The All-or-none Story

I have had quite a few people lately tell me that they haven’t been eating well because they are an “all-or-none person”. I’m struggling with this. As someone that can be very intense, I sympathize with people that dive in deeply.  However, this just simply isn’t true – and it’s certainly not a flippant reason to justify getting derailed from our health goals.  

Consider these scenarios:  

if you really were an all-or-none-person,  you wouldn’t have made it through school. The first time you bombed an assignment or failed a test, if you were truly all-or-none, you would’ve dropped out. 

If you were an all-or-none-person, you wouldn’t be in a committed relationship – with anyone – not with a spouse, a child, a parent, or a friend. Because no one is a perfect friend or family member – and as an all-or-none-person, if you screwed up in a relationship, you would have walked away.   

If you were an all-or-none-person, you wouldn’t be gainfully employed.  Unless you are a perfect employee (does one exist?), the first time you made a mistake at work, you would have up and quit.  

As much as we say it, the only time this personality quirk seems to be acceptable is when it comes to eating (and sometimes exercising). Some people decide they are either healthy or unhealthy in terms of their eating behaviors – not just at one moment in time, but as a global concept. They might be healthy for two weeks but the first time they have a bite of cake, they discard the healthy persona and jump back into being an unhealthy eater.  This is not a functional way to look at things. No wonder we struggle with the idea of balance and overall health.  We have to get out of his mindset. 

There’s simply no reason you can’t eat healthy all day Monday and then eat something decadent on Tuesday night and then eat healthy again Wednesday morning. Heck, there’s no reason you can’t have french fries with your dinner and then pass on dessert.  

Unless you tell yourself the story that you are an all-or-none-person.  Then going to town after the piece of cake seems completely natural and expected.  The things we tell ourselves have a great deal of power over our behavior – so if this is the story we tell ourselves and live by, we are going to do it over and over again.  And I know of no one that walks on the path of health long-term that has this mentality.  No one is a healthy eater every minute of every day of their whole life. 

Next time you find yourself falling into the all-or-nothing trap, do me a favor.  Turn that mentality around and use that same thinking to give someone you care about advice – not about food but about something completely different.  Then listen to your words.  

If your 6th grader came home having failed a math test, would you really tell him, “Honey, don’t worry.  You’re an all-or-none person like me.  You screwed up your math grade, so you might as well skip doing your science homework and your reading assignment.  If you are going to be bad at school, you might as well play video games and try again next year?”

If your best friend called to tell you that she accidentally forgot to pay her electric bill and was upset about the late fee that the electric company tacked on, would your advice to her be, “if you failed to pay one bill, you might as well tear up the rest and go spend that money on a new purse – after all, you’re clearly not a bill-payer and that’s that – you can always try to get utilities set up with new companies once your current ones shut you off?”

No way (at least I hope you are thinking that)!  When you consider yourself a good employee and you make a mistake at work, you up their game a little bit to compensate – to make it right.  When you overspend on vacation, you pull back your spending when you get home to balance it out – to make it right.  Time to start thinking similarly about eating.  When you go on vacation and enjoy ice cream every night, once you get home, you grab a whole bunch of veggies and chicken and buckle down to balance it out.  When you indulge and have a piece of great-Grandma’s homemade pecan pie on Thanksgiving, you balance it by skipping the stupid white roll and instant mashed potatoes that preceded the pecan goodness.  When you indulge with a margarita during your girls’ night out, you skip the chips and queso.  

Next time you find yourself telling yourself a story about your single-mindedness, stop and regroup.  Use the right words.  It’s a lot more difficult to do something irrational when you talk it through out loud.

Keep fighting the good fight.  And if you need me, you know where to find me (at our NEW LOCATION!)

Courtney Younglove, M.D.

ATTENTION LAWRENCE PATIENTS: 18th Street is closed at Wakarusa until further notice due to construction. You can access our parking lot via Research Parkway and Research Park Drive. Expect traffic delays and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to our office.
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