Ilana came to Wellington Hypnosis because she was obsessed with food. She was actually quite trim, not overweight at all, but from the moment she opened her eyes until she went to bed she thought about food. She felt life was a constant struggle against wanting to eat. It hadn't been too bad when she was a teenager but lately it had begun to rule her life. I explained to her that all our behaviour, no matter how odd, is designed to keep us safe. I also told her about other clients I had treated with the same problem, and how the method is to change the mental image. Ilana insisted that she had no pictures associated with her compulsion to eat and really didn't think there was anything there to explore.
Ilana was put into trance and asked to associate into that feeling of wanting to eat. She was then asked to allow her mind to be open and to become aware of how she represented that feeling. She immediately said 'It's like I am on a road, and there is a mountain of food blocking the road'. It consisted of great piles of cakes and chocolate and all sorts of food. 'And I could never eat enough to get past that pile of food'.
The session then used metaphor therapy to suggest transformations to the metaphor.
'What would you like to have happen to that mountain of food?'
'Get rid of it!'
'And how would you get rid of it?'
'A bulldozer could push it off the road and over the cliff'.
'And what would happen after that bulldozer pushed the food over the cliff?'
'I could go on and do what I want'.
Further suggestions cleared the way ahead. Then the 'way ahead' was explored and Ilana was taken through instances of what she wanted to do that had been blocked, and she was reconnected to her own feelings of success. The session finished with a visualisation of her walking through a sunny meadow seeing herself having achieved everything she wanted.
In the final check to make sure that everything was cleared Ilana was asked to think about eating and see if there was anything left that needed to be dealt with. She said 'No, but I remember something'.
She came up with a memory of her and her older sister at the table and her sister being difficult and not wanting to eat her dinner. Her father said to her sister 'The reason I love Ilana is because she always eats her dinner'. That little girl internalised the message 'if I eat, Daddy will love me', and that was what was behind her compulsion.
In this case started with an email:
I have read your website and I like your approach. I am suffering from overeating and weight gain, and also general anxiety. Just thinking about contacting you is making me feel very anxious.
Could you please let me know some further details? What times of day are you available and how much do you charge? What is your waiting list like?
Marianne was somewhat overweight but not hugely so. What I first noticed was her anxiety. She was having panic attacks and sleeping badly. She was anxious at work, anxious at home and felt very unnerved whenever food was about.
She worked in a large advertising agency where there were frequent client presentations with catering and weekly staff functions to celebrate some work achievement that always included drinks, sandwiches and nibbles.
Marianne would find herself thinking about the food, almost obsessing about it, urging them to get on with the speeches so she she could get to the food. It was all she could think about. She would sometimes spend the session trying to work her way towards the food table without being noticed. And what bothered her was that she was not even hungry, didn't really want it, but could not prevent herself. Sometimes she would sneak into the preparation room to pilfer the party food before it started. It was as if something was driving her towards the food, something she could not prevent. It was bad enough being constantly heavy, but the feeling of being in the grip of some uncontrollable force was worse.
The session used Metaphor Modelling to expose how Marianne represented her relationship with food in her mind. The session allowed Marianne to 'go inside' and deal with the basic issue. Inside her mind, she was holding an image of a 'hungry head' that had to be fed. Transforming that image transformed her feelings about food.
A few weeks later I received the following message:
Thanks for your help, I feel I have made huge progress after our session a couple of weeks ago. We worked on my eating issues, but I have also had a big improvement in my mood and confidence in all areas. I have also bought the Learned Optimism book and I'm working my way through it, and finding it very helpful.
I have a new challenge coming up - I have been chosen to go to Germany on a work trip. I have travelled quite a lot before, but not by myself to a really foreign environment, and I've always been very anxious about travel details etc. I'm finding that my general anxiety levels are rising again, around work and the trip, and it is really bugging me.
There is a part of me that knows I don't have much to fear but I can't rationalise the worries away. Do you think we could have a session again before the end of October?
This session also used Metaphor Modelling. This was a much easier session as much of the original anxiety had been removed, and this particular fear was a more generalised anxiety about meeting new people and maybe not coming up to their expectations.
The session identified her inner images of feeling as though she always has to put on a mask at these kind of functions and it was resolved by developing symbols of power and confidence to replace the feeling of anxiety. She left the session filled with confidence and looking forward to the trip, knowing that she had the resources to cope with it.
