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  • Niki Randolph MS, CISSN

Progress, Not Perfection

The Dangers of All-or-Nothing

How often do you find yourself slipping into an All-or-Nothing eating and/or exercise pattern?

You might find yourself thinking something like this, “If I can’t hit the gym hard, what’s the point of working out?” Or, “What’s the point of trying to eat healthy today, I’m going on vacation in 2 weeks…I have a birthday party to attend next weekend…my work schedule is too unpredictable…I just ate a piece of cake”…and the list goes on.

We forego today because we fear tomorrow and our inability to meet our own unreasonable expectations. In other words, we let perfectionism get in the way. This all-or-nothing mentality can suck the joy, pleasure, and satisfaction out of life, leaving in its wake feelings of guilt and shame.

Did you know that guilt and shame can actually change our physiology? Researchers observed a rise in pro-inflammatory substances after individuals were asked to write about traumatic experiences in which they blamed themselves and felt ashamed. These same pro-inflammatory “cytokines” have also been associated with a variety of chronic inflammatory illnesses including Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

The greatest detriment of the all-or-nothing mentality, is the permission we give ourselves to “check out”. We have a plan for the week and with one misstep we throw in the towel which can lead to destructive and self-sabotaging behaviors. Instead of finding a middle ground, we give up.

Instead of all-or-nothing thinking, what if we started believing that something is better than nothing? We can’t make it to the gym today so instead of nothing, we decide to take a walk around the neighborhood. At today’s morning meeting you ate a doughnut, you screwed up your diet so might as well eat three more and anything else you want today (tomorrow, a month from now). Sound familiar? Instead, why not choose to savor the doughnut, enjoy each bite, and resolve to make healthier choices for the remainder of the day.

Flexibility helps fuel a long-term healthy lifestyle. All too often perfectionism stops us from engaging in small efforts that can have a meaningful impact on our body, mind, and spirit. So instead of all-or-nothing, trust me when I say that something is better than nothing.


Barksby, H. E., Lea, S. R., Preshaw, P. M., & Taylor, J. J. (2007). The expanding family of interleukin-1 cytokines and their role is destructive inflammatory disorders. Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 149, 217-225.

Dickerson, S. S., Kemeny, M. E., Aziz, N., Kim, K. H., & Fahey, J. L. (2004). Immunological effects of induced shame and guilt. Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, 66(1), 124-131.

Strober, W., Zhang, F., Kitani, A., Fuss, I., & Fichtner-Feigl, S. (2010). Pro-inflammatory cytokines underlying the inflammation of Crohn’s disease. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 26(4), 310–317.

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