The All Or Nothing Approach

Let's talk about one of the biggest progress killers you need to part ways with!

Many people start health and fitness journeys, but relatively few commit to the point of making it a lifestyle as opposed to a one-off program. In fact, let’s be honest – most don’t make it beyond a few weeks at the gym.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? So, what is the main setback? Is it being ‘too busy’, ‘life taking over’, lack of motivation, or perhaps unfortunate alignment of stars in the sky? We think not – and the answer we’re sticking with is as simple as it is surprising.

We are certain that the real culprit here is the all or nothing approach, also known as black and white thinking. People tend to be either ALL IN or ALL OUT, struggling to find the ‘sweet spot’ unicorn or discover the true meaning of ‘balance’. The basic principles of altering one’s physique, being that losing fat or gaining muscle, are easy for most people to understand – however, reaching a goal and staying there is a whole different story.

Our Move With Us coach Rachel Dillon knows it all too well – because she’s been there!

Rachel’s story

Rachel says: ‘I once too have been victimised by the all or nothing approach. I have restrictively dieted down for shows and in turn experienced a post comp blow out like what many of you may have experienced. Specifically, some of the related feelings you may have experienced would be feeling restricted, feeling out of control and feeling like you have failed.’

On the left:

Weight: 62kg

Nutrition: Consuming ~1500 ‘clean’ calories (no flexibility at all). High protein, low carbs. Excessive caffeine intake. Strictly no treats or alcohol.

Training: 5x cardio sessions & 6x weighted sessions per week

Mood: Terrible Sleep patterns (Rachel often woke up ‘starving’). Stressed (pressure to stick to a plan, missing out on enjoyable things and activities, deprivation mindset). Constant cravings. FEELING RESTRICTED.


On the right: no comp, no specific goals.

Weight: 60kg

Nutrition: at least 1900 calories a day (with emphasis on reverse dieting, especially after having dieted restrictively in the past). High carb, moderate protein. One coffee a day. Intermittent fasting (personal preference). Drinks on occasions and untracked meals on the weekend. Flexible dieting.

Training: no comp prep or strict goals. Weights 4-5x per week, cardio varies depending on goal.


Rachel’s best advice? Listen up, ladies: “Let fitness fit your lifestyle! Don't take away everything you love and enjoy doing. Yes, a level of discipline and sacrifice is required to achieve your goals but learn to find a balance of both. The all or nothing approach is NOT required to achieve the results you are after! Remember: consistency and adherence will always win. Don't let yourself feel restricted. Think long term!”

Are you a black and white thinker?

As you see, the all-or-nothing-itis strikes the best of us. Could black and white thinking be ruining your progress? Consider whether any of the following statements apply to you:

  • You try to compensate with something ‘good’ for ‘bad’ behaviours
  • 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 every weekend; or skip workouts and then try fit multiple sessions into one day to the point of complete exhaustion.
  • You often ‘quit’ things that you perceive as bad cold turkey, only to go heavy on them shortly after
  • You constantly experience guilt related to your ‘non-perfect’ lifestyle and try to battle it by joining short-term challenges and cleanses. After those finish, you jump off the wagon.
  • You have trouble falling asleep at night, thinking about everything ‘wrong’ you did or put in your mouth 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, just constant guilt and pushing yourself.

Even if just a couple of statements ring some bells, you could potentially benefit from taming your black and white thinking!

The problems with all or nothing approach

On the surface, it might appear as if 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 some), 100% is simply not attainable long-term.

By setting unattainable standards, you are subjecting yourself to constantly feeling like a failure, which is not a very motivating mindset to be in! This is where the 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.

Overcoming black and white thinking

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.

  • 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.
  • Speaking of thought scanning, also note the terms you use to think or talk about food. Labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is one of the worst triggers of deprivation mindset, so watch out for those and mentally replace with good or neutral labels instead.
  • Be careful with ‘cheat days’. For some people, committing to a plan and loosening up on weekends can be extremely triggering in terms of black and white thoughts. The ‘cheat day’ framework can sometimes lead 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 Sunday.
  • 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 you know why you did it (e.g. couldn’t say no to grandma), and move on.

Bottom line

Remember: all or nothing approach is holding you back big time! Practise self-compassion, set realistic expectations of yourself and make the lifestyle work for you – and you will never feel ‘not good enough’ or ‘restricted’ again