The “All or Nothing” Approach Has Failed, Miserably.

Another myth that’s detrimental to health and fitness is the “all or nothing” mentality: You have to go all in if you want to achieve great results. You do everything correctly, or you might as well not even try. You either stay on that diet and make sure every meal is perfect, or you screwed up because you ate a cupcake and go back to previous habits. All, or nothing.

There are limitless examples of the failure of the all or nothing approach: Remember the teacher who lost 56 pounds eating nothing but McDonald’s for six months? During this experiment guided by a few basics rules (e.g., limit calories to 2,000 per day, track 15 nutrients to meet the standards of the FDA) he managed to lose 56 pounds while lowering his cholesterol and triglycerides (from 249 to 170 and 156 to 80, respectively).

Despite the fact that this man’s health was improved from this experiment (and no he didn’t do it to proclaim eating fast food for every meal is ideal or recommended) many stood up and shouted, “This is wrong!” and “Can you imagine the results he would have achieved if he ate real, unprocessed food instead?”

These are the chants of the all or nothing crowd.

They wanted this man to do things “the right way” and eat nothing but lean meats and veggies for every damn meal. He wasn’t going all in by their standards, so his effort wasn’t good enough. You cannot deny that this man is better off as a result of this experiment. He developed a fitness regimen during the experiment and maintained it after (he progressed from simply walking to engaging in more vigorous physical activity) and even adopted better eating habits like including more vegetables in his diet.

This “all or nothing” approach that many demanded he take (“Don’t eat McDonald’s! Eat real food otherwise this entire thing is pointless!”), is part of the mind-boggling bullshit of health and fitness.

Want more examples? I’ve got plenty. I’ll bet you can attest to the failure of the “all or nothing” approach.

When was the last time you tried a diet or even a detox or cleanse?

Did you start that new diet thinking, “I’m going to do it this time and follow this thing perfectly”? For a few days, or maybe even a week, you followed the rules without deviation. But then, it was someone’s birthday, or a special occasion, a holiday, or your work catered lunch at the office. And you ate something you “weren’t supposed to” because it was off-limits from your diet.

“I screwed up,” was likely the thought you had because you broke the rules of your diet.

That one “bad meal” then turned into an entire day of “bad eating” because you rationalized that you already screwed up and ruined the day, so what difference does it make if you continue making bad choices? You’ll start over again tomorrow!

And the vicious cycle continues. You start back with determination but, inevitably, something again will derail your efforts. It’s either all, or nothing. You follow the diet perfectly, or you abandon it.

Too often people fail when they embrace the all or nothing approach with nutrition and working out, or rather: the all or nothing approach has failed them.

Look to the New Year’s resolution crowd to echo the truth of the failure from an all or nothing mindset. Most people radically change their eating and workout habits on January 1; they completely change how they eat and say they’re going to work out five days per week. From couch potato to “I’m going to look like her!” in the shortest time possible is the goal, and the all or nothing approach is the golden ticket.

You know what happens: Toward the end of January and into February, the crowd has progressively dwindled. They were “all in” in the beginning but because they likely “screwed up” a few times, they were back to nothing. It was too difficult. It was unrealistic. They gave up … again. Apparently they could not go “all in.”

For most people the all or nothing approach doesn’t work. If you read the information above and nodded in agreement because that reality is all too familiar, then avoid the “all or nothing” mentality and adopt an approach that, you know, will actually work so you can achieve, and maintain, great results.

Why is the all or nothing approach failing so miserably? Because life happens:

  • You get sick and have to miss a week of workouts
  • An unforeseen event happens (e.g., family member gets sick, work priority demands more time, your kid has a tournament out of town, etc.)
  • You just want to eat a damn cookie and not feel bad about it
  • Your work schedule changes and you’re left with less time to work out during your lunch break
  • You get injured

You must have flexibility with your health and fitness regimen so when those events happen you can adapt; that’s something the all or nothing approach doesn’t allow. If you want to achieve and maintain results you must be able to adapt to the situation or new circumstances. Health and fitness, after all, needs to be a lifelong journey, not a quick-fix solution for looking good in a swimsuit. For that to happen what you do must fit into your life and not demand you revolve your life around it.

The all or nothing approach has failed too many times for too many people to be considered the go-to option. Focus instead on doing the right things as often as possible, and adapt when you have to, instead of giving up completely. Stick to the proven basics of nutrition and strength training; they allow for flexibility, reduce unnecessary stress caused by rigid diets and programs, and are sustainable.

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