3 Shifts to Let Go of All-or-None Food Rules

The internet is saturated with black-and-white nutrition advice. Do one quick nutrition-related search on Google and you’ll likely find a list of “ONLY eat this, not that” rules. This advice does more harm than good because it leads to food rules that are unrealistic and unsustainable. In this article, I’ll teach you 3 shifts to let go of all-or-none food rules. 

Identifying All-or-None Food Rules 

“Never eat after 7 pm! Always eat 3 veggies per day! You shouldn’t eat sweets after lunch!”

These are all examples of all-or-none food rules. They leave you with 2 options: success or failure (plus, a side of guilt if you fail). In order to break FREE from all-or-none food rules, you must first be able to identify them. 

Key identifiers of all-or-none food rules include:

  • Always
  • Never
  • Right 
  • Wrong
  • Should
  • Shouldn’t

If you notice any of these words in the language that you use to describe food, it’s likely that you are holding onto some all-or-none food rules. 

Let’s look at some more examples: 

  • I always binge eat on the weekends.
  • I never eat right on the weekends.
  • I should eat salads every day for lunch this week. 
  • Or I shouldn’t go out to eat on a weeknight. 

Remember, you’re not wrong for thinking like this. Diet culture preaches black-and-white food rules so it is very common to think about food through this lens. But since we know it’s harmful, unsustainable, and unrealistic – this is an article exploring how to reframe these unhelpful thoughts.  


3 Shifts to Let Go of All-or-None Food Rules

Now that you can identify all-or-none thinking, it’s time to practice 3 reframing techniques to release unhelpful food rules. 

1 – Abundant mindset

Food rules tell you what to subtract or take away from your diet (ie. no processed foods or added sugar). Or they set limits on how much of a particular you can have (ie. you can have a donut but ONLY on the weekend). This triggers a scarcity mindset. You don’t have as many food options, AND you’re afraid that the options you do have are going to be restricted later. This restriction leads to increased food cravings and binges. You say to yourself, “If I can only have a donut on the weekend, I might as well eat several now.”

Instead of focusing on what to subtract from your diet, focus on what you can ADD. Remind yourself all-foods-fit. In fact, when no foods are off-limits, there’s less pressure to binge eat. 

Let’s look at the example food rule of “no processed foods”. When shifting to an abundance mindset you might say, “I can have processed foods AND whole foods” or “I can make a snack with a cheese stick AND grapes.” Notice the difference? There’s a place for both and you give yourself options. 

2 – Live in the gray.

Another problem with rigid food rules is that they don’t align with our fluid lives. What do you do if you tell yourself that you shouldn’t eat after 7 pm, but your friend made dinner reservations for 8 pm? Do you cancel the date? Say you can’t go out to eat on the weeknights? I invite you to embrace this gray area. 

Living in the gray means being flexible with food. It’s not following a “right” or “wrong” way of eating. It’s choosing a “this is best for me in this moment” way of eating. Some nights this may look like going out to dinner with friends to be social and try new foods. Other nights this may look like cooking a delicious meal at home for yourself. 

The takeaway: Eating isn’t black-and-white. Thrive in the gray area. 

3 – Zoom out.

Another trend that I observe among my clients with a history of dieting is the tendency to judge every food choice. They might tell me, “I ate so bad on Saturday, I need to make up for it this week” OR “I ate too many carbs for dinner, I need to avoid carbs at breakfast today.” 

Here’s the exact advice I give my clients: 

Stop zooming in and start zooming out. 

One meal doesn’t determine a day’s worth of eating. One day’s worth of eating doesn’t ruin a weekend. You won’t suddenly get a nutrient deficiency if you didn’t eat a veggie this week. It’s our dietary patterns over time that count.

Next time you notice yourself zooming in and meticulously judging your food choice, macro content, or nutrient breakdown, TRY zooming out to look at the bigger picture. 

There you have it! Three mindset shifts to release the all-or-none food rules that are holding you back. Tell me, which shift do you find most powerful?

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