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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Young

Break free from black and white thinking to eat and live in color

I am so excited to announce that this is a guest blog post by my lovely and talented intern: Lauren Tinkey is about to graduate from Georgia State University’s Coordinated Program in Nutrition. As a RD-to-be and personal trainer, Lauren is passionate about helping people live their best lives through nutrition and exercise.

Before diving into food talk, I would like to ask what you see in the image below. Do you see a white vase or two black heads? Do you see both?

The image can be perceived as either two profiles of black heads on a white background or as a white vase on a black background. However, we cannot see both heads and the vase at the same time. This image is a figure-ground illusion meaning that the image has multiple interpretations.1 The bottom line is this image cannot be defined as one image or the other because it is both images.

Our minds seem to like simple categorical ways to divide up information in the world. However, information can rarely be divided up into neat definite categories.

And often, when we try so hard to live life in black and white, there is little room for color. For example, sometimes I find myself falling into rigid thoughts when it comes to my morning work-out routine: I associate starting my day with a work-out class as the only way to start the day well. Although I prefer my routine, starting to allow myself to be flexible some mornings with a slower start still leads to a great day. This has helped me be a more adaptable with plans and routines in life in general (AKA more colorful).

What does this have to do with food?

In a black and white mindset food might be labeled as one thing or the other…”good” or “bad”…”healthy or “not healthy.”

Seeing foods as “good” or “bad” and “black” or “white” can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, superiority and entitlement which fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. When our relationships to food are as black and white, it’s common for other life areas to lack color. And life without color lacks freedom, vibrancy and fun.

Why limit a chocolate chip cookie as “bad” and broccoli as “good” when they fulfill all of the categories listed above in the graphic? Sure, broccoli has more fiber, which is important, but the cookie gives you more energy, and most likely more protein. And guess what? They’re both kind of fluffy!

Free non-restricted thinking in relation to food aligns with Intuitive Eating; which is a non-diet approach that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image. The focus is on how overall food patterns versus single food choices impact your health.

If you struggle with a black-and-white food mindset you can start to shift into colorful thinking by reframing your thoughts. Here are some examples to get you started:

Black-and-White thought: “If I buy Oreos I will eat the entire box of Oreos”

Colorful thought: “I can trust myself with Oreos and know that my body doesn’t want too much of anything.”

Black-and-White thought: “I ate past fullness at lunch so I need to skip dinner”

Colorful thought: “Eating past fullness sometimes is okay. I will eat dinner when I am hungry again.”

Black-and-White thought: “If I eat pizza today I have to exercise”

Colorful thought: “Pizza is just carbs, fat, and protein all of the things my body needs.” “I will exercise today because it makes me feel good not too compensate for the pizza.”

Thanks for reading Lauren’s post, and if you are struggling with your relationship to food, body and self, please visit my Nutrition Counseling page — I’d love to work with you.



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