Control vs. Choice

December 05, 2022

A quick google search gets you these definitions and list of synonyms for control and choice:

CONTROL – the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events; Synonyms – power, authority, command

CHOICE – an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities; Synonyms – alternative, option, possibility

In the world of eating disorder (ED) recovery, control is a popular topic. It is also incredibly valid given that most individuals suffering with an eating disorder have experienced trauma. Trauma often leaves a person feeling out of control and increases the need to feel in control of something. Eating disorders offer an effective way to meet this need in an immediate and instantly gratifying way. Unfortunately, when using ED for a sense of control, eventually all other aspects of life begin to get more chaotic, out of control, and unmanageable.

The need for control can become so intense that it can leave a person wanting to control everything, including other people and situations. The serenity prayer can often be used during these moments: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are so many things in life that people cannot control. This can feel scary to acknowledge and accept when certainty and safety is so important to someone in ED recovery.

Letting go of the need to control starts with acknowledging and accepting where there is a lack of control. It may feel overwhelming to acknowledge a lack of control over others and knowing this can provide empowerment from recognizing that control lies in the response and different ways of engaging with others. Similarly with ED recovery, thoughts, feelings, and urges are all out of a person’s control. The choices reside in the response to the thoughts, feelings, and urges. Rather than try to fight or control urges, there will be less tension and stress if the focus is on how to respond to them instead. It is easy to see how people who are focused on controlling things they cannot may be left feelings frustrated, exhausted, and defeated. Their efforts aren’t getting them anywhere.

Taking on a perspective of choice means looking at the options and possibilities in any given situation. This could also feel overwhelming due to uncertainty around the “right” choice and also may be exciting to begin noticing there are often several options. It is easy to see how this perspective can also start to increase psychological flexibility and decrease rigidity. The best way to get unstuck is to try something new. If trying to control everything hasn’t been working, maybe looking at other options and possibilities are needed. There are always choices that can be made, even when feeling out of control. Amusingly, the more awareness of choice there is, the more control one may ultimately feel.

Although control may be limited in our lives, choice is abundant.

Camille Williams, LCPC, CEDS-S is the Eating Disorder Program Coordinator at Timberline Knolls. She provides individual and group therapy to those struggling with eating disorders and related issues. She also educates and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications and public speaking. Camille started at Timberline Knolls in 2013 as a Behavioral Health Specialist. She then transitioned into the eating disorder specialist (EDS) role. In this position, she developed her skills and competence in working with the eating disorder population through intensive trainings and experience. In 2021, Camille became a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and Approved Supervisor (CEDS-S) through the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp).  She is also a member of the iaedp Heartland Chapter in the Chicagoland area. For more information about Timberline Knolls, please visit: