How the All or Nothing Mentality Around Food Isn’t Helping You

All or Nothing Mentality

Back in my diet days I would constantly switch between modes of being “really good” or “really bad.” I had an All or Nothing Mentality around food. Had you asked me seven years ago if I could have one piece of chocolate or just a few Cadbury Mini Eggs at Easter, the answer would be HECK NO. 

I can’t do that. 

I don’t have that kind of control around food. 

I don’t have the willpower. 

Thanksgiving? I’d wake up, hit the gym first thing in the morning (if I was being “good”), then wait to eat all day until we got to my aunts house around 3:00 pm to eat – if I did eat, it’d be something as small or low-calorie as possible. Since, I planned to overeat (I’d done it every other time) I made sure to save up all my calories for the big meal.

Normal day? I’d start off each morning with the intention of “having a good day.” I’d wake up, hit the gym, come home, make an open faced egg white, spinach, and tomato breakfast sandwich. Drink black coffee. Head to school, and continue the day like this… celery, carrots, a 3-inch veggie sub for lunch (yep, Subway used to do this). I’d try to eat PERFECTLY and not too much. I’d go through my day focused on how “good” or “bad” I was doing, and one slip up would cancel out an entire good day, always.

How the All or Nothing Mentality Around Food Isn’t Helping You

Each week, this would result in having full blown binge episodes. I’d plan (sometimes secretly, other times with a “partner-in-crime” – whichever buddy would be up for it with me) an entire evening around EATING. This could look like going with  friends to Taco Bell for bean burritos, McDonald’s for fries, Wendy’s for frosty’s, CVS for candy… you name it. Or, I’d be home alone and make a giant plate (or three) of nacho’s and perhaps top it off with vanilla ice cream which I’d then top with honey bunches of oats and chocolate sauce.

I would deprive myself so heavily through the week with my “all good” mentality that it would leave my body dying for calories, my brain dying for satisfaction, and the part of me that was dying for freedom to  want to JUST EAT without thinking (understandable!). <– The “all good” or “all NOTHING” part. 

I lacked so much pleasure in my regular diet because I was so focused on “eating clean” that I’d OFTEN binge on foods I didn’t even like – they were just around so I ate them. For example, Cadbury Mini Eggs: I used to say those were my favorite candy. Today? I don’t like them at all.

I was so focused on NOT having certain foods it made me THINK I wanted them, when really, it was just the restriction from them that made them appealing (anyone else?). Tell me I CAN’T do something and suddenly I want to do it more.

To make up for the wild binges I’d over-exercise and diet hard to focus on keeping a low body. How my body hung in there, I don’t know. I believe that if I would have kept going any longer I would currently have a very difficult time managing what I consider to be a healthy weight for my body.

It’s thanks to NOT DIETING that I’m able to maintain a consistent weight and healthy feeling in my body even when I eat a burrito for lunch and a burger for dinner in the same day (something I enjoyed this week with no side effects).

Thanks freedom with food!

The turning point in my all or nothing mentality.

One night about seven years ago, while studying statistics homework, my brain was SPENT. I was so tired, so fed up with my homework, and wanted a break. I found myself in the freezer FIVE different times scooping vanilla ice cream into my red cereal bowl topped with crunchy cereal.

Only while I was eating, the sweet flavor and coolness of the ice cream mixed with the texture of the crunchy cereal took all of the homework anxiety away. Still hunched over my homework, it was only in the moments of eating where I felt even the slightest relief. The ice cream was SO good, and my homework sucked SO bad.

I just wanted to continue feeling something good. Think about it. Does food ever give you a break? Feelings of relief?

Five bowls later and not an ounce more progress made on my homework, I’d finally decide “it’s time for bed. I’ll come back to this in the morning. I’m too exhausted to be doing this right now.”

One night, I had an epiphany. I was thinking about alllllll of the many bowls of ice cream I’d consumed during these binges. I visualized months of ice cream spread out over a large dining room table.

