One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident


Ask Roni: The All or Nothing Mentality

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Hi Roni! I have been having a real problem with all-or-nothing lately,  and I just wanted to know if you could give me some practical tips for overcoming that mentality. One thing you wrote about “Stateless Dieting” definitely makes sense to me, so I am going to read that over and over until it is ingrained in my mind! However, I just wanted to know what you do/did to change your all-or-nothing thinking. I do really, really good most days, because I eat 1500 calories per day and I allow myself to eat a treat if I want it, but it just factors into those 1500 calories.

However, I find that when I am at an event or it is a holiday, I end up going crazy because I feel that it is my “one chance” to eat things that I normally wouldn’t. Even though this overeating doesn’t ruin my progress, I still feel bad about it, and I hate hurting myself, my body, and my self-esteem. I just want to stop thinking that I should screw eating healthfully for the day if I don’t eat “perfectly” (which I consider to be 1500 calories per day of healthy foods). It’s the perfectionism, the rigidity, the black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking that I want to change. Any advice you have for me would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!!!


Hi Mattison!

I chose your question because there’s a holiday around the corner for some of us. A holiday that consists of A LOT of chocolate, and jelly beans and little marshmallow “peeper” things. You, know… EASTER. A time of year where I am bombarded with some of the best chocolate ever and when I do start to regress into this all or nothing mentality.

The first thing I want to mention is that you are not alone. I think many of us have this perfection gene that kicks in when associated with dieting. I know I grew up thinking I had to look perfect and to achieve that I had to eat perfect. Which sent me down the yo-yo dieting cycle of hell. (I use this image a lot…)

The second thing I need to say is that your email scares me a little. You are asking for advice to stop the “perfectionism, the rigidity, the black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking” on one hand and then on the other saying things like “I eat 1500 calories per day and I allow myself to eat a treat if I want it, but it just factors into those 1500 calories” and “which I consider to be 1500 calories per day of healthy foods.”

Dude…. that’s rigid! That’s the perfectionism gene that’s going to get you in trouble. How long have you been doing that? I only ask because as you may know I was a Weight Watchers points girl. I counted points for about 2 years. It helped me learn how to balance while giving me a daily target that was helping me lose. So I totally understand setting limits for yourself but even Weight Watchers has the whole weekly flex so you can have those treats without guilt. Thinking you can or will only eat a certain number of points or calories everyday for the rest of your life is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion. That’s a good example of perfectionism bearing it’s ugly head if I ever saw one.

After awhile I needed to stop counting. I didn’t stop eating healthy. I just stopped counting points. I released myself of the pressure of that daily target and it was a huge step for me to get over the perfectionism mindset. Points where comfortable for me to track probably as calories are to you. But after maintaining for awhile I started to find the points restrictive and the mentality you described started sneaking back into my brain because it’s just not possible to be perfect forever. Some days you will eat more then 1500 calories. Some days you will even eat less.

Now I did stop counting after I hit my goal weight and maintained it for awhile. I have no idea where you are in your journey based on your email but maybe giving yourself a break from your 1500 calorie a day rule is what you need. You may be surprised when you start to trust yourself. I still battle some of these thoughts from time to time but by giving myself permission to relax a bit I’ve learn to trust my instincts and accept that I will never be perfect and that’s OK. I do the best I can and that will have to be good enough.

I hope that helps, Mattison. I’m sure other perfectionist fighters will chime in with their tips. ;)

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There are 22 comments so far.


    April 1, 2010

    This is a great post and I think many of us women/men who are ‘dieting’ and/or who have lost weight deal with.

    Being perfect.

    Life isn’t perfect. If you try to make it perfect, you either live in opression or rebellion. I have tossed, committed, fallen of the band-wagon, re-committed, gotten depressed, gain/lost weight–all while trying to be perfect.

