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3 simple shifts to help you ditch the ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality over the holidays

TODAY logo TODAY 12/6/2021 Stephanie Mansour
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There’s often an “all-or-nothing” mindset that comes with establishing a health and fitness routine. Many people think that to live a healthier lifestyle they have to jump in with both feet and completely eliminate unhealthy habits. In reality, this is pretty unsustainable. Not to mention, any small positive change can improve your health — so why put yourself through the torture of an “all-or-nothing” mentality when taking gradual steps can result in steady progress?

This is especially important to keep in mind over the holidays when it’s even harder to stick to a routine and we are surrounded by temptations. If you typically throw healthy habits out the window completely, vowing to pick them back up in January, it’s a good sign that you fall victim to this “all-or-nothing” mentality.

I’ve created a three-step plan to help you ditch this attitude and shift your mindset. These tips will help you develop a much more sustainable approach to making your health a priority, especially during the holidays.

Focus on a few small changes and then enjoy the season

Living an “all work no play” lifestyle leads to burnout. While it’s important to prioritize your physical health, it’s also important to do what makes you happy. That means still enjoying the foods you love — in moderation, of course! Don’t cut out the coffee that you enjoy in the morning, the treat you look forward to for dessert or your mom’s famous holiday cookies. Just try to keep a healthy balance.

If that means focusing more on your physical workouts and less on your diet one week, that’s okay. Other weeks, the opposite might work. Having one strict plan that you follow every single day can actually be a roadblock to your goals, because once you get off track, the urge to quit is strong.

I was working with one of my weight-loss clients on her emotional eating. We simply focused on adding in healthy foods, like proteins, fruits and vegetables, and she noticed that the emotional eating subsided. Imagine how she would have felt if instead, we set a rule that she could not have any comfort food at all? The deprivation would almost certainly lead her to binge and then feel guilty. This is a prime example of how focusing on small, positive changes — and ditching the "all-or-nothing" mentality — can have a huge impact.

Related: The right way to skip a workout or indulge in comfort food.


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Cultivate positive self-talk — and know that it takes practice

We are often our own worst critic and it’s even more common to get down on yourself when you set strict rules and feel like you are failing at following them. That’s why cultivating positive self-talk is a process that takes more than just a few days of practice, especially if you fall victim to the “all-or-nothing” mentality.

While it can be difficult at first, it starts to get easier the more you practice it. And it's worth the effort: Positive self-talk will allow you to listen to your body, adjust your plans and stay committed to yourself and your goals. When you catch yourself playing the comparison game or cutting yourself down with self-criticism, have some mantras ready to go to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones.

One thing that I encourage my clients to do is to place a sticky note on their mirror in their bathroom with one word that makes them feel empowered. It could be “strong” or “positive” or even “funny” — whatever word speaks to you and helps you embrace a positive characteristic about yourself. This is a great first step to getting out of negative thinking patterns and showing yourself some grace.

Related: An expert explains how to accept your body, even if you don’t love every inch of it.

Go all in on yourself, not a specific diet plan or workout

There isn’t one diet plan or workout routine that will help you achieve the healthy lifestyle you’re after. There are so many different paths and the journey looks different for everyone — and it will look different for you at different times in your life! Once you realize that it's not adhering perfectly to a set plan, but your overall health and happiness that is most important, you’ll naturally start making decisions that benefit it.

Sometimes, that means skipping a workout to get more sleep, meeting a friend for a glass of wine or enjoying baking and eating Christmas cookies with your family. Listen to your body and what it's craving, and don’t judge yourself when things don’t go as planned.

Remember: You are not a robot. Making your physical and mental health your focus — not a specific diet or fitness plan — makes it easier to get back on track after indulgences and prevent them from spiraling into days or weeks of unhealthy choices.

For example, one of my clients woke up the day after her birthday and ate a piece of cake for breakfast. Instead of sinking into that "all-or-nothing" mentality, which would have led her to say “the whole day is shot,” she was able to have a healthy, filling salad for lunch and carry on with her day on a healthy track.

By putting yourself first you’ll be less likely to beat yourself up for one decision and the season overall will be healthier and more enjoyable.

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