Why You Should Ditch the Limiting All-or-Nothing Mentality

All or nothing mentality

Having the all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to weight control can often be a great disservice to your health journey.

We typically get into this mindset when changing our behaviors around food and exercise. Also coined “black and white thinking,” the all-or-nothing mentality is a type of cognitive distortion that causes you to see things in terms of extremes. For example, you either see success or failure or your performance as being totally good or totally bad.

Why is the All-or-Nothing Mentality Bad?

This way of thinking might work for some people, but not all.

First, it’s deeply limiting and gives you an unhealthy tendency toward extremes. When you see things in extremes, it causes you to miss out on everything good in the middle of the spectrum.

For example, some may think that if they aren’t adhering to a strict, calorie-controlled diet 24/7, their efforts at health and weight-loss are wasted. So if they eat salads and grilled chicken most nights at dinner but end up ordering a pizza on a Friday night after work, they might believe that this one behavior change cancels out all of their other behaviors. In reality, research shows that people who enjoy all types of food in moderation are more likely to have long-term success with weight-loss and maintenance.

The all-or-nothing mentality can also trap you in a vicious cycle of trying to lose weight but gaining it back. It can feel defeating and demotivating. It is not uncommon for someone to go back and forth between extremes when they are stuck in the cycle. This is not only damaging to your mental health, but can also do harm to your physical health.

Why Do We Think This Way?

So why do we think this way to begin with?

One reason is that it creates a sense of simplicity. When something is hard, we don’t want to do any more thinking than we have to. Some of us are drawn toward rules and regulations that give us structure, but too much structure can sometimes be a bad thing.

The other reason is that it makes us believe there is a clearer way forward. The all-or-nothing mentality can give us a laser-focus on the extremes, making it easy to identify a clear path where we are in control. This can become problematic when we start building unhealthy habits that don’t leave room for us to learn and grow.

How Do We Change it?

Embracing a mindset that is more open-minded and flexible can help you stay encouraged with weight management and motivated to reach your health goals. Here are some tips to help you break out of the all-or-nothing mentality.

  • Recognize it – Slow down and listen to your self-talk. Catch your black and white thinking when it happens.
  • Describe it – Write your thoughts down. Replay the scenario. Describing your thoughts will give you a better understanding of when and why they occur.
  • Challenge it – Make sure you understand the facts behind what you’re saying.
  • Choose a New Thought – Find a different thought somewhere in the gray area as opposed to the black or white.


The all-or-nothing mentality is a type of cognitive distortion that people often have when they are attempting weight-loss. This mentality causes us to think in terms of extremes that are deeply limiting to our behaviors involving food, exercise, and others. If you can recognize your black and white thinking and challenge those thoughts, you can develop healthier habits and behaviors that will support your overall health for the long-term.

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