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Letting Go Of The ‘All Or Nothing’ Approach to Nutrition

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jul 9, 2021

Why an ‘all or nothing’ mindset about nutrition may sabotage your health goals 

We all have that friend who’s always making comments about their food intake such as, “I really shouldn’t be eating this,” or “I’ve been so good on my diet lately,” or maybe they might say, “I’ll get back on track Monday after my ‘cheat’ weekend.”

Comments like these are often a way for people to rationalize eating certain foods they deem as “bad” by saying how “good” they’ve been vowing to get back on schedule soon. These same individuals often live by an “all or nothing” attitude in regards to dieting or losing weight. They will tell themselves they can never eat cake, candy, fried food, or any favorite foods again, hence a set-up for an all or nothing way of thinking.

Unfortunately, pledging to give up certain foods is problematic and unrealistic to follow. There is always going to be somebody’s birthday party where cake is served or a festive holiday buffet decked out with sweets and treats tempting you away from your all or nothing eating plan. Do you have a plan on how to handle those situations?

However, all or nothing nutrition is a surefire plan for excessively obsessing over what you should be eating and how much, which rarely ends well. That’s because the “all or nothing” voice in your head will deceptively tell you “You’ve already had a piece of cake, so you might as well have the entire cake,” or “You’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, so go ahead and binge at dinner and all evening long.”

The good news is none of us need to follow an “all or nothing” mindset in order to succeed at meeting health goals. When common sense reigns and food restrictions are liberated allowing you freedom to eat what you want without judgment, all foods can be part of a healthy diet. Keep your focus on healthy eating the majority of time while permitting yourself a small and guilt-free indulgence on most days of the week if not every day.

Where the all or nothing diet mentality goes wrong

None of us are perfect 100 percent of the time eating only acceptable, healthy foods. Striving to be “perfect” by following rigid food rules is a ruse that eventually leads to failure. Making certain foods unacceptable, no matter what, is a very challenging and irrational way of thinking about a basic human need. Let’s say you ‘slip’ and make a ‘bad’ food choice.  How will this make you feel? Would you feel like a failure, unhealthy, or weak minded? But is that true? No – it means you’re human and an inherent part of being human is fallibility and imperfection, especially in our food choices.

Give yourself some grace. Instead of living in a black-or-white world of only following an all or nothing eating plan, accept the gray areas. This means accepting that all foods in moderation can be part of a balanced and healthy way of eating. Allow flexibility to rule your food choices. It’s more sustainable and clears a path towards actually enjoying eating once again without guilt. You’ll discover that sitting down to eat a meal or snack, should be time for savoring moments of pure pleasure of how food tastes, how it makes you feel, and how it can nourish your body for better health.

Letting go of “all or nothing” nutrition

Pushing all or nothing nutrition to the side, allows you to view nutrition as an art and science. It’s really quite fascinating when you learn the complexity of nutrition and its effect on your body. Each of us should be mindful of how essential nutrition components – e.g. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants – play a key role in supporting our health throughout our lives. That’s why giving up certain foods you view as ‘unhealthy’ such as carbohydrates, limits your potential for healthy eating.

Instead adopt a pattern of eating that emphasizes ‘balancing’ each meal. Begin with vegetables. Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, cooked or as a salad, offering fiber and plenty of micronutrients. The other half of your plate should be a combination of a lean protein source and energy sustaining carbohydrates fueling your body. Protein sources such as lean meat, poultry, fish, or eggs and complex carbs such as peas, spaghetti squash, corn, brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes, are examples of quality foods to add to your meals.

And, do choose dairy foods and fruit – each offers a wealth of vital nutrients promoting strong bones, weight management, and nutritional components enhancing immune health.

And yes, having a dessert is okay too!  Again, practice balance by paying attention to eating only to the point of feeling full but never stuffed.

Once all or nothing nutrition has gone by the wayside, you’ll find eating becomes more intuitive since you’re no longer placing limits on what you can or can’t eat. Guess what? You’ve found food freedom. Food freedom is choosing not only healthy foods nourishing your body but also freedom to choose whatever food you want to eat. But, food freedom also comes with responsibilities in understanding that the choices you make today, impact your future health.

Choose wisely in all aspects of life and when it comes to food, tell all or nothing nutrition, goodbye.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.


  1. on July 16, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    There is noticeably a lot to realize about this.

    I feel you made various good points in features also.

    • Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on July 18, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      Thank you! I hope you were able to find information useful for you.

  2. Yvonne on August 3, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you. It helps to feel I’m not failing at my attempt to eat healthier even if I have an occasional treat.

    • Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on August 3, 2021 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Yvonne!

      Thank you so much for your comment and I’m very happy to hear that my article resonated with you. You are in no way failing for having a treat. It’s your overall dietary eating pattern from day to day that makes the difference so an occasional treat will not thwart your efforts at choosing healthy foods most of the time. Just keep your eye on what health goals you are wanting to accomplish, take it a day at a time, and be proud of all accomplishments you gain, no matter how big or small!

      Cheryl Mussatto

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