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"All or Nothing" Thinking

Posted Jun 11 2010 8:20am
Have you ever made a less than healthy decision, and found that it led to more unhealthy decisions? Have you ever thought "Ugh! I already ate two cookies, I might as well have two more!" or "I already ordered popcorn, I might as well have the butter too". If so, you may be an all or nothing thinker.

"All or nothing" thinking, or "black or white" thinking, is a tendency to do things to extremes one way or another, over generalize or exaggerate situations. This type of thinking has many downfalls, but nutritionally speaking, it can hamper your attempts at healthy eating. How and what we think has a direct impact on our food choices, usually without us even realizing it. When we think in extremes, it often leads to going back and forth from eating really well for a period of time, followed by periods of unhealthy eating, then back to healthy eating. And the cycle continues.

Some other examples of all or nothing thinking might be
"I've missed all my workouts so far this week, I might as well wait until Monday to start again"


"If I'm going to order a burger, I might as well have the fries too"

The truth is that all or nothing thinking, and the resulting cycling between healthy and unhealthy eating, can be quite detrimental to health. Periods of overeating, followed by extreme restriction in an attempt to compensate, can lead to nutritional imbalances. Thinking in this way can be a difficult pattern to break, but it is possible.

What you can do

1. Rethink your motivations. Choosing a salad instead of fries with a greasy burger may or may not reduce the damage to your waistline, but it will provide you with more nutritional value. Making choices based on Calories or weight loss alone is a narrow view of nutrition, and sometimes isn't a compelling enough reason to persuade you to make a healthy choice. Consider other reasons such as heart health and cancer prevention, when making choices.

2. Learn to see shades of grey. Nothing in this world is black and white, and that includes nutrition. Constantly going back and forth between extremes can be exhausting. Remember that every healthy choice you make (no matter how many bad ones came before, or will come after) is a good choice. There is beauty in balance.

3. Avoid extreme words like "never", "always", "perfect" and "ruined" when referring to eating or exercise. These words are often associated with 'all or nothing' thinking.

4. Forgive yourself. If you make a 'less than ideal' food choice, don't scold yourself. And don't wait until the next day or Monday to get back on track. Start over at the next meal or snack.

5. Finally, reward yourself. Take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back every time you make a healthy choice. Giving yourself recognition for healthy choices is important.

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