Hypnotic Strategies for Weight Reduction
By Jessica Levine
Jessica Levine, Ph.D., CHT (Certified Hypnotherapist), offers hypnotherapy and counseling in her office in Albany. She teaches self-hypnosis and uses breathwork, guided imagery, and trance to help people with a range of issues including anxiety, weight, creative blocks, and chronic pain.
People often ask me how hypnosis works for weight reduction or what my "program" is. The answer is that there is no set program because hypnosis is a flexible tool which I adapt to the needs, history, and temperament of each client. One person may overeat because of family history. Another learned to overeat in response to stress or anxiety. And yet another may eat in response to physical cues, such as PMS, fatigue, or pain. Each instance requires a different approach or combination of approaches.
The starting point, however, is usual similar: learning to recognize eating triggers and then using the triggers as the starting point for investigation and transformation of the eating pattern. Here are examples of four processes that I often use: bargaining for portion control, stomach and taste awareness, regression, and aversion therapy.
1. Bargaining for portion control. Many clients hope to be "cured" with straightforward hypnotic suggestions. They want for me to put them "under," then "change their attitude" about food. While changing someone's relationship to food can rarely be done if that person assumes a completely passive role, it is reasonable to start with directive hypnosis, suggesting, for example, that a client eat two-thirds of her former intake. This may be effective if the unhealthy eating pattern was born merely of habit. Usually, however, the relationship with food is more complicated and the subconscious presents opposition. In that case, we can bargain with the resistant part of the personality by asking, what would you be willing to give that third up for? What do you really want? Sometimes this leads to a parts process in which the resistant part of the psyche dialogues with the part of the psyche that really wants to eat healthier and lose weight.
2. Stomach and taste awareness. People who are very overweight and eat continually throughout the day may have a loss of feeling in the stomach and a lack of taste awareness. When asked if they experience hunger, they say no, they don't. They aren't aware of how their food really tastes, either. I use hypnosis to lead the client into a relaxed state in which she can reconnect with the feelings in her stomach and her sense of taste. This approach has much in common with mindfulness-based approaches, in which clients come to experience more satisfaction from less food when more presence is brought to the act of eating.
Sometimes, when awareness is brought to the stomach, there are feelings of tension, tightness or even nausea, which may lead us to do another emotional process in order to discover the emotions connected to that area of the body. On the other hand, one client of mine experience such a strong "stuffed" feeling in her abdomen that she immediately switched to a lighter diet.
3. Regression. Examination of eating triggers often leads to a regression session. For example, Susan could control herself during the day, but at night she ate compulsively. The trigger--a time of day, in this case--created a feeling of anxiety that could only be soothed by eating. Using that anxious feeling as our starting point, we did a hypnotic regression, asking her subconscious to take us back to when the pattern began. Susan went back to a time in her childhood when her mother began working a night-shift at her job. When she became upset at her mother's departure every night, her father distracted and soothed her by offering her seconds of dinner and serial desserts.
This was an interesting case because Susan, a therapist herself, self-aware and intelligent, had believed that her eating patterns were tied to negative experiences with men. The regression showed her that the origin was different that she'd thought. Using guided visual imagery in hypnosis, she was able to talk to that part of herself, the "inner child," and explain that her mother still loved her and would be back soon. She visualized her adult self offering the child hugs instead of food. Susan was able to stick to her eating plan and begin losing weight after that session.
4. Aversion therapy. A client, Marion, described herself as addicted to chocolate cookies, which she waked up to eat in the middle of the night. She wished to give up this food choice completely. I led her into hypnosis and asked her to imagine a plate of cookies. Then I asked her visualize some revolting substance that she would never eat. (People may choose a non-food item or a distasteful food that was forced upon them as children, or a food that once made them sick to their stomachs. In any case, they don't need to tell me what it is.) I then asked her to imagine mixing the two substances together, so that the desired food was coated with the revolting substance. With Marion, this process worked immediately.
These processes may all lead in to each other and be interwoven. The starting point is set by the emotions, issues and needs that are dominant in the client when he or she walks into my office.
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