All-or-Nothing... and the Precious Middle Ground

Nutrition Diet Healthy Eating

I frequently discuss the “all-or-nothing” mentality with patients. This outlook can be a great asset when it comes to making positive changes, but it can also be too rigid, resulting in feelings of frustration and defeat. The “all-or-nothing” mentality is particularly powerful when looking at maintaining healthy eating habits. Very often, patients tell me they started a specific diet (keto, paleo, whole foods, etc.) that worked really well and resolved many of their health complaints (sleep, weight, energy, etc.), but they couldn’t keep it up. They did well during the week but when the weekend arrived, or they had an exhausting few days at work, or they went on holiday, they completely fell off their plan and gave up on the diet altogether. 

Expecting different results when you haven’t changed your actions is unrealistic, but you don’t need to be perfect to see improvements. It is my goal to set realistic and attainable goals with my patients. I want to set you up for success and equip you with a sustainable plan! I would far rather my patients made gradual but lasting changes than overhauled their life in the name of better health only to feel overwhelmed or defeated and return to their previous habits. 

Achieving any goal requires realistic planning, including setting smaller goals along the way. The timeline of a goal is important. It’s foolish to expect to master a new eating plan in a matter of days. Instead, when I discuss diet changes with my patients, I encourage them to:

  • go home and use up what’s already in the cupboards

  • do a little grocery store exploration and find some new staples for the fridge or pantry

  • find a cookbook or two and some food blogs that provide inspiration for the new eating plan

Once they feel more comfortable with their new eating plan, I encourage patients to jump in fully. This is where the all-or-nothing mentality becomes an asset in the short-term. Change is hard. When it comes to diet change, there will be cravings, especially on days where you didn’t get enough sleep or arrived home exhausted after work. Initially, successful change requires faithfully adhering to the plan. Once you are settled into your new habits, though, you can introduce a little wiggle-room. 

In the longterm, expecting perfection (“all-or-nothing”) is a recipe for defeat and frustration. The precious middle ground - most of the time but not all of the time - can be freeing and sustainable. For example, a good rule of thumb is strictly adhering to the plan 80-90% of the time and indulging 20-10% of the time. Of course, the indulgent percentage must be a solid boundary, not an ever-growing allowance.

If you find you’re sliding off the plan, give yourself a little grace then hop back in and tighten your boundaries for awhile to get back on track. If you need to, book an appointment with your naturopathic doctor or other healthcare provider to help make the plan more sustainable or identify any barriers to success. Sometimes, there’s another health issue preventing improvements - eg. hormone dysregulation or nutrient deficiencies that are causing fatigue and cravings. Your naturopathic doctor can look at your whole health picture and help remove any barriers to help you get back to what you love.