One of the tricky things about mental health problems is that the outside world only sees the tip of the iceberg. The observable behaviors and symptoms are apparent for all to see, but underneath the visible exterior is a complex set of thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and experiences. These are the mechanisms which truly power things like eating disorders and OCD, but for better or worse, they tend to go unnoticed. It makes sense, then, that someone might believe that treating these problems is as simple as telling someone to “just eat” or to “just stop eating.” After all, we have the ability to make choices about our behavior, so shouldn’t we be able to wrangle these symptoms into our control? When a therapist says to resist a compulsion or to follow a meal plan, aren’t they saying that it’s just a matter of pushing through the discomfort?
As you probably know, it’s not quite that simple. Sure, determination and willingness will come in handy, but we have to be careful not to reduce this process to something so simple. The oversimplified American mentality of “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” doesn’t always fit with the complexities of mental health. Tempting as it might be to double down on willpower, it’s actually not a particularly effective way to get things done. Willpower is a finite resource. We inevitably lose steam and end up depleted.