Recently, a girlfriend and I took off on a little weekend getaway, and at the start of our trip, my friend announced that this was her “cheat weekend”—she planned to indulge in whatever food she wanted.
When we stopped for dinner that Friday night, we both ordered burgers and sweet potato fries (boy, do I love a good burger!), but before my friend even started to eat, she was already agonizing over her choice.
"I really shouldn’t be eating this."
"It’s got so many calories!"
"But I’ve been so good on my diet lately!"
"I’ll get back on track Monday."
This conversation went on throughout the meal. With every bite she took, she told me how guilty she felt. She would quickly rationalize it by saying she deserved it because of how “good” she had been, and vowed to tighten things up next week.
The rest of the weekend followed the same pattern. The more she indulged, the more guilt she experienced, and the stricter she said she would have to be to make up for it come Monday.
Strict deprivation. Overindulgence. Guilt. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
By Sunday night, her stomach was a mess from three days of overindulging. She was consumed with guilt over all of the things she had eaten, and the thought of being extremely restrictive the next day was daunting. She didn’t give me specifics of her weekday diet, but I could tell she didn’t enjoy it at all. She lived for these “cheat” days… but was riddled with remorse, and a sick stomach for days after.
My friend was trapped in the same vicious cycle that I experienced many years ago: the All-or-Nothing cycle. Having been there before, I could see exactly what was happening and could predict how it would play out.
The Vicious Cycle
When I was on the All-or-Nothing merry-go-round, I would be incredibly strict with my diet throughout the week, rotating the same unsatisfying foods over and over again: egg whites, asparagus, ground turkey, chicken, steamed broccoli, and a few other equally blah staples. Monday through Friday, I’d white-knuckle my way through each meal, carefully weighing and tracking every morsel of food I consumed.
By the time the weekend rolled around, I was fried. I was sick of being so restrictive and sick of eating foods I hated. My willpower was sapped, and much like my girlfriend, I would give myself permission to indulge on Saturdays. The thing is, I always ended up overdoing it. Partly because I felt like I had earned it by being “so good,” but mostly because I hated the way I ate throughout the week and desperately found myself needing a reprieve from it.
I usually spent Sundays full of guilt and with a pretty sick stomach, overwhelmed by the thought of returning to my horrible diet the next day.
Strict deprivation. Overindulgence. Guilt.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Sound familiar? Many people think that to benefit from something, they have to go all in. The problem with this is that, for most people, the opposite of going all in is going, well, all out. Going all out is about much more than the extra calories consumed. Going all out can lead to some pretty destructive eating behaviors and habits. Behaviors and habits that can be really hard to break, like eating until you are absolutely stuffed or eating anything in front of you simply because it’s there.
It’s akin to losing $1 out of your wallet and throwing the entire thing in the garbage.
And it’s not just a detrimental approach to eating. When it came to workouts, I had the same All-or-Nothing mentality. If I didn’t have at least a full hour to devote to working out, I would skip my session altogether that day. There were times when I bagged an entire week of training, simply because I skipped one session. I thought the whole week was a loss if I wasn’t able to get in every single session exactly as planned. Looking back, I realize just how silly and counterproductive that was. It’s akin to losing $1 out of your wallet and throwing the entire thing in the garbage. Or getting a flat tire and slashing the other three!
No matter what reasons I gave myself for continuing this cycle, I certainly did not enjoy being trapped in it. Come to think of it, I actually don’t know anyone who does.
If you’re reading this, and it hits a little too close to home, know this: You can break free from All-or-Nothing thinking. The two most important things you can start practicing today to help you step off this ride are: finding your middle ground and letting good enough be good enough.
1. Find Your Middle Ground
Your middle ground is a satisfying way of eating that you can happily maintain seven days per week. No ups and downs. No on and off. No strict days and cheat days. The middle ground is where the magic happens, because it allows for better overall consistency—and when it comes to results, consistency is king.
Find your middle ground during the week by adding things to your foods or whipping up recipes that ensure you enjoy your food completely. From a caloric standpoint, you are far better off adding 150 to 200 calories to your day with flavor and enjoyment-boosting tactics, as opposed to torturing yourself with horrible-tasting food and then consuming thousands of extra calories on Saturday and Sunday.
