Thinking Errors: Which Ones Are Negatively Affecting My Eating?
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10 Irrational or Extreme Ways of Thinking that Impact Your Food Choices 

Part one of a two-part series on understanding the 10 thinking errors or cognitive distortions when it comes to food choices and healthy eating and how to overcome each way of thinking.

Common thinking errors or cognitive distortion that impact food choices image

Have you ever found yourself trapped in your own mind, dwelling on negative thoughts and feeling hopeless and helpless? Do you tend to view things through a negative lens, which then becomes an obstacle that prevents you from achieving your goal? Cognitive distortions, a fundamental component in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), also known as thinking errors or thinking traps, are unhelpful thought patterns that can affect your feelings and actions. Distorted ways of thinking are common in all aspects of life, including your eating habits and food choices. 

In this post, we are going to review 5 common thinking errors I see in my practice as a Registered Dietitian in the context of healthy eating as well as actionable recommendations to overcome each way of thinking. 

1. All-or-Nothing (Black and White) Thinking

People stuck with this type of thinking error often find it difficult to see the grey area between black and white. I can’t remember how many times I have been asked by my clients, “is this food good or bad for me?”, which is really a trick question. Balanced eating is one of the basic principles of healthy eating. The human body requires all sorts of nutrients from a variety of food, including grain/starch, a source of protein, and fruits and vegetables. In other words, healthy eating is not about only eating “healthy food” or never eating so called “unhealthy food”. 

Eating too much or too little of anything is not good, and the reason behind this has nothing to do with any particular food, but the lack of balance in the overall diet. Maybe it is still hard for you to ditch the all-or-nothing thinking at this point; let’s practice. One activity I often ask my clients to participate in is to have them name one food that, to them, there’s no way it can be unhealthy (e.g. broccoli, blueberries, lettuce). I then ask them to imagine that they are only allowed to eat this one particular food for breakfast, lunch and supper. Then I ask whether this actually seems healthy, or not… I think you know the answer! 

2. Should and Shouldn’t Statements

Have you ever struggled with any of these thoughts: “I should (be able to) eat healthy,” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of pie after supper”. People trapped in this type of thinking error or cognitive distortion usually hold high standards and expectations of themselves. However, healthy eating is not really a task, but an attitude, a habit or a lifestyle. Genuine advice I have given to many of my clients is to stop treating healthy eating as a diet, which can become somehow tedious and challenging over time due to all sorts of life changes, or simply, “I’m tired of it.” 

It is amazing if you are motivated and ready to make some healthy changes, but we also want these changes to be sustainable. In addition, if you’re familiar with the restrict-binge cycle, you can probably relate to this idea that a strict rule of eating can turn into a restrictive mindset, making it more appealing to break the rule and overindulge in foods you deemed as “unhealthy” or “shouldn’t have foods”. 

3. Filtering (Tunnel Vision)

This type of thinking error often affects people with a perfectionistic trait. Filtering means that you tend to focus on the negative aspects of things and ignore all the positives in life. It’s common for many of my clients to return to follow up appointments with all kinds of struggles and a feeling of not being good enough, without realizing how far they have come. For example, you may be focusing on the fact that you ate out two nights in a row, without giving yourself any credit for cooking and eating balanced meals at home for the rest of the week.

While I am absolutely not suggesting that you should “give up” on your goals, try practicing kind compassion. A lot of our internal motivations must be reinforced by positive outcomes which then can facilitate a positive, sustainable cycle for the long-term. 

4. Labelling

Have you ever labeled yourself as lazy, lacking self-control, or bought into the idea that “I’m just not a healthy eater”. This type of thinking error has the tendency to make healthy eating seem impossible and eventually erodes your confidence that you are capable of making a difference. 

Everyone can be a healthy eater, or at least eat a little bit healthier than yesterday. Healthy eating does not have a certain look; again, it is not a strict diet. We all eat differently in response to our various daily routines, work hours, accessibility to food, levels of meal planning and preparation, as well as personal preferences. Therefore, instead of diminishing and labelling yourself, reach out to a Registered Dietitian to work collaboratively with you at a supportive pace you can manage.   

5. Personalization

Similar to the previous thinking error, labelling, personalization means that you tend to blame yourself, instead of the underlying problem for the unhealthy eating behaviours. There is usually more than meets the eye. For instance, if your goal is to reduce the frequency of eating out, instead of blaming yourself for not having the willpower to resist the urge to eat out, try to dig deeper and find out the root cause. Perhaps it is a lack of better knowledge in meal planning and preparation. Maybe it is a lack of energy or motivation to cook because you have been so anxious about something at work. Or maybe you have been working long hours and simply don’t have the time to cook. The best way to fight against this type of thinking error is to target the behaviour, not the person. 

The Bottom Line

Can you relate to any of the cognitive distortions above? Do you find any of these thinking errors become an obstacle in your own journey of healthy eating?

If so, I’m glad you are here, and hopefully, you have picked out some useful tips to begin your journey to work through some of these.  The purpose of this blog is never to make you feel bad about being trapped in these thinking errors – again, by doing this you are probably engaging in personalization. More so, my hope is that, with a better understanding of how your mental health can interfere with your physical health, you are better able to determine some areas of improvement and problem-solve around that. My ultimate goal is that you become more motivated and confident in eating healthy, and this is simply because YOU CAN. 

Stay tuned for part two in the 10 thinking errors series to learn about more cognitive distortions, how they affect your eating and ways to overcome them.


Using coping statements to avoid common thinking traps – Hamilton Health Sciences

How to recognize and tame your cognitive distortions

Wanting to eat healthier but unsure where to start? Looking to make sustainable changes in healthy eating? We can help! 

If you find it hard to “just follow the recommendations”, there’s probably more than meets the eye.

A Mental Health Dietitian can help you discover what’s underneath the iceberg and help you with steady, sustainable health changes. 

We are a team of Registered Dietitians who value both your physical health and mental health. Book a session with myself or any other Mental Health Dietitian on our team. Let us help you make a difference! 

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our other articles on related topics:

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