All or Nothing Extremism & The Dirty Secret of the Fitness Industry.

All or Nothing Extremism & The Dirty Secret of the Fitness Industry.


There is an underbelly to the fitness world that could be the reason why you are struggling with making your change to a healthier lifestyle.

I have written before on the dangers of All or Nothing, or extremist thinking. Studies have shown that the best way to change your lifestyle is ONE habit at a time. However it didn’t really hit home to me why the fitness industry is so bad at teaching this slowly, one habit at a time approach until I saw a recent comedy / parody song created by the Bondi Hipster crew. Check out the song here. The self-reflexively ironic “hipsters” in the song eat mung beans, goji berries and snack on celery through the week, and then smash themselves on drugs partying on the weekend.

It made me think of many people I have come across in my 10 years of being involved and around the fitness industry. It also made me think of myself quite a few years ago, when I was ‘partying’, taking lots of drugs, working like a crazy person, not sleeping much and living an extremist life. Totally All or Nothing.

On or Off.

The All or Nothing paradigm demands that if you are intensely ON with something: “perfect”, you will be equally intense in your OFF stage. Many fitness trainers and health advocates that I know of in the industry will talk about rigorous diarising, strict calorie counting, intensely punishing training regimes and mental discipline. This is the ON phase. What many fail to talk about, (unless you know them personally) is the OFF phase, where they let off some steam and may write themselves off with drinking, drugs or unhealthy food binges for a weekend. There is a well documented phenomenon of massive yo-yoing between “in season” and “off season” with many professional fitness and bodybuilding competitors, and athletes.

Now, to clarify, this is only a percentage of the fitness industry, and I’m certainly not suggesting at all that everyone who talks about a strict diet and training is going out getting smashed on the weekends or when they’re not “in training”.  Many other fitness professionals I know have built up their healthy lifestyles through many years of small changes, to the extent that even though it may seem extreme from the outside it is just their natural lifestyle, they live like that 99% of the time, and a “blowout” might be a planned for couple of glasses of wine and a slice of cheesecake.

Natural Fluctuations & Peaks

There is also a natural phenomenon of fluctuations that occur if you train for a specific peak. The purpose of a peak is that it is the absolute best, by definition a peak is not sustainable all the time, otherwise it wouldn’t be a peak. I would argue that small fluctuations are normal and healthy for all people. However, massive fluctuations in habits to the point where you seem like a completely different person with a different set of values are not healthy at all and are in fact a symptom of All or Nothing Extremism.


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Why share this secret?

I may ruffle a few feathers with this post, so why would I share it? Because if your trainer is an unconscious victim of All or Nothing thinking, then they can’t effectively train you to change your lifestyle in a healthy way, one habit at a time, slowly! If you see them being “perfect” with their training and nutrition and you don’t know about their “off season” then you will attempt to hold yourself to their unattainable ideal and beat yourself up with massive guilt trips when you blow out with a food binge. Remember this is an ideal that many cannot even maintain themselves.

Many trainers simply don’t know.

Many Personal Trainers & Wellness Coaches have absolutely no education in change psychology, they just don’t know that it’s not in your best interest to tell you everything at once, and give you a complete life overhaul in the first session. Many are also young, fresh from their certification training and totally eager to share the life-changing benefits of their knowledge about health and fitness.

Many also are simply giving you what you want, if you come in dead keen for fast results and need to overhaul your entire lifestyle, you’ll ultimately need to change your diet, your training, your sleep habits, and your priorities and values, and they will happily tell you the ideal way to live. The Michelle Bridges 12wbt program is a great example of this, it tells you how to live a healthy lifestyle in perfect detail, from your exact training plan – 6 days per week, to shopping lists, recipes and nutrition programs. This is a brilliant program in its attention to detail, however many people will struggle to stick to it 100% all the way through because to live like that, (depending on what your current habits are) may involve over 1000 small habit changes.

This is why many people will do the program many times over and over to “get it” and start to get the big results. What is happening here, is that these people are simply changing what they are capable of changing now, and educating themselves, then changing a little more the next time. This is a perfect way to make a lifestyle change. What I would like to see happen more in the fitness industry is more understanding and compassion for this slow change approach, rather than reinforcing the “beat yourself up if you’re not sticking to the program” that so often happens.

Question any advice that says you must change everything right now…

Ultimately you must decide what is right for you. Yes it is important to strive to be your best, yes it is important to hold yourself to high standards and ideals, however trying to change yourself completely overnight just doesn’t work and is REALLY damaging for your self-esteem. There is no guru, coach, personal trainer or dietician who knows your body better than YOU do. If you take the time to educate yourself, learn about what they have to say, test different theories, take what works and notice the results you will quite quickly work out the right way for your body, your metabolism, your goals and your lifestyle.

One online weight loss nutrition and training program that has taken the one habit at a time and installed it into their coaching system is Precision Nutrition. Here’s an article on their website that talks about the importance of changing just one thing at a time. Precision Nutrition Program – Why they do one habit at a time.

If you recognize yourself as an All or Nothing thinker from this post, please feel free to contact me to discuss how I can help you to shift your thinking patterns, be kinder to yourself and make lasting changes.

Join the discussion.

Have you fallen prey to the All or Nothing Extremist paradigm before?
Are you still struggling or did you find a way out?
What are your thoughts on this?

Comments (3)

  1. This is absolutely true. I have always been fascinated by the fitness industry. I really love the look of fit, toned women, I find it inspiring truly. I am myself a fitness model and last year competed in numerous body building competition in the sports model categories. And I had been very extreme. I was an an extremely strict diet, exercising up to 14 times a week , I did it for two to three months to prepare for my last competition, the Australian Titles last year. I also found out that it is absolutely normal for a lot of ” fitness gurus” to diet very strictly for a whole weak and have what we call an “epic cheat meal” on the weekend. it is even a tradition for us to go and have anything we want to eat after a competition. We call this the ” window of opportunity” Basically after a very extreme and severe diet for months to enter a competition, we go and have anything and every thing we want to eat after the competition. So what happened to me last year, I lost weight, got in he best shape ever however my diet was extremely strict and severe. After my competition I gain double the amount of weight I lost within weeks! My weight went out of control as I was really making up for all the deprivation afterwards. It really took me around 3 to 4 months to actually get back on track with my health. I am now struggling to lose the weight again but I know that this time around my main focus is to get in more balance in my life, not this all or nothing crap ever again!!! It not worth it. Thanks for this post Kylie

    • Hey Aurelie, I’m so glad you posted this. Wonderful to have it confirmed direct from a fitness competitor. Slow and steady with balance.

  2. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.

    I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if
    you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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