    I simply, and I know it’s mother trucking hard, it listen to my body. When we diet, in my opinion or live for calories, rob our bodies/minds/souls of being heard. It’s not if you’re listening to your hunger, it’s about listening to the calorie voice.most of the time. What I have noticed and as Roni mentioned, is that you get to a point whereby you know that you can do it. It’s a hard trust level to get at, but then you can start living your life free from calories.

    I remember SO many times going to parties, holidays, etc. and OBSESSING about what I was and wasn’t going to eat. I didn’t even enjoy the people around me. I was so stressed about counting, trying to figure out how much the bean dip was, how I was going to restrict tomorrow or throughout the week. I robbed myself of living.

    It’s been an interesting journey for me, especially in the past month. yes, I have over-eaten and yes I have binged. However, every time I tried to put myself back on a diet I knew in my heart it wasn’t right.

    So I guess what I can say to you is that you will never be perfect. EVER. Thus, stop trying to be. Instead of looking at food as calories, try to look at it as fuel for a happy life. Instead of stressing out about what you’re going to blow your intake on at a party–try to set other socialisation goals that have NOTHING to do with food. Instead of beating yourself up–reflect and use that reflection to enable you to be successful next time.

    Cynthia (It All Changes)

    April 1, 2010

    I’ve been counting calories or points for a while and it’s just ingrained in me. Even on the days that I don’t count until the end of the day I find that I’ve learned the healthy living/eating rule so well that I don’t overdo it too much.

    Relax your rule and enjoy food more than thinking you can only eat healthy foods.


    April 2, 2010

    I find the tighter I try to hold on (ie count calories, stress about my body, or stress about what I eat) the less progress I make. I know what and how much I should eat…sometimes I hit the target and sometimes I don’t. I know how much exercise I should get a week…some weeks I fit in five days, some four, and some three. No one is perfect and the more one tries to be, the harder they make their journey. My two cents…hope it helps!


    April 2, 2010

    Wow Roni. Sometimes your posts just seem so perfectly timed…or maybe I’m not alone in my struggles.

    I was doing so well eating between 1200-1500 calories a day, and keeping carbs and fat in check too. Then this weekend I blew it. And I was so stressed that I blew it that counting went out the window.

    I haven’t blogged, haven’t done anything to get back on the horse. This post was the reminder that I can’t freak out when something goes wrong and that really at the end of the day, the goal is learning to eat better and make healthier choices.

    Thank you for getting me back on track!


    April 2, 2010

    Mattison, you have described me to a tee!! I am right there with you and the addiction to perfection, all or nothing thinking, black or white, good food/bad food, feast or famine way of eating and relating to food. I too am already riddled with the thought of how to handle this weekend and all that it has to offer me in the way of my personal preference, chocolate. I know in my heart that it’s not the last time I will eat these things but that is part of the allure to binge, is the promise that this will “be the last time”.
    What I am now considering is that maybe what I eat isn’t so much an issue as what I am thinking. My binges always start in my head first. Right now I am scared, and I think to myself, “if you are scared of binging then you must not really want to” but yet, I feel compelled to do so just because I have thought about it. Very confusing concept yet I do believe that some of you out there understand. I still haven’t decided what path I will take this weekend, the bunny trail (conscious eating?) or down the rabbit hole (unconscious eating?).


    April 2, 2010

    You’ll probably get hundreds of comments because this describes so many of us now and/or at some point in time. In the end, I guess it’s the “some point in time” that is key as this too shall pass. Our brain knows that life, dieting or healthy eating isn’t black or white. Like everything else, there are good days and bad. The GREAT news is we have another chance tomorrow for a new day! You can read all the logical posts and blogs on this subject but in the end, we have to accept that excellence is so great and perfection can be dangerous. Now it took me 50 years to get to this so, keep trying……….PS before you begin your Easter or any celebration, talk to yourself and try to decide ahead of time what/how you want to splurge. Then apply that perfection and see if you can hit it :-). A wonderful Easter to all……..


