Man running

Man runningBy Gigi Ravenhall, RDN

All-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking is a common barrier to long-term success. This way of thinking leads us to give up when things are not perfect or are not what we were expecting them to be. Many all-or-nothing thinkers decide when setting goals that the results must be big or the change in behavior is not worth the effort. The problem with this is that big changes can be overwhelming so if the goal is not fully accomplished, then it might be perceived as a failure. This can lead to further frustration without any long-term changes being achieved.

You may not realize that you are an all-or-nothing thinker. Do any of the following phrases sound familiar?

  • “I don’t have time for exercise.”
  • “Since I ate that slice of pizza, I might as well wait to start my diet next month.”
  • “I only lost one pound this week, why do I even bother eating healthy?”

If you are an all-or-nothing thinker, you might want to consider these things when evaluating your goals:

  • Are my expectations realistic?
  • Am I being too hard on myself?
  • Are there positives or progress that I’m not noticing?

Though it might not feel as exciting, making small goals is an effective way to build long-term habits. For example, if one of your goals is to meet the 150-minute per week exercise recommendation, consider breaking it down like this:

  • Week 1: Identify three days per week that you can find time for exercise.
  • Week 2: At the identified time periods, stretch for 20 minutes.
  • Week 3: Now that you are stretching for 20 minutes, add 10 minutes of exercise between the first and last 10 minutes of your stretching.
  • Week 4: Add 20 minutes of cardio with 10 minutes of strength training between the 10- minute warm up and 10-minute cool down.

Easing into changes will give your body and mind time to adjust to these new habits. It will also give you the chance to brainstorm what is and isn’t working during the process, which can help prevent mental or physical burnout. You might just find that breaking things down into smaller pieces is your new stairway to success!


Gigi Ravenhall, RDN is a registered dietitian who works with Arif Ahmad, MD, to ensure the best possible nutritional outcomes for those having bariatric surgery. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and food studies from New York University. Gigi is currently accruing hours to sit for the Certified Diabetes Educator exam.