“All or Nothing”, “Go Hard or Go Home”, “Don’t Stop When You’re Tired, Stop When You’re Done”. These are the kinds of quotes that I often see pop up on my Instagram feed in gritty typography against a backdrop of an oiled-up muscular bodybuilder, flexing intensely in a dark room dimly lit by downlights.
These quotes sound nice. If I’m already at the gym, reading something like this might get me to increase the incline on the treadmill, load up some extra weights on my bar or keep going past my set number of reps until failure. After all, nothing worth having comes easy, and feeling sore today means being strong tomorrow, right? (Why are there so many of these fitness adages stored in my brain??).
The ‘all or nothing’ approach isn’t just found in fitness discourse, I also see quotes like “hustle and grind 24/7, 365” and “give 110% all the time” thrown around in other contexts like business, career progression and even in relationships.
Again, it all sounds really nice. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who is self-motivated enough to work 24/7, 365? Who wouldn’t love being in a relationship with someone who puts 110% effort in every single day, not just on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries?
The problem that I have with the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach is that, for me at least, it isn’t sustainable. There might be some people out there who really can show up to the gym every single day, complete their set workout and stick to a certain diet plan perfectly. I am not one of those people.
I’ve had a gym membership for over 5 years now and the longest I’ve ever been able to stick to my ‘ideal’ diet and exercise goals perfectly has been about 2 weeks.
I used to think that maybe if I set myself really ambitious goals, like hitting the gym 7 times a week for at least an hour, then at least if I missed a few days, I’d still be going quite a lot… right? I think the saying goes “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars.”
In practice though, if I missed one day of hitting the gym for whatever reason, my ‘all or nothing’ mindset would kick in and I’d think that there was no point in continuing since I had already failed. “I might as well eat pizza and brownies while watching Netflix shows for now and start again next week…” Or, if I only had 30 mins spare to exercise, rather than a full hour, I thought to myself, “what’s the point? I won’t even work up a sweat or have a chance to get my heart rate up.”
It’s the perfectionist’s fatal flaw- holding oneself to impossibly high standards, inevitably followed by failure, guilt, demotivation (and sometimes a whole tray of Tim-Tams in bed).
Something Is Better Than Nothing
What I’ve found helpful in getting myself out of the “all-or-nothing” mindset, without giving up on my goals altogether, is a “something-is-better-than-nothing” mindset. Small, consistent actions towards fitness, career, business or relationship goals are much more effective than short-lived but intense spikes of activity followed by long periods of doing nothing.
By giving myself permission to go off track a little bit and not allowing myself to use it as an excuse to completely disregard my plans, I feel like I’ve been able to achieve more, increase confidence in myself and get more out of the journey as a whole. After all, hitting the gym 3 times per week for 45 minutes might not be as good as going every day, but it’s better than skipping out altogether (and feeling super guilty about it!)
Finally, in the spirit of including lots of tacky motivational quotes, I find it helpful to remember:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
I used to absolutely hate my hair. When I was a kid, my mum would chase me around the house and then hold me down to brush my wild hair and wrangle it into a tight ponytail-puff-hybrid while snotty tears slid down my face. I wanted straight hair so badly that I would brush it constantly as it dried, hoping that it would dry flat, only to end up with a frizzy mess.
Sad story time: I distinctly remember my parents taking me to a hairdresser when I was probably around 8 years old for a haircut. I had washed and de-tangled my hair the night before and was super keen for the hairdressers to work their magic. While they sat me in the chair, I watched the all-white hairdresser crew in the mirror behind me argue over which one of them had to “deal with” my hair. My little 8-year-old heart fell.
The one who eventually had to take on the gruelling task of cutting my thick hair rolled her eyes and scowled as she surveyed my hair. “Did you brush your hair? It’s very knotty,” she said as she tried to run a FINE TOOTHED COMB through it. “I’m going to have to wet it and put some conditioner in it”. “Your hair is very dry, do you even use conditioner?” “This is going to take a lot longer than normal…” In the end she charged my parents an extra ‘detangling fee’ and ‘thick hair surcharge’. It may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but even now as I think back to that day, the same feelings of worthlessness, ugliness and guilt resurface and I feel like crying the same tears that my 8 year old self fought so hard to keep inside.
Yes, it is that deep.
Everyone, from my naturally straight-haired mum to my friends at school seemed to be itching to tell me how I could “solve” my curly hair. Constantly being told that I didn’t brush it enough, that I should use more conditioner or that I should stop eating bread crusts (?) just further reinforced the idea that my natural hair was a curse and I wasn’t enough.
I started regularly straightening my hair when I was around 12. It was just like that scene in the Princess Diaries when the ugly gross normal teenage girl suddenly becomes worthy of her royal title after a makeover which basically consisted of removing her glasses and straightening her unacceptably frizzy hair. (A problematic and honestly lazy trope which is recycled all too often in popular culture).
