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Binge Eating Disorder is not a Lack of Willpower

Updated: Apr 28

Do you ever feel like the harder you try to get a grip on your binge eating the worse it gets? The more you say to yourself, I will make sure this doesn’t happen tomorrow, I will get back on track or I’m going to be even stricter with myself from now on the further seem to be from where you want to be. Does it ever feel like the only way you can get the food cravings and urges to disappear is to just give in to them? 

eating disorder psychologist Sydney

Willpower is one of the biggest culprits here. For some individuals it may make your relationship with food WORSE, not better. Wrriten by a fully recovered eating disorder psychologist this blog will share why binge eating is not a lack of willpower and why willower may be making your binge eating worse not better. Before we get into the detail, I want to ask you; "don’t think of blue tree….. And voila! What does your mind immediately go to?

You see, your mind, isn’t that intelligent. It doesn’t understand “negatively stated” instructions. Which means trying NOT to do something.  Willpower is solely built on the principle of NOT doing something.

“Don’t think about chocolate, don’t eat chocolate, don’t think about what you’re missing out on, resist, resist, resist!”  What is happening here is that your entire brain is only hearing chocolate, chocolate chocolate! It becomes consumed with the thing you are so desperately trying to avoid. In addition, it has no clue what you actually do want! You have basically confused your brain by not giving it a clear outcome.

In fact, your brain thinks that chocolate IS the outcome. Ever heard of professional athletes using visualisation or mental rehearsal to programme high performance? When they vividly imagine a particular outcome it essentially programmes their unconscious mind to think, operate, and perform in that way.  By using willpower you’re actually using mental rehearsal to programme your unconscious mind to do the very thing you DON’T WANT!!! You’re vividly imagining what you DON’T WANT!  On top of that, willpower is a conscious activity. You have to constantly, and relentlessly think about it. Which is exhausting! So, it is no wonder when those thoughts, feelings and urges become so loud and strong you just have nothing left in you to fight back with. You give in out of exhaustion as you just can’t keep it up! Then you find yourself mindlessly doing the very behaviour you told yourself NOT to do.  Or, the cravings get so bad (because willpower is making them worse and worse) that you try to take the edge off by giving yourself “just a taste”. And we all know where that leads!! It is essential that you understand your mind, how it operates and start learning the language it understands (which is nothing to do with willpower, control or trying to analyse or reason with yourself).

The first step is to start getting clarity on what you DO want, instead of what you DON’T want in those moments. How do you want to think, feel and act?

The second step is catching out all those ‘don’t want’ negative statements in your thoughts around food. These are some of the words you MUST eliminate from your vocabulary:



Must not

Will not






I’m not


Remember that your brain does not understand negatives and will be focusing on the thing you are trying to avoid!

In my eating disorder clinic in Sydney I work closely with my clients to firstly educate them in how their brain works and why they continue to engage in unhealthy behaviours around food. We would then start to look at the drivers of their behaviours, i.e. what is at the core of their binge eating. What I have observed working as an eating disorder psychologist is that food is often a symptom of something deeper going on. This is why my eating disorder treatment approach aims to go beyond just symptom reduction or weight restoration. Eating disorders are complex and often require a holistic recovery approach which goes way beyond willpower.


Need some help?! 

If you are interested in taking that next step and are ready to speak with an eating disorder psychologist in Sydney please get in contact with Hannah Myall, who has also fully recovered from an eating disorder and has since spent the last decade helping individuals and families work towards eating disorder recovery.

Book a free consultation with Hannah and find out how she may be able to help you,

Got a question? Send Hannah an email at

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