This gave me two realizations:

  • Is NOT allowing yourself to enjoy ice cream 90% of the time actually working for you to NOT have ice cream? NO.
  • Is eating five bowls of ice cream the only way you can get a break from homework, find a sense of relief, and allow yourself to just go to bed? Probably not.
  • Is this a sustainable way to take care of yourself longterm? Do you want this habit forever? Is it worth feeling sick afterward? NO.
  • Do you feel satisfied from ice cream when you eat like that? NEVER. Just full.

I continued to think about this and I asked myself: “What would it be like to allow yourself to have a small bowl of ice cream anytime you really craved it if it could help to stop the binges in exchange? I mean, what’s the harm? Look how much you’re eating anyway, while NOT allowing yourself to have it. Plus, you’re not even enjoying it.”

Then, of course, fear crept in (very normal)… “How will you ever just have ONE bowl of ice cream? When was the last time you did that?”

How WOULD it be possible for me to have a bowl of ice cream (or whatever amount allowed me to walk away still feeling good in my body), anytime I really wanted it?

SO I had to get creative…

When I finally let go of “all or nothing”

I realized that in order to feel safe to enjoy a portion of this treat that would leave me feeling good (this is one of my values: I want to enjoy all foods and to feel good after I eat them) I’d want to sit with it, give it my attention, and really enjoy it. I’d want to get the most satisfaction and flavor out of it that I could.

Anytime I ate this food I made sure to pay more attention to my experience (especially in the beginning – now it’s easy and I don’t have to pay this much attention to eating ice cream). I’d recognize that I was eating a food that was once very hard for me to enjoy, and I’d remember that I wanted to create a positive experience with this food so that I could build trust around being able to freely enjoy it. I didn’t want to cause episodes where I felt triggered to binge (though, if it happened, I would not shame myself – I’d just learn from it) by eating in a hurry, eating when stressed, or eating out of a place of deprivation.

Rather, I’d eat when I felt calm (if I wasn’t calm, I’d get calm first), sit down, and really enjoy the taste, smell, and texture of my ice cream one bite at a time. I would dish it out into a pretty bowl so that it was visually satisfying too. Anytime guilt or judgemental thoughts would creep in (“you shouldn’t eat this” or “this is bad” or “you’re eating ice cream”) I’d knock them down reminding myself that I did not need to feel guilty – I was fully allowed to eat and fully enjoy ice cream.

Over time I learned this truth: It’s not the AMOUNT of any one food that leaves us satisfied (five bowls of ice cream vs. one) it’s HOW we’re eating it (savoring slowly, tasting all of the flavors, enjoying it without guilt) that does the job. 

I had little phrases that I’d remind myself of, that I still share with my own clients today, like: “Guilt never helps.”

I began to tie this into other areas…

When I’d go to a dinner party, I’d scan the table, choose what sounded really good, and ask myself what amount of each thing would allow me to walk away feeling good & calm, in my body and choices.

For example, if I wanted a family members homemade Mac N’ Cheese, I’d add a spoonful to my plate. Then I’d move on and get the other things I wanted, gauging each food for what amount would probably leave me feeling good. And during the meal, if I felt a little off while I was eating, I could always stop (this because easy once I truly trusted I could eat these foods ANYTIME I actually wanted them, which is an important mindset).

I began choosing my meals based on two things: 1) what would leave me feeling satisfied and 2) what amount of that food would leave me feeling good. 

Over time, I started to trust that I could eat any food I wanted and still feel good.

I began to let go of all rules around food, and began trusting my body to let me know what did or didn’t feel good. 

I let go of the many pressures that focusing on weight loss brought on and began focusing on FEELING GOOD in(side) my body one moment at a time instead.  

I could write a book on this topic and how much I’ve learned, but I’ll choose to stop here.

What can you take away from this post? Can you see in your own life how an “all or nothing” mentality with food  doesn’t serve you? What questions or reflections do you have? Post them below in the comments. I’d love to hear!

Love, Paige
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