    April 2, 2010

    Thank you Roni. I needed to hear this, even though I asked you that question a while ago, but I’m still basically in the same position. Michelle’s comment really helps me too (“Instead of looking at food as calories, try to look at it as fuel for a happy life”) because that’s truly what food is. It’s easier to lighten up about it when I think of it in terms of its true value. Such a simple concept, huh? Somewhere along the way though we seem to forget what the true purpose of food is. I’ve never been an emotional eater;I’m the type that will be deprived for so long that my humanity steps in and THAT is when I end up overeating. Still, that’s because I don’t recognize the true purpose of food. When it comes down to it, I’m doing exactly what an emotional eater does: using food to feel better. I feel like this will dissipate (for all of us!) when we understand that food cannot, on its own, make us feel happy for no reason. Eating healthily and living a healthy, happy life in conjunction can make you feel happy, but that’s different. Food needs to be taken for what it is, which is something that we need in order to sustain life.

    Now that I’m reading what I just wrote above, it seems like I may have learned something since I asked you this question! I still aim to eat 1,500 calories a day, but I’m less rigid about it. I don’t beat myself up as much if I make a “mistake.” I just get back on track. It’s so much easier said than done, I know, because if someone had given me this advice before, I would have been like, “ok, but how??!?!” It was nearly impossible for me to not feel incredibly guilty and want to punish myself for overeating. I still feel twinges of guilt the day after I overeat, but I just exercise and aim to eat healthy. It’s really not going to kill me if I’m not perfect. But it’s the perfectionism mindset of before that would actually make me overeat more often! Too weird.

    Well, thanks again Roni, I really appreciate your answer of this question, and I also feel better knowing that I am not alone in how I feel. You’re the greatest :)


    April 2, 2010

    Wow, this post and all the accompanying comments are exactly what I needed at the moment. I’ve been struggling with the same thing myself. I’m currently trying to lose weight. I lost about 10 pounds a year ago (I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but at my short height, it seemed to make a big difference.) — I still wasn’t at my goal weight, but I was a lot closer to it then, and my clothes were getting baggy on my me, and I was feeling really good, yadda yadda… But then of course I got “comfortable” and a big smug, and I returned to my old eating habits (rich, creamy, fried, fatty, you-name-it all kinds of high-calorie foods, in massive portion sizes)… so yeah, I haven’t weighed myself, but I can tell by how my clothes are getting tighter that I’ve gained pretty much all or maybe more of the weight back. I think it’s been the all or nothing mentality for me as well. And like Mattison, I’d stick to a really good eating regimen (trying to aim for about 1200~1300 calories a day), and then pig out at the salad buffet. We all know at the salad buffet, I wasn’t pigging out on the veggies, either. So anyway, sorry for my rambling, but thanks for the motivation, Roni and commenters. I truly appreciate it. :)


    April 2, 2010

    I admit that I have had that all or nothing mentality. It is great when I am doing well. But it is horrible when I slip… because I would tell myself if I cheated I might as well give up all day and eat everything I want. And that day sometimes became another.

    I don’t handle moderation well. But I know that to be a healthy eater for life, which is indeed my goal, I need to learn how to manage the occasional treat or splurge. It is still a work in progress for me.


    April 2, 2010

    Thanks Roni for this awesome post! I’ve been feeling down in the dumps because I can’t seem to lose weight. What I noticed is when I would restrict myself to counting points or calories, I too became obsessed with what I “could eat” or “could not eat”. What happened to my weight? It was CREEPING UP! Not the direction I wanted to see… So I stopped obsessing. I checked my blog and noticed that in the month of March, I skipped working out 5 days out of the entire month. I ate what I wanted within reason — basically listened to my body — and yes, I did have lots of treats. How is my weight today? A maintain from the month of February, which is a GREAT SIGN.

    Just by seeing “these results” made me realize that for me, exercise is the key. Being Greek and having a BF for whom outings involving food are a STAPLE, I have no choice but to focus on exercising and making the best food choices based on the situation at hand. I cannot restrict myself at Greek family events. I tried. It doesn’t work. It’s a losing battle. Now, I can enjoy the same foods as my family — in moderation of course — without feeling guilty.