Shortly after the session I received the message:
Everything is going well. I had a middle of the night wake-up a few days after the session, I was thinking about a work problem that I felt I was not coping with, but the feeling of panic and fear was completely missing! So I was able to go back to sleep again easily. And in general, my stress levels are much lower, and my weight has dropped a bit again,
I'm off to Germany in 8 days time, and I feel perfectly confident about it!
I have had a grueling few days at work, with a performance review that did not go as well as I had hoped. No major problems really, but the focus was more negative than I could cope with. I admitted that I was not coping with one particular role, and my boss agreed with me! So he is going to reassign it, but it made me feel like a failure. I had a very bad patch yesterday and today, back to feeling sick and not sleeping. However, my husband helped me work through your ABCDE process and by the end of today I felt much better.
I don't feel concerned about Germany, and I think I can rebuild my confidence about work too.
About two months later Marianne got back in touch again. She had lost most of her anxiety and felt on top of things at work. In fact all compulsions to eat at work had simply disappeared. She could not get in touch with those feelings at all, it was as if they had happened to somebody else.
However, she was not losing weight any more, and in fact over Christmas had put on a lot of weight and was now becoming anxious about food in the home environment. Again she had a compulsion to eat. She would open up the pantry 'just to count the cup cakes, to make sure they were all there'. And of course just had to try one, to see if it still tasted the same, and the next one.... Even as she was doing this she realised it was irrational, unnecessary, but still found herself unable to stop.
This session started by exploring how Marianne felt about food. She revealed that her mother had sometimes made the kids lovely meals and treats, they would all sit around the table laughing and happy, and be a family, but then at other times her mother would go off on some personal thing, and leave them all to fend for themselves. Then it was was fighting, shouting, tears and sulks. Marianne can to associate food with being loved, accepted, rewarded and included. To be without food meant being none of these things. And she felt bad when she didn't have food, so when she got hungry she got grumpy, started winding up other people, then they got angry with her and she ended up alone in her room, hungry, crying, being miserable. All her self esteem, who she was, what she was worth became mixed up with food.
The metaphor modelling process began well but then began to show a circular pattern: I eat because I'm unhappy, I'm unhappy because I eat....
In order to break this pattern I switched to the Dragon Slaying technique. I got Marianne to imagine her problem was a dragon. I then got her to describe the dragon in ever increasing detail. When that was exhausted I then started her imagining the every aspect of the dragon being its opposite. Doing that forces the mind to envisage the image and the continual small changes eventually causes a Threshold Effect and the dragon is suddenly transformed. More changes and suggestions eventually got the dragon to fly away. This was the mind metaphorically letting Marianne know that the problem had been transformed.
Marianne felt immediately that something had changed, even though she could not say what that something was. But I knew that she had dealt with the core of her anxiety. It was all about a fear of not being loved.
About two weeks later I followed up and asked her how it was going:
I'm doing pretty well, thanks! I have lost about 2 kgs, and more than that, I feel that the burden of thinking about food all the time has gone. I have been eating as I feel like it, and choosing what I really want, even if it is a piece of chocolate, but the great thing is that I can have a couple of squares and then no more. I do have to stop and think, "shall I have some?" but it is not the same anxious argument I used to have. Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no.
Another cool thing is that when I say no to myself, I don't feel sad, or scared of getting hungry or grumpy. Sometimes I have even LET myself get hungry, and also I've thought - "I'm not hungry, I think I'll just have a snack for dinner" - unheard of before!!!
And I feel like my enjoyment of the affection of my family is greater as well.
I haven't had much of a change in exercise patterns, but I think I'll see if I can motivate myself in that direction. I have noticed since I've lost that bit of weight that I feel stronger and more compact, and more inclined to exercise, but still struggle to prioritise it over other things. I certainly feel more optimistic about the chances of it being effective now!
So thanks a lot again - I'll let you know how it progresses.
And after another two weeks.....
I've lost another 1 kg - it still feels a bit odd, but I definitely have lost my overdeveloped interest in food.
It is quite possible that Marianne will be back to see me again sometime in the future, but her life will never go back to the way it was. The mind is complex and many layered, and no doubt there are other things that could be changed but as each problem is dealt with any remaining problems are much simpler and she may well learn to deal with them herself, or just decide to live with them. But that terrifying, overwhelming need is gone for ever.
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