When my hair was straight, I finally felt like I fit in with the pretty girls and was one step closer to being accepted into normal human society. Both of my parents (and what felt like the whole world) agreed that I looked better and more presentable with straight hair and had often encouraged me to straighten it, especially for occasions like weddings and birthdays where pictures would be taken.
In search of a more permanent solution, I started experimenting with keratin treatments and at-home relaxers (my aunt would get me the extra strength kits from Sudan where they could use higher concentrations of the active ingredient). After a 5-8 hour application process, I’d always wash my hair hoping that it would dry straight, but alas, none of these products seemed to be able to tame my super curly hair.
When I was 16, my dad took me to get my hair chemically straightened using the brand new, super expensive, Japanese Shiseido method as a Christmas present. Now, I didn’t have to spend hours straightening my hair and I honestly felt like my life was complete. I kept on shelling out about $300 every 4-6 months (basically all the money a 16 year old has) to get my curly roots touched up. (If you’re interested, Check out Chris Rock’s comedy/documentary, Good Hair, where he delves into the billion dollar hair relaxer industry.)
I kept this up for a few years until I moved overseas for a year and let my natural hair start growing out. Being all alone in a foreign country made it kind of hard to find a salon that offered the Shiseido treatment, let alone explain what I wanted in my broken German. I decided to use this time as an opportunity to start going through the awkward half straight-half curly transition stage (the worst). I was curious, it had been so long (5 years!) since I’d seen my hair in its natural state. My super dry and damaged ends were begging for a haircut but I wasn’t quite ready to part with my length.
While my hair was in this awkward dead/dry/straight on the bottom, frizzy/curly on the top state, I started researching and learning about natural hair ‘transitions’ through blogs and various Youtube channels. I watched as so many gorgeous women told me my exact story back to me- years of straightening, keratin treatments and perming- until they finally decided to give it all up and dare to embrace their natural curls. If you’re considering a “big chop” check this video out. I was amazed at how the simple act of cutting off the dead ends brought her natural hair back to life.
The rest of the story is fairly simple: I spent a few days looking for a hairdresser in Sydney who specialises in cutting curly hair. I cannot emphasise this enough, the right haircut is more than half the battle. I went to Kamil’s Hairdressing in Town Hall where the amazing Lena skillfully chopped off my dead ends, shaped my hair (so it doesn’t dry into a triangle), and recommended products just for my hair type.
It’s still hard for me to let go of the deeply ingrained idea that straight hair is the ideal and that natural curly hair= lazy, messy, even a little bit crazy. It’s all over pop culture if you open your eyes to it. But diverse representation is on the rise too. Through user driven content platforms like Instagram and Youtube, curly girls everywhere are now able to share their experiences and swap styling tips. Even in big time TV shows and movies, curly-haired girls are no longer only confined to the “quirky best friend” or “desperate new girl in need of a makeover” roles.
Nowadays, I love my curly hair. I’ve found a good hairdresser, the right products, a routine that works for me and I get compliments on it all the time.
Sometimes, when people make comments like “you are so lucky to have hair like that!” I want to shake them and scream “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH”, but I normally just smile and say “thanks” instead.
It’s 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m sitting in the living room in my fluffy pink robe, ignoring the boring Netflix comedy special I’ve started, in favour of scrolling through my generic Instagram feed. I’m at home and not at work because this pesky thing called uni is back on for semester two and I need to attend a class later on. Without a regular routine and busy schedule, I’m a bit of a mess. It’s probably been about an hour since I had my breakfast- a whole packet of chocolate cream biscuits dunked in coffee- and I’m thinking it’s time for something savoury.
As I rip into a packet of Shapes (chicken crimpy, takes me back), it hits me that I probably can’t continue living off packaged foods for every meal. Not only do I feel bloated and ‘blergh’, but I also notice that treating myself to a sugary-carby snack here and there leads to cravings for more only a few hours later, becoming a never-ending cycle.
I decide right there and then (right after I finish this box of shapes) that I need something of a “cleanse”. A fresh start to help me break the blood-sugar spike addiction and motivate me to practice the good eating habits which I know are buried somewhere deep down inside. Enter: keto.
What is Keto?
The ketogenic diet, ‘keto’ for short, is a high fat and extremely low carb diet (ideally <20g) that is *supposed* to change your metabolic chemistry so your body starts running on fat instead of carbohydrates- don’t ask me how it works.
I’ve been curious about this diet for a while, with a few of my friends (including a certified medical doctor) swearing by it for rapid weight loss, eliminated cravings and higher energy levels, all while chowing down on full-fat cheese, bacon, eggs and avocado.
On the other hand, going without any form of bread, potatoes or rice for an extended period of time not only sounds like some form of cruel and unusual torture, but raises flags around the safety and sustainability of this particular eating style. I decided to put these concerns aside and road test keto for myself. Here’s how it went:
Day 1- Wednesday: It Begins
Breakfast: I wake up and make myself scrambled eggs with cheese. So far so good. I enjoy it so much that I miss my train and arrive to my first 9am tutorial at 9:25. Luckily the tutor is Italian and seems to have arrived about 5 minutes before me.
Lunch: I leave the cosy cafe I’m studying in at and move outside in the sun to eat my lunch. I’ve brought half a packet of pre-mixed kale salad in a box and a tin of tuna (hence why I’ve moved outside). I also eat a few slices of Gimbap (a Korean version of sushi) which my cousin gifted me a few days before and subsequently realise I’ve just eaten white rice. Oops. I consider giving up for the day and starting fresh tomorrow but instead decide to just keep it up and act like that didn’t happen.
Afternoon snack: Protein shake while walking between classes.
Dinner: I’m super hungry when I get home but I can’t seem to locate anything without carbs or added sugar. I make a mental note to go grocery shopping tomorrow night to pick up some protein and veggies. I snack on cheese slices and roast beef in the meantime.
I go to the gym and then meet up with my best friend for dinner. except she’s having dinner and I’m eating a small tub of YoPro that I smuggled in, plus a pot of peppermint tea.
Day 2- Thursday: Struggles of Eating Out
Breakfast: Today I’m at work so I skip breakfast because I’m barely awake when I leave the house.
Lunch: Mornings are always hectic and I don’t get a chance to eat anything before lunch time rolls around. Today I’m having lunch with my team at a picturesque bowls club up the road from work. I order a chicken salad which is covered in dried cranberries. Not strictly keto because they’re high in sugar but I’m not going to sit here and pick them out.
Dinner: Tonight is date night! I resign myself to the fact that wherever we go and whatever I order, it’s going to be more expensive since this diet is all about the extra protein. After much back-and-forth (no Italian- can’t do pasta or pizza, no burgers, no ramen, no sushi) we decide on a Middle Eastern restaurant since they’ll definitely have meat. I ignore the basket of fried lebanese bread and hummus (actually my two favourite foods) and enjoy a filling chicken shawarma plate and some sujuk.
Day 5- Sunday: The MVP at Subway Saves My Night
Breakfast: By the time Sunday comes around, I’ve already noticed a huge reduction in my appetite and cravings. I’m not hungry this morning but it’s Sunday so I make myself scrambled eggs and sit down to eat with my family.
Mid-morning: My church is running a bake sale to raise money for a charity project. In the face of several tables laden with delicious home baked desserts, I feel absolutely no desire to have any. I give my little sister money to put in the donation bucket and laugh as she bites into a choc chip muffin that turned out to be a banana choc-chip muffin. Sucker.
Lunch: Our big group decides to head to the park for a picnic lunch. I bring a bag of meatballs and a packet of blue cheese from Woolies plus my mini bluetooth speaker because ⁓vibes⁓. We stretch out in the sunshine and play extreme Uno which makes everyone angry.
Dinner: With no suitable food in the house (I should probably get around to buying those groceries), we decide to head to Subway for a salad. I ask for a chicken salad with double meat, extra cheese, avocado and extra jalapenos. The server doesn’t charge me for any of the extras and I think he’s my new best friend.
Day 6- Tuesday: Chocolate Cravings Strike
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese and ¼ avocado
Lunch: I set myself a long to-do list and then proceed to ignore it and instead go get my nails done and pick up some groceries. As I walk into Coles, I’m greeted by the amazing smell of fresh bread and melted chocolate. I casually realise in this moment that I NEED CHOCOLATE NOW. I head to the health food aisle and spend an eternity reading nutrition labels until I’m satisfied that I’ve found keto chocolate.
I try the protein stix (stick?) right away and while it’s not chocolate, it’s actually not bad. I save the sugar-free dark chocolate for later. I pick my sister up from school and we eat some left over roast chicken and green salad (no dressing for me). I snack on nuts throughout the afternoon.
Dinner: My brother and I head to the gym and I do a basic leg workout and go for a jog on a high incline treadmill. For once, I’m prepared for dinner tonight and cook up some atlantic salmon with broccoli. Simple, filling and definitely feels healthier than the fried halloumi I had for dinner last night.
Results after one week
While the first few days had some accidental carb-consuming hiccups, I’m actually feeling pretty good after one week following a keto style diet. According to the scales, I’ve dropped about 1-1.5kg and have definitely experienced a massive reduction in appetite and cravings. For now, I might keep it going to see just how far I can take it. So far so good right? Stay tuned for an update coming soon!
Pros: reduced appetite, reduced cravings, weight loss, easy to stick to after a few days,
Cons: limited food options, hard to find suitable food when out, low energy in first few days, expensive, requires will power at the beginning, can be low in fibre.
What have you heard about the keto diet? Let me know what your thoughts are by commenting below!