    What’s weird for me, because I had never really paid attention to this, is that I stop eating when I’m satisfied. I can actually tell now when I’ve had enough to eat without going overboard and feeling sick.

    Thank you again, Roni, for being an inspiration and for sharing your insights with us :) I wish you and your family a Happy Easter Holiday.


    April 2, 2010

    I used to do this exact same thing with holidays, but I did discover a way to stop myself from eating until I feel sick. Everytime I go for another serving I tell myself there will always be next year’s Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter what have you, and I will get to enjoy the food at that point also so do I really want this next serving. . .this train of thought lets me figure out if I’m still hungry or am just wanting the “taste” of the food b/c I think I won’t have it again. If I figure out I’m just wanting the “taste” of the food, then I tell myself I can make it for myself sometime in the near future without feeling guilty about it as long as I just work into whatever caloric intake. I have found this to be extremely helpful for me to control the holiday eating.

    Hope it helps a little!


    April 3, 2010

    Great post! I have problems with this. One ‘slip up’ and I feel like the day is ‘ruined’. I’m getting over it, slowly.


    April 3, 2010

    I try to avoid the all-or-nothing mentality, but I have a very annoying inner voice. Every time I tell myself it’s not all or nothing, the nagging part of me responds: “It IS all or nothing. You CAN eat perfect. Some people, like athletes, do it. YOU just don’t have what it takes.”

    It’s frustrating because I have no good answer to that. Has anyone dealt with the same thoughts?


    April 3, 2010

    Cara – I do and you know what.. I remind myself that those people you THINK are “perfect” aren’t either. No one is.


    April 3, 2010

    Cara, I DEFINITELY deal with the same thoughts all the time! I still haven’t figured out a good response to that. I’m curious to know how other people respond to the whole “I just don’t have enough willpower like athletes/models/etc” thing. That’s probably one of the main reasons I want to eat “perfectly,” because I want to know that I have the willpower to do it. And also because I want to look and feel a certain way lol but that’s besides the point.


    April 3, 2010

    And Roni, you’re right. But I guess I read a lot of interviews with athletes/models that say they work hard to “eat right all the time.” They don’t usually go into great detail about it though, so I just took for granted that they push themselves to eat “perfectly” and resist temptation.

    You always make so much sense!!!!!


    April 5, 2010

    Mattison – Well we also take for granted that they don’t look the way we think they look, live the way we think they live, or eat the way we think they eat. They have PR people, airbrushers, and a horde of advisers that tell them what to say, wear and share for purposes of a public image. So of course they appear perfect. I (and you) would too if we had that many filters before our image was released to the public.

    Not to mention their JOB is to look a certain way. I live in the real world where I balance a healthy lifestyle with responsibilities, temptations, and limitations. I refuse to let someone’s “appearance of perfection” make me feel bad about myself and you shouldn’t either.


    April 6, 2010

    In terms of comparing myself, I try to do two different things:
    1. instead of comparing myself to the best/worst, rate myself: if I’m as good as 90% of the population, I’m fine.
    2. compare also to myself, a year ago or 5.

    In terms of flexible dieting in general, I like the idea that the body “needs” a high-calorie day every week (some people say a high-carb day) in order to reset hormone levels and be assured I’m not starving. I try to plan in a “fun” meal as well. If that means I need slightly less calories the rest of the week, that’s fine. Just reminding myself that a “treat” is relative to my usual. When i’m not dieting my calorie intake varies, so it should vary when I am dieting as well, just vacillating around a lower mean.


