Cognitive distortions are thought patterns that reinforce false beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. These patterns can be deeply ingrained and often it takes an outside observer like a therapist or sponsor to see them.
In the next few blog posts, we’ll examine some of the most common cognitive distortions and how they relate to recovery from eating disorders.
All-or-nothing thinking (also known as polarized thinking)
People with addictions have trouble recognizing anything between black and white. Either you’re on your diet or not, you’re exercising every day or not at all, a person is good (perfect) or they’re bad.
While some aspects of your recovery – like your food plan – really do need firm boundaries, veering from your plan shouldn’t mean you throw away all of your healthy eating habits. Yet that’s what you’d do if you were caught in all-or-nothing thinking. “I messed up anyway, so why bother trying!”
It’s easy to spot this cognitive distortion in the language you use in your thoughts and your words. For example, coming home and saying, “That was such a bad day.” Objectively you might be able to dissect the day and come to the conclusion, “Some bad stuff happened today, but some good stuff happened, too.”
Cognitive distortions are most harmful when we use them to justify self-deprecating thoughts. For example, “I always screw up,” or “I’m never going to be able to stop eating.”
When you find yourself going between extremes, try meeting in the middle, e.g., “I made a mistake, and I can learn from it and do better,” or “I’ve had a problem with this in the past, and I have new tools now.”
The grey area between black and white is not as exciting or dramatic, but recovery is about finding a more balanced sense of calm.