Can't vs. Won't

I can't eat that.
I won't eat that.

Pretty much the same, right? The food won't be eaten. The difference, of course, is why. Can't says "I'm unable to." Won't says "I'm choosing not to."

When I was really into the eating disorder, my treatment team told me I needed to eat more. "I can't!" I wailed. "I just can't." Being rational folks, my team told me that, having a mouth that opened and a hand to hold a fork and an arm to bring it to my mouth, indeed could eat. I was only choosing not to.

Which was, I suppose, technically correct. But, for all intents and purposes, I was so phobic of food that I couldn't eat more than the handful of calories I had allocated to myself. It was as if the eating disorder was holding a gun to my head, hissing and whispering that eating a bite of burger was going to cause him to pull the trigger. Really? It wasn't much of a choice.

Yet I could eat, and being sat down at a table (whether at home, in treatment, or at a hospital) and told I had to eat the burger, the pasta, the fish sticks, usually resulted in the food being consumed. And digested. I might have preferred that the eating disorder make good on his gun-to-the-head threat, but I ate and survived.

By doing this time after time, I was able to see that the eating disorder held a squirt gun, not a revolver. And then that he was a complete impostor and held no gun at all.

Now, other than MSG (which I'm allergic to- gives me migraines and makes me puke), I can honestly say "I won't eat that" rather than "I can't." There is a sense of empowerment there.

I like to blog here that I say I can't skip a meal or I can't go on a diet because of my history. But the truth is that I can. I'm actually quite good at it. My years of anorexia have showed me that I'm a little too good at eating less and exercising more- pathologically so.

When my old office went on a diet, I felt left out. For one, all they talked about was food, which was boring. Second, I felt deprived. They got to diet and I couldn't. It wasn't FAIR! I had to eat my calorrific lunch and they got to munch on cucumber slices.

Now, I realize that I could technically have dieted along with them. I had the ability. I could freely make that choice. But I can't diet and have the negative effects come back and bite me in the ass. And those effects (namely, relapse) would come sooner, rather than later.

So I say: I don't diet. I won't diet. It's my choice.

(Much of my thinking on this subject has evolved through reading the book "Embracing Fear" by Thom Rutledge, the co-author of "Life Without Ed." I highly recommend both books.)

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Thom Rutledge said...

Carrie, Thanks for the endorsements. Glad the "can't vs won't" is useful. Keep taking good care. Thom Rutledge

Carrie Arnold said...

Yikes! I'm basking in the glory of greatness!

Thanks for the visit and your support, Thom. "Embracing Fear" is quite well-worn by now.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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