    April 7, 2010

    Good lord , I came to Roni’s site 10 minutes ago after reading several websites about weight fluctuations and trying to figure out why and how I could possibly gained 8 pounds since last Friday. This post reminds me that even though I may have lost track a bit this weekend (easter ham, chocolate and birthday cake) I’m certain I didn’t eat an additional 28,000 calories to gain 8 pounds AND I am following a training schedule for a half marathon so I also ran my scheduled 3 and 5 mile runs this weekend. YET – I continue to BEAT myself up over this! I lost 90 pounds and have “maintained” within 5-7 pounds for the last 4 years. That track record should be enough for me to STOP the devestation I feel every time the scale goes up in the morning. I am wondering if Roni really has the right mind set on the scale issue – when I was counting and losing with WW that number on the scale meant the world to me, but now that I’m trying to maintain or maybe lose 5 more pounds it seems to be the one thing that alters every aspect of my healthy lifestyle. I’m a little nervous to stop the daily weighing (and confession, multiple daily weighing) because I don’t trust myself – but why shouldn’t I? Look how far I’ve come! I’m training for a half marathon when 5 years ago I couldn’t walk a block! I am a true believer that in this incredibly rewarding and difficult journey food is only 10% of the equation and 90% is mental! If only there was an easier way to track “mentality” points! Roni, how do you get to that point of just trusting yourself!?!?
    Thanks Roni and all posters for your words of courage and wisdom, you all have been instrumental in my journey!


    April 7, 2010

    Oh boy.. that’s a big question. I get better and better at trusting myself every day. Part of me really thinks it’s like a callous. Weird I know but I’ve trained myself to “get over” it and move on.

    Because really… I have no alternative. I know what will happen if I just throw my hands up in the air and say “oooh F it.”

    I’ll feel horrible.. I’ll start to regain the weight… I begin the yo yo cycle all over again.

    SO instead I try to focus on the positives. I make the next best choice I can because in the end I know it will help me feel better regardless of the scale.

    Which reminds me… the scale. I phased that out too. Sure I peak now and then but it helped to get out of the “losing” mindset and into the “maintaining” mindset when I realized I didn’t need to focus on the numbers anymore. Daily weighing taught me a lot about myself but I’ve graduated. Now not weighing is teaching me something new. It’s all about progression.


    April 7, 2010

    Interesting thoughts.

    Mattison, I would be the same as you–thinking: “well, how the hell am I supposed to get out of this cycle?”

    Sometimes when I get into a perfectionist “mode” I try to think about what brings it on or where it’s coming from. [Hint to Self–it’s usually not about food or calories]. I’m more and more convinced that some of us are really afraid that if we let the leash out a little on our discipline and control that we will just step off of a big cliff into nothingness. For me, the biggest part of tackling perfection was to understand that:

    1. It’s ok for me to make mistakes. The people who love me know I’m not perfect and they don’t care.

    2. Food and calories are relatively “easy” to use as measurements of whether or not we’re in “control” of our lives, and so sometimes we use them to symbolize whether or not we are good or bad. Other stuff is harder to quantify like–am I a good person? Am I smart? Do I do a good job of my job? Am I a good Mom? or whatever questions come up for us on a daily basis.

    3. When I’m feeling perfectionist, I think that it does help to have some structure to add to my day- but to make better choices about how that structure will be–like planning meals for the week or breaking down a goal into manageable chunks so that I have something to work toward each day.

    After years of being terrified to “fail” (translated somehow into food and calorie measurements) and struggling to have control over my life and my situation, I now recognize that I need structure of some kind, and that it would be unkind to myself to not find healthy ways to include it in my day-to-day. I find that when I do have healthy structure or a “plan”, that it frees me up to be a little more easy-going, and to lighten up a bit. Maybe this isnt’ true for everyone, but I think that I recognize that for some people, the idea of “just letting go and trusting yourself” feels like walking out into the wilderness with no points of reference. Maybe its something that we take day-by-day.

    It sounds a little strange, but for me, I think that rigidity was there for a reason. I was trying to protect myself, or make up for a lack of control that I didn’t have in my life or my family. So in a way, it was my mind’s very clever way of coping with the things that were going on, because, especially when I was very young, my mind didn’t know how else have any control at all. I’m now at the point where I can look at the person that I was then, and say “That was a really smart way you had of coping. Not necessarily the healthiest, and now you’ve got better ways. So you don’t need to do that anymore.” Not to say that I’m perfect, but really–how boring would that be? :)