Ditching the All or Nothing Approach to Fitness

Ditching the All or Nothing Approach to Fitness

Many people start their health and fitness journey highly motivated and with a clear destination in mind, resulting in a complete life overhaul in the hopes of achieving their goal. However, this approach is often unsustainable, leading to a gym membership that’s never used and the all too common cycle of ‘falling off the wagon’ before jumping right back on in a few weeks' time. These people are usually ALL IN or ALL OUT, struggling to find the ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to health and fitness and discovering the true meaning of ‘balance’. Not only is this exhausting, but it certainly doesn’t have to be this way!

Lately there’s been a big sway towards incorporating health and fitness INTO your life and creating a lifestyle that you can adhere to for years to come… and we’re here for it! So, what is it that sets the successful few apart from the 'I’ll start again on Monday’s? We believe the all or nothing approach, also known as black and white thinking, may be to blame. 

Let’s explore this together and work out how to overcome this pattern to help you to be your healthiest self, for life! 

Are you a black and white thinker?

Could black and white thinking be ruining your progress? Consider whether any of the following statements apply to you:

  • You label certain foods and behaviours as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • You abandon the plan or ‘start over’ as soon as something isn’t perfect
  • You struggle to find balance – e.g. you could be meeting your nutritional goals all week and then go crazy come the weekend; or skip workouts and then try to fit multiple sessions into one day to ‘catch up’
  • You avoid social outings in fear of going ‘off plan’
  • You look to short term ‘solutions’ for your health & fitness goals such as cleanses, detoxes or juice diets
  • You experience guilt related to a ‘non-perfect’ lifestyle
  • You spend a significant amount of time thinking about everything ‘wrong’ you did or ate during the day
  • You never feel like you’re doing ‘enough’ – once you reach a goal, the bar immediately jumps higher. There are no rewards or sense of achievement associated with your health & fitness routine. 

Even if just a couple of these statements ring some bells, you could potentially benefit from minimising your black or white thinking and zooming out to look at the bigger picture.

The problem with the all or nothing approach

On the surface, it might appear as if the all or nothing approach isn’t so bad, as it pushes you towards perfection. However, this is exactly where the root issue lies – for human beings, perfection is unattainable. When we say: “give the program your all”, we are fully aware that it’s not realistic to ask you for maximum effort, all the time. In other words, whilst 70-80% commitment may be achievable for most people (and even 90% can be realistic for certain people), 100% is simply not attainable long-term, nor should it be! This is because life is variable, and things change! Not to mention your 80, 90 or 100% is going to look different day to day depending on other life factors. 

By setting unattainable standards, you are dooming yourself to constantly feeling like a failure, which is not a very motivating mindset to be in! This is where thoughts such as “everyone is doing better than me” creep in, and while feeling down, it can be hard to separate them from facts.

Another dangerous symptom of the all or nothing approach is constantly ‘starting over’. Skipped a workout? Start the program over next Monday. Had a donut? Same reaction. After all, haven’t you ruined your progress by not being perfect?


A funny thing about constantly ‘restarting’ things is that the point of starting over is all in your head, whereas you never stop living in the body that you’re trying to reboot and restart 5 times a week. Life is continuous, so thinking in all or nothing increments is simply not productive and can easily weigh you down, not to mention it doesn’t allow you to live the full and spontaneous human experience.

Overcoming the all or nothing approach

So, by overcoming the all or nothing approach, you can solve numerous issues before they even surface! The tips below can be helpful for shifting your mindset and finding balance in your health & fitness routine.

  • Actively scan your thoughts. When your inner ‘all or nothing monster’ surfaces, take mental note of it, also noticing the circumstances that made you think and feel that way. Mindfulness is key here. 
  • Speaking of thought scanning, also note the terms you use to think or talk about food. Labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is one of the worst triggers of a deprivation mindset, so watch out for those and mentally replace them with good or neutral labels instead.
  • Let go of the ‘cheat day’ or ‘cheat meal’ mentality. For many people, aiming for perfection during the week and loosening up on weekends can be extremely triggering in terms of black and white thoughts. The ‘cheat day’ framework often leads to feeling deprived, and as a result, you can easily overindulge. If that’s something that resonates with you, work on giving yourself genuine permission to enjoy your favourite foods any day in reasonable amounts. For instance, you may find that a few squares of chocolate every day feels better physically and mentally than 3 consecutive blocks on a Saturday night. Experiment and find your balance. 
  • Not striving for absolute perfection takes practice! Shifting your mindset won’t come easy, and that’s ok. Accept your actions and have self-compassion – for instance, instead of beating yourself up for overeating, acknowledge that it happened, explore why it may have occurred, and move on.

The bottom line

Remember: the goal of any health & fitness journey should be to IMPROVE your life, not make it harder. This is why it’s important to work health & fitness into your lifestyle and not take away everything you love and enjoy in the hopes of achieving a self-directed goal. While yes, a certain level of discipline and sacrifice is required to achieve specific physique-based goals, you need to learn to find a balance of both to truly enjoy the journey. Practice self-compassion, set realistic expectations of yourself and make the lifestyle work for you – and you will never feel ‘not good enough’, ‘restricted’ or like you need to ‘start over on Monday’ ever again.

Want to learn how you can ditch the all or nothing approach and actually follow a sustainable health & fitness journey? Try the MWU App today!