Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Stop “All-or-Nothing Thinking”

By Kristin Allison, M.D.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that our thoughts (as opposed to external events) cause our feelings and behaviors. We can change the way we think, so that we can feel and act better, regardless of our given situation. CBT is a therapy approach that is useful for a variety of problems with mood, anxiety and eating. An initial task of CBT is to identify thoughts that pop into your mind (automatic thoughts). At first, you may have to pay close attention to the internal “chatter box” that is sending you negative messages. After monitoring these thought patterns, the next step is to challenge these distorted thoughts and “reframe” them in a more accurate, realistic way. The goal is to relieve negative feelings and change undesirable behaviors.

There are many “thinking errors” (cognitive distortions). The first one is all-or-nothing thinking, also referred to as black-and-white thinking (where there are no gray areas). Many people with food and weight problems struggle with finding a middle ground between two extremes. Anyone who has swung back and forth between eating excessive amounts of food one day, and starving oneself the next, has experienced all-or-nothing thinking.
Our focus at Tri-State Bariatrics is on lifestyle changes. You probably already know that going “on a diet“ also means going off of one. We offer a healthy food plan (three regularly scheduled meals of high protein, low-fat, low-sugar) that you can follow for life. We also offer support along the way to help you reach your weight loss goals. You may have thought, “I messed up, so I’ll start again Monday.” “I had a bite of cake, so I’ll just finish it all.“ These all-or-nothing thoughts interfere with your weight loss efforts.

Instead of giving up when you make a mistake, get right back on track with your food plan. Expect gradual changes, not perfection, when creating new healthier habits. Every step in the right direction counts!

Try imagining a more moderate choice for the following examples of all-or-nothing thinking:

  1. I am too tired to complete my daily goal of 30 minutes of exercise.
    Instead, I will just skip any physical activity and sit on the couch all night.
  2. I forgot to bring my protein shake along when I left the house this morning and now I’m hungry. I might as well stop at the next drive-in and order a super size meal.
  3. I was writing in my food journal but got so busy in the past 3 days that I haven’t
    recorded a thing.

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