We’ve all been through it. Just like Meir! His doctor persuaded him that instead of medication, which might have unfavorable side effects, an exercise program would really help him to lower his blood pressure and cholesterol and it would most likely help him get rid of some extra kilos too. Meir didn’t really know much about exercise, so he hired a personal trainer and spent 6 months seeing his trainer and doing his home assignments. And as expected, a well rounded exercise program brought about great results and his doctor couldn’t believe what he accomplished. Blood pressure down 24 points to normal levels, cholesterol down 42 points to almost normal and 7 kilo lost with the exercise and a few minor adjustments in his food intake. Meir was really into it. He was walking and jogging 45-50 minutes daily and doing weights and abs 3 days a week at an intense level. Meir never missed a session and felt great after each workout session. While he had to finish working with his trainer, he kept up his exercise as best as he could. Then came a family simcha and it occupied much of his time. Getting frustrated with his time constraints, Meir just stopped his exercise altogether.
Rachel was pre diabetic. Her doctor told her that if she didn’t start eating correctly and exercising, he would have to begin medications and he explained the dreaded results of being a diabetic. Heeding her doctor’s advice, Rachel went to a dietician who specializes in diabetes and began to eat correctly. She had a lot of weight to lose, but one year later, she had lost 28 kilos and her blood sugar readings were now excellent. She was quite proud of herself. But then one of Rachel’s family members became ill and she had to divert her attention in that direction and she began to fall into her old eating habits completely.
Both Meir and Rachel were guilty of the same distorted thinking process. We call it “all or nothing thinking.” What would have happened if Meir had continued exercising for 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week instead of his everyday 45-50 minutes and cut his time doing weights to 2x per week for a little less time? What if Rachel tried to maintain healthy eating whileunder pressure even if her eating wasn’t perfect? What would happen in both cases is that they could have held their own until life allowed them to get back to a regular schedule. But instead, they let it all go and the results end up being that Meir’s blood pressure is creeping up and Rachel might have to consider medication after all and might face the complications of being a diabetic.
This is also known in psychology as Splitting. Splitting is the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground.) Dr. Aron Beck, M.D., the modern-day father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy lists all of nothing thinking as the number one distorted thought out of his 11 thinking distortions. As doctor Judith Beck, PhD. states as a concrete example of this, “either I am completely on my diet or I am off my diet” or “either I am 100% successful my weight loss program or I am a failure.
Our two examples have shown us the dangers of this perfectionism. Here are some steps to overcome the “all or nothing” that always has a negative effect and leaves us in real failure.
Step One: Get a Life (Change)!
The first way to avoid all or nothing thinking is to shake the idea that losing weight is something you do “right” just temporarily and then the work is done. The fact is, most people who successfully lose weight — and more importantly, keep that weight off — make healthy, permanent lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, consciously practicing portioncontrol and finding ways to prevent emotional eating.
If you look at your weight-loss efforts as something you’re only doing “for now,” those new, healthy changes won’t be permanent. But if you try to do too much too soon, the changes will last only days. Small, gradualchanges are what will work. And seeing the big picture — that little slip-ups don’t count, but long-term changes do — helps keep things in perspective.
Step Two: Give In Now and Then
Severely limiting your food intake or completely cutting out your favorite foods sets you up for a binge. That ever-present sense of deprivation not only makes overeating a risk, it also makes life downright miserable. Temptation becomes much less powerful when you know it is fleeting and can be quelled with less than you think. So, allow yourself a small portion of something “bad” that you really love now and again instead of telling yourself it’s off-limits for good. While this can be daunting at first, you will become accustomed to satisfying your craving with a small treat and you’ll learn when to say “when” and in turn feel more confident in your weight-loss efforts.
Step Three: Stop Saying the “D Word”
D for diet, that is. Following a strict diet naturally lends itself to giving in to all or nothing thinking: You’re either “on your diet” or you’ve “blown your diet” and if you’ve done the latter … well, you might as well quit altogether and eat whatever you want, right? That kind of “black and white” thinking can make your weight-loss efforts much more difficult and may even prevent you from losing weight at all.
Few of us can stick to a diet plan that restricts entire food groups or relies on one type of food — such as freeze-dried, pre-prepared meals — as its mainstay. (Honestly, how long do you really think you will be able to eat those for each meal?) If you go on a diet that requires you to eat foods you don’t like you will eventually dread every meal. Find the middle ground: Somewhere between following that overly-strict diet and eating everything you want, there is a point at which you can be both happy and healthy.
Step Four: Forgive Yourself
So, you decided to follow that “give in” step last night and allow yourself a cookie. But before bed you enjoyed a few more. And then this morning … you polished off the package for breakfast. Does that mean it’s time to go off the rails the rest of the day just because you blew it this morning? No way!
Not allowing yourself to make mistakes is the worst mistake you can make. Here’s some food for thought: All or nothing thinking is a way to let yourself off the hook. Subconsciously you think: “Oh, now I’ve screwed up. Glad I don’t have to bother anymore!” … for some of us, quitting something just because we didn’t do it perfectly is an easy escape route.
There’s an old saying: “No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong path, it’s never too late to turn back.” and that is true in every aspect of life. So don’t think just because you made less-than-ideal choices today, you can’t start over tomorrow. It sounds trite, but every day truly is a new beginning. You can’t erase last night’s binge, but you can aim for a much healthier today!
Step 5: Celebrate Small Victories
Reward yourself for the small challenges you surmount. Acknowledging your achievements — no matter how insignificant they seem — with non-food rewards will help you stay motivated throughout your weight-loss journey. Yes, brown bagging a healthy lunch four days in a row instead of getting fast food is a victory. Brisk walking just twice this week is a triumph if you didn’t do it at all last week. Rewards don’t have to cost a dime — they can be as simple as allowing yourself time to read a chapter of a favorite author or enjoying a long bath.
Take it easy on yourself as you learn how to be a new, improved, healthier you. After all, you’re only human … a soon-to-be much lighter human!
The Rambam teaches us about a middle path, and even though many times we might go to extremes one way or another, it is important for our success in health and in life in general to avoid the extremes and the all or nothing thinking.
Finding the middle ground and not being a perfectionist will. “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected] Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il US Line: 516-568-5027