Mary James

How 'All Or Nothing' Thinking Keeps You Fat


Be the change you want to see. A LadyBoss is in control of her destiny, her situation, her health, her body, and in turn, her life.

Kaelin Tuell Poulin

Have you ever stopped to wonder whether such thinking processes might be why it’s so hard to lose your body fat in the first place? Study after study has shown how difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off. Which means a lot of us just throw in the towel.

Weight gain may seem like a belly and diet thing, but your brain is one of the biggest obstacles to losing weight effectively. How you eat, how you feel and how you react all influence whether or not you gain weight. Here is how your mind controls your body and what you can and should do about it.

Categorising Things

The human brain loves to categorise things in order to get them out of the way and move on to the next task. And one category the brain loves best is 'hopeless case'. In evolutionary terms, it makes sense; no use chasing a prey animal if it’s just too fast for you. And pop psychology encourages this natural tendency.

How 'All Or Nothing' Thinking Keeps You Fat

FACT: Weight gain might seem like a belly and diet thing, but your brain is one of the biggest obstacles to losing weight effectively.

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The old saw about serenity—'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change' - is highly appealing. But we’re often too quick to throw things we can control in the present moment into the 'cannot change' category.

For example, how many diet days have you given up before 10 am - even after making some excellent choices? If you're offered a doughnut when you get to the office, that wonderful feeling of purity you had when you woke up with yoghurt and tea and then made it to the gym before work is 'ruined. At lunchtime you think you might as well have a hamburger and dessert.

It’s an oddly religious sentiment: we treat our days as though they were souls; once stained, they’re useless, and we might as well stain them some more.

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It's not about dieting or pushing to extremes; it's about sustainable health and loving your body.

Symptom Of Perfectionism

Many cognitive-behavioural therapists see this all-or-nothing thinking as a symptom of perfectionism. Ironically, the stronger our need to be perfect, the more likely we are to keep eating badly for an entire 24-hour period - till we get a fresh chance to be 'perfect'.

But your metabolism is not religious or perfectionist; your sugar metabolism may affect your psychological state, but it is not a psychological state in itself, and it doesn't work like one.

It doesn't have a sense of purity. It doesn't get angry or disgusted with itself if you put a cookie in it. And it certainly doesn't need more cookies to keep the first one company.

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Fat And Cumulative Effects

What you weigh (and the percentage of your body fat) does not depend on how many perfect 24-hour periods you can rack up. It depends on the cumulative effects of each decision you make.

So if you can’t stop thinking of your diet efforts in terms of 'pure' and 'impure' - impure being the green light to screw up more since it’s already ruined - at least try to think of every minute as a fresh mini-day. Fine, five minutes ago was a giant mess of Oreo cookies. That doesn’t have to have any bearing on the next five-minute period!

Instead of trying to get through things one day at a time, try to surf over things hour by hour. Use that 'accepting things I can’t change' idea the right way: go ahead and accept the fact that you ate that cookie five minutes ago. That being said, the cookie has no bearing whatsoever on the cookies you will not eat in the next five minutes!

How 'All Or Nothing' Thinking Keeps You Fat

TIP: Ironically, the stronger our need to be perfect, the more likely we are to keep eating badly for an entire 24-hour period.

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The Bottom Line

Now you know better, and now you can change it once and for all with mindfulness and gradual redirection. Remember, it would be easy to become perfectionistic if you were not a diet perfectionist.

Until you see your body as an organism rather than a temple, fat loss will be a challenge. But with practice, you can learn to accept mistakes you've made in the recent past without accepting mistakes you haven't made yet! Being at peace isn't just about forgiving yourself - it's about moving on.

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Our brains developed ways to maintain our fat stores by detecting the levels of a hormone called leptin, which is secreted into the blood by fat cells. The brain mostly tries to keep this hormone level constant by making us hungry and burn less energy when our leptin levels drop.


Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a significant role in the reward system and can contribute to weight gain. When you consume foods high in sugar, salt, or fat, your brain releases dopamine, creating a pleasurable sensation that reinforces the desire for those foods. Over time, this can lead to cravings and overconsumption, potentially resulting in weight gain.


The fundamental cause of obesity and being overweight,' the World Health Organization says, 'is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Put simply, we either eat too much or are too sedentary, or both.


There's no evidence that a body wrap will help you lose weight. While you may be down a few pounds after using one, this is mainly due to water loss. As soon as you hydrate and eat, the number on the scale will go right back up. The only proven way to lose weight is through proper diet and adequate exercise.


Habit formation plays a significant role in weight gain from a brain perspective. When you repeatedly engage in certain behaviors, such as consuming unhealthy foods or engaging in sedentary activities, neural pathways in the brain become strengthened, making these habits more automatic and difficult to break. Over time, these ingrained habits can contribute to weight gain if they involve consuming excess calories or leading an inactive lifestyle.


Increase resistance training. Taking part in total-body, muscle-strengthening activities two days a week may help you burn calories, reduce fat mass, and strengthen your thighs. Include lower-body exercises such as lunges, wall sits, inner/outer thigh lifts, and step-ups with just your body weight.


To counteract brain mechanisms that promote weight gain, consider implementing strategies such as mindful eating practices, regular physical activity, stress management techniques, and ensuring adequate sleep.

Additionally, incorporating cognitive-behavioral therapy or working with a qualified healthcare professional can help address emotional eating and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Making gradual lifestyle changes and forming new, positive habits can rewire the brain and support long-term weight management.

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About the Author Mary James

I am passionate about fitness, a healthy lifestyle, cooking, and well-being. This blog is about some of my thoughts that are occupying my mind and spirit daily over the last 10 years and my grand passion – weight loss and fitness, healthy lifestyle and healthy food, mindfulness and self-improvement.

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