Thursday, January 28, 2010

All or Nothing Thinking– Tips for Getting off the “On Plan” “Off Plan” Rollercoaster

So this week’s study materials got me thinking about how our thought patterns can be road blocks on a journey to better health, specifically the dichotomous thinking or better known as “all or nothing” thinking or “black and white” thinking that many people struggle with.  

How I can recall the days where this kind of thinking would derail me from healthy habits. Scenario would normally play out like this: I would eat a healthy for a day or two, then would have one unhealthy food item and would throw the whole healthy plan, including any exercise I might have been attempting, out the window because I felt like I blew it and would just think well I blew it so now I shouldn’t worry about eating right for the next meal, day, week, month, etc. I went through this cycle for years. Sometimes I would loose a bit of weight but once I “blew it”, the weight came back plus some.

I think that one of the biggest things that led to my success on my journey has been that I have been able to change my thinking patterns. There is no “on plan” or “off plan” for me anymore, which has eliminated that horrible negative self talk caused by feeling guilty for being off plan. My book refers to negative thinking like that as cognitive quicksand because it is so easy to get sucked into doing it and not being able to easily get out of the negative thinking pattern. For me now, there is just a collection of healthy habits with moderation. There is no beating myself up, no guilt for what I eat or guilt for a missed workout.  There are moments where I eat stuff like cake, ice cream, pizza, and French fries. There are days I miss a workout. But there are many, many more days where I don’t miss my workouts, and where my eating is very healthy. 

So you want off the “On Plan” “Off Plan” Rollercoaster too?  Well check out my tips below. Keep in mind that they include changing your ways of thinking, which take practice, so don’t be surprised that it will likely take you a while to master them and see results.

Tip #1: Don’t Demonize Foods

Stop creating that list in your head where you categorize foods as either “bad” or “good”.  It seems to be human nature that the minute we say something it “bad” and off limits to us we instantly will want it. It also seems that when we do give in and have something we have labeled as “bad” we go crazy and try to consume as much as we can because we think it’s the last time we are going to have it. Remove the labels of “good” and “bad” and you remove the nasty mind trick of needing willpower to give up something.

Tip #2: Stop using Exercise as a Punishment

How often do you have a moment where you overeat or you eat something that isn’t really all that healthy and to make up for it you kill yourself with a workout as punishment for it? When you do this you are creating this negative association between exercise and punishment. Probably not the best thing to do if you want to have exercise be part of your healthy plan (which is what you want by the way ). Exercise should be a positive and rewarding experience and when you associate it as a punishment you pretty much make it impossible for your mind to associate it as something good. 

Tip #3: Eat to Workout Instead of Workout to Eat

Here is a big clue if you are working out to eat….you complete a good workout and then convince yourself since you did such a good job you can eat that not so healthy choice afterward. You are using food as a reward in this case and ultimately undoing most of the work you just did. Another clue you are working out to eat is that on days you workout the amount you eat or the health quality of what you eat is much different than days you don’t. So how do you change that and start eating to workout? Well for me it was making a mental shift in the way I looked at food choices. I started asking myself when choosing what to eat how and if it would help my workouts. It took time to learn what food choices would enhance my workout performances by tracking what I was eating and tracking my workout progress. There was lots of experimenting, but since everyone responds to foods differently it was very important to the process. This process also involved breaking that habit of using food as a reward. I replaced the food reward with new rewards, like new workout clothing, going to the movies out, or a new book. 

Questions for you:

  • Are there changes in thinking you have implemented that have been helpful in your better health journey?
  • What strategies do you use to climb out of the cognitive quicksand if you find yourself in a negative thinking pattern?

Well I need to get back to my busy week here at work. In my next post you will see some information on a health issue I am currently dealing with and how it relates to my fitness level. See you then!

Quote of the Day: “Negativity sucks away energy. If part of the negativity stems from your attitude or perspective, commit yourself at the beginning of each day and each activity to find something positive in yourself and in others around you. If the people around you are negative and you can't change that, either remove yourself from the situation or view it simply as one obstacle you face in pursuing your own potential. Stay focused on your own goals and make the best of the situation.” ~ Terry Orlick


  1. A lot to think about here. I like the tip about not using exercise as a punishment. I'm guilty of having done that in the past. I'm finally at the point where I actually look forward to training. I love that I am regularly seeing gains in strength and visible results.

    BTW, totally unrelated, but I wanted to let you know that I appreciate that your blog is typed in a font that is large enough to read. I sometimes don't finish people's posts because my eyes can't adjust well to the teeny tiny print.

  2. Fantastic post. I can't tell you HOW MANY clients I have worked with who have told me they were failures because of one meal that they ate and "blew their diet". Truthfully, I used to be the same way. I would eat something that I considered "off limits", then I would just binge figuring I may as well keep going, I already failed!
    Quite honestly I read the book , "Dlowing Down to the Speed of Life" and my thinking changed. It's the best book, ever.

  3. I really like what you are saying here!
    for the longest time I labeled foods as good or bad and it drove me crazy. It also led to be just depriving myself only to go on crazy cookie or donut binges.
    I'm going to remember a lot of this for myself and my future clients
    I, like you, am studying for my AFAA certification and my NASM. I can't wait to be a certified PT! How is your studying going?
    How much time do you commit to studying? Hope it's all going well!, Kat*

  4. Really great post- so many truths that I have experienced. I used to tell myself "no chocolate- it is bad!" and then I would end up sitting down and eating an entire bad of kit-kat bars (you know- the Halloween size bag) or some other chocolate. Once I changed my mind set to allow for that one piece of chocolate, but to not go over my calorie intake- it really helped alot. I would rather eat something healthy so that I am not hungry than eat an entire bar of chocolate. I still do eat chocolate, but in moderation now. What a difference!

    ps- thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog! It always helps so much to know that people are reading and supporting me! :)