How NOT to Be All-Or-Nothing with Your Nutrition

If you are someone who tends to have an all-or-nothing mentality, the following strategy, which pulls ideas from HLM frameworks of strength training, might help you reset your way of thinking. Basically, we alternate heavy days, light days, and medium days of nutritional compliance. In a sense, varying the "stress" of sticktoitiveness and helping to control how aggressively or not we chase our goals.

Nutrition Tip 12-17-21

How NOT to Be All-Or-Nothing with Your Nutrition
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Let’s HLM our nutritional approach!

“I’m starting my diet on Monday.”

“I’m starting after my vacation.”

“I’m starting my diet on January first.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard one of the above phrases, I’d have a lot of nickels. Seriously though, I hear these all of the time. Sometimes, I even say them myself.

If you are someone who tends to have an all-or-nothing mentality, the following strategy might help you reset your way of thinking.

It pulls ideas from the HLM or “Heavy, Light, Medium” approach to strength training. (If you’re not familiar with HLM, here’s a primer.) Basically, we alternate heavy days, light days, and medium days, varying the stress of the work throughout the week, which helps to keep us progressing and allows us to recover both physically and mentally. Sustainable strength training cannot be heavy day after day, not in the long run. And while light training days can feel like a waste, they are an important part of the overall structure. Now, what if we applied a similar approach to nutrition?

Imagine the “heavy days” as days that you can aggressively comply with your nutrition goals. These days require planning ahead. They’re days that life hasn’t thrown other curveballs at you where you stick to at least 90% of your intentions and eat quality, whole foods in the quantities that support what you are trying to achieve. We want as many of these days as possible, but we also have to recognize that not every day is going to be like this.

Taking the analogy further, “medium days” are days that you are about 75-80% compliant. Everything isn’t perfect, but you did your best given the circumstances. This might look something like nailing all of your meals, but you gave in and had a couple of unplanned Christmas cookies at the office party. Or it might look like a travel day in which you kept your calories and macro ratios in check but had to do so with foods that were not as high-quality as your usual meals. Medium days are going to happen; they’re part of normal life. Sometimes, you are planning a “heavy” day and a “medium” day happens because real life unceremoniously interferes.

In this model, a “light day” is a special treat that should be planned in advance and notated on your calendar. A “light” day with nutritional compliance is a day when you purposely choose some level of diversion from your plan because it is worth it to you. This might be Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or even a long-awaited date night with your partner at the restaurant that you have been waiting months to get a reservation at. These days are important. As with the HLM model of training, light days can help make the heavy days possible. You never have to keep trudging along with no break or end in sight.

Unlike the HLM model of strength training, in our nutritional HLM, our goal is to keep the number of light days to a minimum since they don’t help us make progress directly. Instead, the light days nourish the body and soul, enhancing our motivation for the medium and heavy days.

Using this approach, we can avoid the on-again, off-again roller-coaster of most dieters. Additionally, we can ratchet how aggressively or leisurely we chase our goals by manipulating the number of hard and medium days based on our current bandwidth and capabilities.

If you choose to try this strategy, it is most effective if you first set the “light” day(s) on your weekly/monthly calendar. Most medium days will just happen, but you can plan them too if you are being more moderate with your approach. At the end of each day, classify which category your day fell into. The more “heavy” days that you have, the sooner you will reach your goals.

If the terms heavy, medium, and light with regard to nutritional compliance are throwing you off, try using these phrases or ones that you come up with yourself:

Heavy – Spot on!

Medium – Mostly there

Light – Other priorities take precedence

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