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How Willpower Can Derail Your Recovery

Willpower is something that comes up a lot in regards to dieting, disordered eating, and recovery. It’s a form of self-control, particularly when it comes to impulses and behaviors. People who are trying to lose weight or change their lifestyle often rely on their willpower and attribute it to how successful they may or may not be in their goals. However, sometimes relying on willpower can do more harm than good, and it can even derail your recovery.

The Daily Dose of Willpower

In day to day life, we use our willpower for a number of things: climbing the corporate ladder, avoiding sugar during the week, trying to make a relationship work, controlling the actions of others, or even in worrying about the future. In the realm of food and body, willpower can look like trying to stick to the latest fad diet or food restriction rules or trying to lose weight and hit a specific number on the scale. When you’re in recovery from disordered eating, your willpower may shift slightly, to something like not dieting, avoiding the impulse to purge after a large meal, or trying to limit food rules and restriction in general.

Just like a fad diet, willpower can “work,” for a time. However, it can also derail your recovery and overall happiness. Here are some ways that willpower can actually throw a wrench in your recovery:

Burn out

Constantly channeling your willpower and doing so “successfully” can leave you tired, exhausted, burnt out, and feeling defeated.

Forced by fear

The problem with willpower is that it is often forcing action or results out of fear, and that type of action, or change that results from that type of method, is not sustainable. It will not lead to real transformation and recovery.

Restrictive replacement

Are you just replacing your disordered eating, and all of the restrictions and rules that surrounded it, with willpower? This may be the case, especially if you tend to have a perfectionist mindset and see things as very “all or nothing.”

At the end of the day, the forcing, hustling, pushing and white-knuckling your way through life that comes with maintaining your willpower will just keep you exhausted, stuck, and overwhelmed.

A Better Way Towards Recovery?

So how can you maintain your recovery without relying solely on willpower? First, it’s important to recognize that willpower equals forcing things with the mind and being attached to the outcome. Instead of willpower, tap into personal empowerment. True power comes from your internal energy source and allowing the path and resulting outcome to reveal itself (read: not forcing action/results).

When you overthink and force your way through life, you miss out on the magic of surrender and flow. There is an ease, as well as infinite possibility, that is available for you if you just stop trying to control everything and force your ideal results. It can be hard to allow rather than force, especially when it comes to recovery. If you’re not always doing, then you’re not committed, right? If you’re not always one step ahead, you’re going to fail and spiral back into old behaviors and patterns. That type of mindset is founded in fear.

In order to stop relying so much on willpower, you need to stop allowing fear to run the show. Cultivate self-compassion, and allow your recovery to progress from a place of love. Maintain this change because you love yourself, you want to feel good, you want to be healthy, and you want to experience a life that makes you truly happy.

Finally, work on changing your relationship to uncertainty. Not knowing, and just believing, can be a beautiful thing. Believe in yourself and your recovery based on what you’ve accomplished so far and your intention for the future. Believe in your potential. Just because you may not know the outcome–because you’re surrendering instead of forcing–doesn’t mean it will be bad.


Willpower is just another method of control, and control usually leads to a very black or white, all or nothing perfectionist mindset, which can create a speed bump in your recovery. It’s that type of mindset, founded in fear, that led to your disordered eating in the first place. That mindset is what fuels the diet/binge cycle. It’s time to break free from that mindset once and for all. Access your innate safety and trust yourself. Trust in your recovery.


Photos Courtesy of Shutterstock

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