To keep from going crazy-town-banana-pants on the weekends, I regularly do a few things to make my food more satisfying every day, like:
- Adding some bacon bits to my salad
- Putting creamer in my coffee
- Using real butter on my vegetables
- Sprinkling a bit of cheese on my eggs
When I don’t feel restricted and love the way I eat, I don’t feel a need to 'take a break or 'cheat' on the weekends or on vacation.
These small additions really pack a punch of flavor and keep me satisfied and happy. When I don’t feel restricted and love the way I eat, I don’t feel a need to “take a break” or “cheat” on the weekends or on vacation.
Your middle ground may look different than mine. Find your middle ground. When you love the way that you eat, continuing to eat that way feels effortless, regardless of the situation. Willpower is short-lived, and if you are relying on it to get you through every single, utterly unenjoyable meal Monday through Friday, you are likely setting yourself up to experience a nutritional fall-out and an emotional rollercoaster on the weekends.
By focusing on satiety instead of deprivation, you may find that how you eat on the weekends ends up being very similar to how you eat during the week. Eating in a similar manner every day is much more sustainable and enjoyable than being too restrictive or overindulging (and everything that tends to come with that).
2. Let Good Enough Be Good Enough
Once in awhile, the stars may align, and you’ll find yourself in kitchen perfectly stocked with a variety of protein options and produce galore, ready for you to create a healthy culinary masterpiece. Your schedule goes exactly according to plan, and you’re able to devote enough time to each and every pre-planned workout.
However, more often than not, this thing called real life happens, and things don’t go according to plan. This is when you have a choice: You can say "forget it!" and go down in a blaze of glory, promising to start next week (which, by the way, is a terrible idea), or you can learn to navigate less-than-perfect, real-life situations like this and do your best with what’s available. I don’t think I need to tell you which option I vote for.
Find peace in the fact that something is always better than nothing.
Find peace in the fact that something is always better than nothing. For example, maybe the only vegetables you end up having with your dinner are a few carrot sticks that you have leftover. Perhaps your protein source for lunch during a busy workday is a few slices of deli meat with a slice of cheese.
Just because it’s not grilled chicken and steamed broccoli doesn’t mean you aren’t getting the job done. Even if it’s not ideal, it’s good enough—and good enough, done over and over again, can make a huge difference.
The same holds true for your workouts. It’s not at all uncommon for me to get to the gym, knock out a great (and short) workout, and walk out exactly 30 minutes later. Just because you don’t have time to do your entire session of programming doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from doing something. If you are well-rested and properly fueled, any movement is better than no movement.
Some days you’ll have enough time to complete your full, hour-long workout. Some days you’ll have the opportunity to just go with the flow and see what you can get done in 30 minutes. And some days, the only movement you get might be a 10-minute walk. It’s important to remember that the 10-minute walk is better than no walk.
When it comes to feeling your very best, every little bit counts. Getting into bed ten minutes earlier, or doing a five-minute meditation, or taking a 15-minute leisure walk to unwind… it’s all beneficial, and it all adds up!
You will get results based on what you do the overwhelming majority of the time. Being able to enjoy the process is absolutely crucial when it comes to sustainability. Give yourself grace and find your flow when circumstances aren’t optimal, and you will get results.
Figure out what some of your most common challenges are and have some alternate plans in your back pocket. For example, compile a list of quick workouts you can do when you’re crunched for time and pick a few ways to boost the flavor—and therefore satisfaction factor—of your meals so that you’re not jonesing for junk food once the weekend rolls around.
Learn to navigate the middle ground and enjoy the big and small success that good enough brings. As with a lot of things in life, the more you practice, the easier it feels—way easier than living on the All-or-Nothing rollercoaster, that’s for sure!
This article originally appeared on Girls Gone Strong and was reposted with the author's permission. Jen Comas is a Strongest You Coach, personal trainer, certified through NASM and USAW as a Level One Olympic Weight Lifting coach, and a vinyasa yoga practitioner and instructor. The views expressed herein are hers. To read more, go to JenComas.com.