Cognitive Distortions in Our Relationship with Food and When Being Vegan

Cognitive Distortions in Our Relationship with Food and When Being Vegan Part 2

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast Feb 13, 2020

We’re finally back with part 2 of our posts on cognitive distortions in our relationship with food, and in case you missed it, we covered four very prevalent cognitive distortions in part 1, all or nothing thinking (also known as black and white or polarized thinking), filtering, mislabeling and jumping to conclusions. I also shared my favorite questions to ask yourself in the hopes that these might bring some awareness. Helping us in finding where there might be some of these cognitive distortions in our relationship with food or as a vegan.


Asking questions is my favorite way of letting go of some of these habitual patterns of thinking because with each question we’re adding nuance and gray, and this allows for more flexibility when it comes to our thoughts and actions around food.

Today we close off this series of posts with a few more common cognitive distortions and questions to help challenge these. Are you ready? 

5. Minimisation

Just as we can ignore some of the positive side of things when we engage in filtering, in minimisation we tend to ignore, excuse or minimise any positive behavior, thought, or steps forward. In essence, we’re downplaying anything positive. Our desire to be humble often plays into this, but often it’s our own thought process that attributes any progress, positive event or success to either luck or external circumstances, or we are quick to ignore it because we’re so used to focusing on the missteps and mistakes. When it comes to food, and especially when we’re on a quest to find a better, more peaceful relationship with food, I see this type of thinking all the time among our students. They have a great day in which they were mindful while eating, in which they were able to gauge hunger and fulness levels, in which they were able to see food as nourishment but also enjoyment and pleasure, making choices without guilt or shame attached, then they have one meal or snack in which these new habits weren’t present and they immediately take this to mean that they’ve failed and will never be able to “master” eating mindfully. We can ignore many meals, even full days of positive steps forward because of one small instance of not acting in the same way (which by the way is also a part of life and normal eating). I also often see this when small incremental steps forward or small gains aren’t even acknowledged or identified as such.


Ask yourself:
In what moments today have I had a small win? In what moments today have I taken a step forward? Celebrate it and let it have its moment in the sun, no matter how small the accomplishment. Don’t identify it with ifs or buts or as a fluke or coincidence, see it as something created and accomplished by you.

6. Magical thinking

Magical thinking makes us believe that everything will be perfect “when…”. This type of thinking is common for example when believing all our problems will be resolved when X is achieved. This can be pertaining to body image, our insecurities, finding a partner, a dream job, fixing our marriage, being happy. We assume everything will be perfect when for example, the weight is lost, we find a partner, we get the promotion, we earn more money. In regards to food, it can also appear in the expectation that we will start the new habits we're putting into place and will magically be perfect at them. For example, when practicing mindful eating we have the expectation that once we start, we will always be mindful, always be able to eat with awareness, always be able to gauge our hunger and fullness perfectly, always be able to stop when we’re full or have exactly what we’re desiring to eat. It's also present when we decide to go vegan and expect to have perfect nutrition regardless of how we build our plates, or perfect health regardless of our exposure to viruses or bacteria, or our own genetic makeup and propensity for disease.

Magical thinking is very much tied to perfectionism, in that we expect to be and act perfectly every time, we expect to have a painful subject tied in a neat bow and solved for good, without understanding how complex our relationship with food is, and how we’re imperfect human beings.


When reality shows you that you’re at a different place from those “ideal expectations”, ask yourself: Why was I expecting perfectionism? Why am I so attached to solving this and never having steps back? How can I infuse some self compassion in these instances and really care for myself even better and with more kindness than when I am “on track”. It’s so important that in these journeys come the lessons. Just as we always need to eat to stay alive, so are we faced with all of these moments of eating in which we will continue to work on finding this peaceful place with food. It’s a lifelong commitment of practicing all these principles again and again, forgetting to do them and using those moments as little stepping stones. 

7. Shoulds

When we engage in “should statements”, we tell ourselves that there are rules that we need to follow like commandments. If we’ve had a tumultuous past with food, dieting, restriction, altering our body size, or any obsessive attempts to eat in a perfectly healthy or clean way, chances are we’ve still got many shoulds lurking around. These can especially pop up when faced with certain foods we’ve previously been afraid of eating. We can also engage with lots of shoulds when it comes to the way our bodies “should” look, or what our plates “should” contain. We also engage in shoulds when we expect perfection from ourselves and food, as in “I should have this resolved by now. I should want to eat only when hungry. I should be able to stop when I’m full, always”.


Ask yourself:
How can I start swapping these internalized rigid rules with more “me”? Where am I in this equation? My personality, my tastes and preferences, my experiences? Can I add more flexibility in here even when making positive choices for my health? What’s the worse that could happen if I tried to be a bit more flexible while still practicing self care? 

8. Double Standard

We engage in this type of thought when we set normal expectations for others but higher expectations for ourselves. Boy can the perfectionist in me relate to this one. I’ve seen that this one is quite common when we start learning about mindful eating and all the nuance it includes. For instance, we start reading and learning that every day and every meal will be different and that it’s a process that also includes mindless moments and even overeating as part of what it means to be a normal eater, but we think for us this will be different, demanding a certain level of self control we wouldn’t put on others. This is also closely tied to the idea of self compassion and just how much those with issues with their relationship with food need to work on it. Self compassion is basically all about showing ourselves the kindness we would show to a loved one, a child we’re responsible for, or our dearest friend. So often those of us with issues surrounding negative body image or disordered relationships with food have a deep lack of self compassion, i.e. we would tell others to stop with the guilt trip after eating something they considered an “offender”, but would torture ourselves over it if it were us. We tell dear friends the kindest words about the way they look, their own self value and positive traits, but we set impossible standards of perfection and beauty on ourselves. The key to letting go of double standards is self compassion, as you might have guessed.


Ask yourself:
What would I tell my 6 year old self? What would I tell my child or my niece, nephew or grandkids? How can I self soothe and be kind to myself in this situation? Why am I undeserving of the same kindness I show others?

When it comes to cognitive distortions there are countless others I’d love to dig into here, but I leave you with these very common ones in the hopes that we can begin working through them in our journaling practice, with a qualified therapist, and with that wise inner voice we’re starting to develop, that can get stronger and kinder with practice and time.


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