Cognitive Distortions for Eating Disorders

By: Susan Parish-Walker, M.S., L.P.C.

All or Nothing Thinking:  You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
Example:  “I can either have all of the birthday cake or none at all.”

Over generalization:  You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
Example:  “I ate some pizza last evening so I am going to fail to maintain my weight.”

Mental Filter:  You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all realities becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.  Example: “I ate too many fat grams today and did not exercise and I will become really overweight.”

Disqualifying The Positive:  You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. Example:  “Although I made a good grade on my biology exam the test was easier and I just got lucky.”

Jumping To Conclusions:  You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. (A.). Mindreading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. (B). The Fortune Teller Error:  You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that you prediction is an already established fact.

Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization:
  You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”  Example:  “I gained 3 pounds and I know that one day I will have morbid obesity.”

Emotional Reasoning:  You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are. Example:  “I feel that I am so fat, therefore it must be true.”

Should Statements:  You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’t, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment. Example: “I should be very thin like Cindy Crawford or the models in Vogue.”