Avoiding false choices

So many times, the choices given to us by our eating disordered thoughts are false choices. A recent post from the blog The Happiness Project really illustrated how common these thoughts are, and how Ed can make it seem like these two options are the only possible outcome, when in truth, they're not.

For instance:

I'd rather have a crappy life with ED than a crappy life without it.
Now, without recovery, I can virtually guarantee that life will be crappy. And while recovery may seem crappy at first, it's the only shot you've got. What about the possibility that your life will turn out "okay"? Or at least less crappy than if you stayed with ED?

If I don't exercise, I will go crazy.
These are not the only two options: you can do something else. I've found coloring to be a good stress reliever. You can learn how to tolerate those unpleasant feelings. After all, if everyone who didn't exercise went crazy, we'd have quite a different population in the psych units!

I never eat cookies because I will eat the whole box.
I've been there. When I was first normalizing my eating after falling into more bulimic habits, I found that, indeed, keeping large quantities of binge foods around the house was a really bad idea. But now I can keep these foods around and eat fairly normal servings. It's not an either/or question. A happy medium exists. It takes time to figure this out, but it's definitely possible.

Blogger Gretchen Rubin writes:

I think false choices are tempting for a couple of reasons. First, instead of facing a bewildering array of options, you limit yourself to a few simple possibilities. Also, the way you set up the options usually makes it obvious that one choice is the high-minded, reasonable, laudable choice, and one is not.

But although false choices can be comforting, they can leave you feeling trapped, and they can blind you to other choices you might make. “Either I can be financially secure, or I can have a job I enjoy.” “I have to decide whether to marry this person now or to accept the fact that I’m never going to have a family.”

A lot of these false choices strike me as a form of black and white thinking, and many times, life can be lived in the middle. ED thinking makes it seem like these are the only two options--and that the eating disordered option is the correct answer!

What are some false choices you've found yourself facing? Did you ever find that you had more options than you were aware of?

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Anonymous said...

I identify with this a great deal, especially that first statement, but y'know in my case it's true, no really it is, no seriously....etc

I think one of the defining features of people suffering from ED's is fear of the future and fear of making the wrong choices, as Gretchen says limiting the number of outcomes does make life seem considerably less scary, and more controllable, even if it does paint a bleak picture.

Lola x

Kim said...

I identify with this a lot as well. Like you said, this is very related to black and white thinking, one of my personal specialties :)
Some statements in my head on a regular basis:

If I stop exercising, I'll never exercise again.

I'll never know how to eat intuitively, so I have to count calories forever.

Those are ED thoughts. I have plenty of others related to my job, my marriage, money, friendships. It goes on and on...

Carrie Arnold said...


I agree- choices can be super-scary. They are for me. There's a book called "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz that really resonated with me, because a lot of my ED thinking has to do with extreme rigidity, to get rid of those difficult choices.

Carrie Arnold said...


Our comments crossed! Yes- those two float through my head quite often!

Lily said...

Great points made here! And actually, I put together a lot of my own "false choices" (I called them "ED Distortions") in my 8-part series of videos.

Here's part one, if you're interested:

A:) said...

I can loosen my rigidity around eating and gain weight or I can be rigid and maintain a "healthy" weight

If I am too carefree with my risky foods I will lose all sense of discipline and binge

If I ease up on my exercise/activity I will become lazy. . .

Writing out these statements I can see that they are really black and white. The fearful thing is that they need to be TESTED to determine that they are false -- and that takes guts to fight against the ED. . .

I have however, begun to challenge these with the help of my OP team :)

Carrie Arnold said...


What a truly insightful point! You do have to test these lies, really, to see that they are false. And that involves taking a really big chance. I hope your team can help you with this!

Clare said...

I always thought that I could either exercise or not eat all day. I had to have a ridiculously low calorie intake.
-Clare, Clare's Two Steps Forward

Tiptoe said...

I certainly agree that living your life in black and white may feel more safe, but on the other end of things, having a great deal of choices can also create less than ideal situations.

The Paradox of Choice is such a good example of that. I resonated with that book as well. I find for me, with ED thinking, I still maintain some black and white thinking, but when it comes to other areas of my life where there are more choices, I seem to fall into the same trap. And when you add indecisiveness into the mix, you just keep falling deeper and deeper down the hole. I hope this made sense.

I guess it's best to live in the gray.

IrishUp said...

I did some training in neuro-linguistic programming years ago, and one of the things they emphasize is that generally, behavioral flexibility is key to being a healthy person. The instructor asked for participants to describe an area where they felt stuck. Over and over again, we (the participants) described "stuck" situations just like the false choices Carrie and all are describing - where we'd say "well, I have to do (this), if I didn't, then I'd have to do (that). In my case, it was that if I was angry with someone, I would either not argue (and be seething and resentful), or I'd wind up yelling and screaming. Both left me feeling badly, and neither made the problem better, really.

Our instructor pointed out that a choice of 2 options is NOT flexibility, it's an on-off switch. So our homework was to come up with at least 3, and preferably 5 options for our stuck situations. Gasp! 5!!!!! Well, coming up with option 3 was tough tough tough. Instructor suggested even thinking of something ridiculous would help. I thought "well, I could sing"... It was a pretty funny internal picture, and somehow it loosened up the cobwebs, and then I was able to come up with a couple of other options that weren't so silly.

The really important part was seeing that it was MY THINKING about what my choices were that was limiting much more than it was that I had no choices.

Susie said...

good to know about the cookies!



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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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