Black-and-white thinking and dieting


“I shouldn’t eat this cookie! I won’t eat it! Oh well, maybe just one. . . Now I blew it! I may as well eating them all and start my diet again tomorrow.”


Does this scenario sound familiar?


Many people who suffer with food and weight problems also struggle with Black-and-White Thinking, which is one of many errors in thinking.


Errors in thinking are negative automatic thoughts in response to an event that are not evidence-based. We call them automatic because they seem to just pop into your mind and run through it without your effort to put them there. Most of the time, you’re probably not even aware of them; you’re probably much more aware of the feeling of anxiety or sadness they produce.


A characteristic of Black-and-White thinking is the notion that if your performance is not 100% perfect, you are a failure. In the context of weight-loss trials, if you’re not perfect in your diet or exercise regimen, you experience yourself as a loser. You avoid certain type of foods out of fear that they will make you fat and categorize them as “healthy” or “unhealthy”, “clean” or “unclean”. You see yourself as either on or off your diet, either as perfect or a failure.


A familiar scenario for many: You’ve been trying to diet. This weekend you’ve been nervous and had nothing to do. You’ve been nibbling. After four pieces of candy you tell yourself: “ “I just can’t control myself. My dieting and exercising all week have gone down the drain. I must look like a balloon. I shouldn’t have eaten that. I can’t stand this. I’m going to pig out all weekend.”

We learn Black-and-White thinking from many sources, such as our family, the dieting industry, and society.

Black-and-White thinking does have its uses as a quick, convenient way of organizing information to make fast decisions. By categorizing things as good or evil, healthy or unhealthy, clean or unclean, you may feel better and more in control.  When you make “good” choices, you feel great–even superior to others, as you believe you’re doing everything “right”.

This type of self-evaluation sets the base for perfectionism and is self- defeating. It sets up a fear of mistakes and is an unrealistic way of evaluating things, as life is rarely one way, or the other. The most common result of perfectionism is low self-esteem producing emotions such as guilt, anxiety and disappointment

By adopting an extreme form of dieting behavior and mindset, where struggling to be perfect by depriving oneself of certain foods eventually causes one to overeat as feelings of deprivations sets us up to fail and become “bad.”


Being perfect is an impossible goal. If you objective is to be perfect – perfect eater, perfect body, perfect feelings, perfect girlfriend, perfect wife, mother, student, child – and perfection is impossible, then you have a recipe for failure.