When Strong Will Isn't Enough

It’s common to hear someone say that they “just need more discipline” when trying to make a change. Many people mistakenly believe that strong will is the key to successful change and that setbacks mean they lack discipline or motivation.

But change is much more complex than just having discipline. And when the change you’re trying to make is recovering from an eating disorder, it takes more than strong will.


Recovery requires repairing your relationship with food and taking time to heal your self-worth.

Eating disorders can take hold emotionally, physically, and mentally and are more complex than having the willpower to “just eat differently.”

Blaming a lack of willpower for difficulty making changes suggests that to be successful in recovery we just need to try harder. It reinforces the myth that it is our fault that we struggle with an eating disorder which can lead to increased shame, stigma, and isolation.

This belief that we should be able to manage challenges on our own is strongly supported by a culture that encourages independence and determination. But in recovery, the desire to be self-sufficient can increase secrecy, loneliness, and frustration. Many people have fears of being a burden to others and may try to “have more willpower” rather than reaching out for help.


You are not supposed to know how to recover alone! Having a therapist to guide you and friends to support you can improve your success in recovery.

Recovery is not about being disciplined enough, it’s about valuing ourselves enough to get our needs met.

So instead of willpower, consider how you can increase your social support, improve healthy coping, and increase your self-compassion. Asking for and accepting help does not mean that you are weak or helpless. We wouldn’t move a couch on our own if someone else was standing there offering to help!

Allowing someone else to lend a hand makes the task more manageable and helps us reach our goals more quickly. It’s possible that your pursuit of discipline and willpower is getting in the way of your recovery.


About The Author: Michelle Mannia 


Michelle Mannia, PsyD, HSPP, CEDS is a clinical psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist in South Bend, Indiana. For more information, visit drmichellemannia.com

Charlotte KurzComment