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Is Your Thinking about Eating Black and White?

The other day, I felt like having an English muffin as part of my meal, but I wasn’t sure I was hungry enough for a whole one. At first, I kept going back and forth between all or nothing, and then the simple truth hit me.

I could have half of it.

I felt a bit silly for not having thought of this earlier, but it reminded me how easy it is to slip into black and white – or all or nothing – thinking. This mindset can influence all areas of your life, including food.

Do you think of food as good or bad? Do you use absolutes like “always” and “never” when it comes to eating? Do you think in terms of “should” and “shouldn’t”?

If so, then you’ve experienced this type of black and white thinking.

Impacts of black and white thinking

Sometimes things really are black and white, but most of the time, they fall into a gray area, and that’s particularly true of food. No food is inherently good or bad, but you may find yourself thinking of it that way.

And when you do, you may have noticed that you focus more on the negatives. You may have thoughts like:

· I always make bad food choices.

· I’ll never be able to eat the way I should.

· It’s impossible for me to learn to trust myself.

The more these negative thoughts come up, the more you’ll get in the habit of thinking that way.

This is extremely demotivating. Even worse, it makes it hard for you to see the possibilities around you. Those possibilities can be as simple as thinking you need to eat the whole thing or none of it, or as extreme as feeling like you’ll never be happy with yourself.

As you might have guessed, this way of thinking also brings out your perfectionist side, which in turn encourages you to be more judgmental, of both yourself and others. This can negatively impact you as well as your friends and family.

The good news is, you don’t have to stay stuck in that mindset.

How to move away from black and white thinking

If you want to start thinking in “gray” terms, here are a few things that can help.

Use different language

Instead of thinking of always, never, impossible, and perfect, try using words like sometimes, flexible, noticing, and circumstance.

For example, instead of saying, “I always eat more than I should” you could say, “I’m noticing that I sometimes eat more than I need to be satisfied.”

Consider other possibilities

Another helpful approach is to list out other possibilities or ways of reacting to something. If you find that you overeat, for example, or you often choose to eat a certain food that you later regret, you might be tempted to give up mindful eating or to think that you can’t do anything differently.

Instead, consider other ways of responding. Rather than giving up, you could try to learn from the situation so you can make a different choice moving forward. You could do something creative to shift your focus away from the food. You could go for a short walk or take a nap to help you feel better physically.

And if you have trouble thinking about this in terms of yourself, consider what you would suggest to a friend in the same situation.

Look for proof

If you feel like you’re always making bad decisions and you can never get things right, it’s a good time to take a closer look and see if that’s true. Because odds are, the “always” and “never” parts aren’t correct.

For example, maybe you feel like you always choose foods without much nutritional value. If you go back and think about your food choices more clearly, you’ll probably find that at least on occasion, you choose something that has more nutritional content. You might even find that you make those choices more than you realize, but you’ve glossed over them because they don’t fit with the “always” mindset.

You could also find that you make certain types of decisions more often based on the circumstances. That’s also useful to know because then you can plan for those situations and approach them differently.

Limit black and white thinking

It’s very hard to avoid black and white thinking all the time, but trying to limit that mindset is useful.

This does take effort, but if you practice, it gets easier, and it’s well worth it. You’ll start to see other possibilities, it may improve your relationships, and you’ll feel better about yourself.


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