I talk a lot about the “all-or-nothing” mentality, but today I want to talk about what to adopt instead.
All-or-nothing is when I decide to “go on a diet” and be super restrictive, with NO carbs, or sweets, or whatever I’ve decided is causing all my problems. Maybe I make it a week, or a month, perfectly. Then, in a moment of weakness, I eat a donut or something, and suddenly I’m a failure, and my diet has failed, and why even bother, and I may as well eat whatever I want because I’ve blown it! Sounds dramatic when I put it that way, but it’s incredibly common (I struggle sometimes too!) It’s self-destructive and counterproductive and makes us really unhappy too.
So, instead, consider embracing the concept of “a little better.” John Berardi of Precision Nutrition talks about this often. What he has discovered in years of studying nutrition, fitness and habit change, is that habits are more likely to stick when we don’t try to make them all at once or make them drastic. Most of us, when deciding to get healthy, decide that everything we’re doing needs to change, a lot, right now. Well, people who are successful with habit change start small and build.
Let’s say my average breakfast is 2 pop tarts and some orange juice. It’s a sugar spike and crash that leaves me feeling terrible, and starving by lunch, so I overeat. A nutritionist advises me to eat an egg white omelet with vegetables and black coffee. I know that’s not going to happen – I’ve got no time for that, and also I hate eggs, so I think about what could make my junk food breakfast just a little better.
For the first week, I cut down to one pop tart. It’s not so bad. Week 2, I replace the orange juice with milk. Wow, I start to feel a little less starving at lunchtime because I got a little bit of protein. This is going well. I’m encouraged. Maybe in another week, I’m ready to take a further step. Maybe instead of a pop tart, I can have some toast with jam on it. Not bad. Later, I make the toast out of some whole grain bread instead of the white stuff I started with, and maybe eventually use some all-natural reduced sugar jam. Maybe I add some Greek yogurt for a little more protein and put some berries on it to make it taste better. So here it is, a couple months down the road, and my average breakfast consists of some Greek yogurt and berries, a piece of whole grain toast with reduced sugar jam, and a glass of milk. MUCH different from my original two pop tarts and juice, and much better for my health and well-being. But if I tried to make that change all at once, I probably would have been back to pop tarts almost right away. Doing it this way, my tastes have had some time to adjust and I even kind of prefer this now. A drastic change would have resulted in “yuck,” and I would have forced myself to do it for awhile, but at some point I would have gotten frustrated and gone back to my old habit, and probably stayed there until the next time I decided I was fed up and everything needed to change.
So, what could you make just a little better right now? Maybe you’re not exercising at all and could add even just a 5-minute walk to your day. You’re doing takeout every night and could prepare your food at home one night a week. You’re not sleeping enough but maybe you could hit the sack 15 minutes earlier than normal. Keep evaluating and making things just a little better, and after awhile they add up to a lot better.