feel good, and it rarely works in the long run. Life and food are supposed to be enjoyable!
Restrictive diets (the ‘on a diet’ stage) are usually unsustainable and tend to result in cravings and binges on the very foods you try to avoid. When you inevitably give in, the resulting guilt may actually cause you to eat more. This is followed by the ‘off’ stage of overindulgence. It is nothing short of exhausting!
The diet mentality can also be full of judgements about food like ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’, that you transfer onto yourself as a person. This is not okay.
You are NOT your diet. Eating unhealthy food does NOT make you unhealthy, and it has no power to make you a failure or a bad person. The food you eat, be it healthy or unhealthy, has ZERO to do with your self-worth.
Your inability to sustain a diet is also not about your lack of willpower. Forget about beating yourself with that stick too!
The diets are failing YOU, not the other way around. It is time to get rid of them, once and for all.
Throwing out the diet mentality also means that you get rid of the concept of ‘cheating’. This is a term I am not a fan of. The concept of ‘cheat days’ perpetuate that good/bad thinking in relation to eating and this bothers me. The negative connotation of ‘cheating’ and the implication that you are doing bad or wrong if you breach the rules of your shitty, restrictive diet is so loaded and so destructive.
Newsflash: Normal eating does not involve making yourself feel bad about your food.
Instead of going on one diet after another, try to change your mind set. Understand that eating healthy AND less-than-healthy food is all part of living life. Some days are better than others, and that is perfectly okay. Having one ice cream cone is not going to make you gain weight, and it certainly will never imply that you have failed or are less of a person. Having a hundred ice cream cones doesn’t mean those things, either.
Trust your body. Know that nothing bad is going to happen if you let go of the reins a bit and eat mindfully.
Making small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle is a better way for most people to maintain a healthy, enjoyable way of life. Eat mindfully, lower your expectations to reasonable levels, stop punishing yourself, and find joy in nourishing your body.
If there is a food you absolutely cannot resist or be mindful around, keep it out of the house.
And what if you have gone on a bit of a junk food bender?
Take a moment, breathe and begin making better choices again, right now, instead of calling it quits. You will continue to progress and be much further along if you pick yourself up and keep going, rather than starting all over again after a prolonged period of feeling like a failure and continuing to make more unhealthy choices. Undoing two days of eating junk food is a lot easier than undoing two months of it – physically AND emotionally.
You can’t unring a bell, so keep moving forward and stay focused on treating yourself with love and care, not punishment.