Weight Problems

Your Unconscious.... Mind Your Weight

(Names have been changed in this article)

A couple of years ago a lady called me and mentioned that she lived at home with her husband and she was seeking information about hypnosis for weight loss. She asked me if I would visit her at her home. When I inquired further, she mentioned that she weighed 600 pounds and had a host of health problems, exacerbated, I am sure, by her inability to move. Her husband later called and canceled the appointment, leaving a message on my answering machine. The communication ended and I am saddened that her self - sabotage probably ended her life and that she did not receive the emotional healing that she so profoundly needed

If you know that you eat for emotional reasons - let me say to you now that you can let go of your negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness, guilt and shame) and the limiting decision that you made unconsciously that you would eat to satisfy that emotional need. You can lead a much more satisfying life.

Every thought has a physical response within the body. Repressed negative emotions are not good for you as they block the flow of energy in the body. You feel "bogged down". Positive emotions such as tolerance, forgiveness, kindness, empathy and charity are good for your health!

Just how important is it to be the correct weight? We have been bombarded with information in the press of late regarding weight. Obesity has been connected to heart disease, stroke, cancer and a host of other complaints. Obese people live with enormous emotional pain. There are financial concerns for Medicare and Medicaid as the baby boomers age and get larger. Now I understand that airline passengers may be weighed with their baggage, because of the concerns of overweight planes.  Achieving a weight goal and maintaining that weight goal feels great. And the most powerful people I know are those that “slay the dragon of the past” to quote Dr Doreen Virtue from her book “Losing your pounds of pain”. Emotional eating or not eating (self starvation or anorexia) is enormously painful and to let it go is a triumph.

Clients are frequently surprised as to why they eat. Consciously, they may not know, but unconsciously or subconsciously, they always know. I use hypnosis as part of the intervention. Actually I use it all the time and you may even be hypnotized right now.  Hypnosis is simply a focused state of awareness when the conscious mind goes “out to lunch (healthy, of course!)” and the unconscious mind comes into awareness. One of the fears that people express about being hypnotized is that they give their control over to someone else. Actually the reverse is true. Practicing hypnosis and deep meditation allows you more control over your unconscious process. How important would it be for you to control your appetite, to be totally satisfied with less food? Maybe you have had the experience of balloons in your home - the ones that a child brings home from a party.  Everyday, they shrink, getting smaller and smaller…. Just letting it go.

The unconscious mind is the “bodymind”. What I mean by unconscious or subconscious is simply that part that is not conscious. It is the unconscious mind that breathes for you, digests your food, beats your heart and performs the zillion tasks necessary at the cellular level of the body. We could not possibly handle all these body functions consciously.  The conscious mind can absorb about 7 pieces of information at a time and this information is in turn selectively filtered but your unconscious mind has unlimited storage. It is always listening. Imagine a flashlight in a dark room, the beam of light is your conscious mind, the unconscious mind is everything else. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it is not there. It is always there. It is the unconscious mind that controls appetite, maintains habits, emotions and is the storehouse of our memories. The most important function of the unconscious mind is to protect the body. And this is the one that gets so many obese folks in trouble.

The unconscious mind took a beating in the Freudian era and it was portrayed as more of a “cesspool” of unexplored sexual symbols but Erickson “reframed” it as an ally rather than an enemy. So what do I mean by reframe? Have you ever put a new frame on a picture and noticed how this changes your perception of the picture? Life is much like this. You can find another context and the meaning changes. Erickson felt that his clients came to see him as they were out of rapport with their unconscious minds. He constantly gave the suggestion to “trust your unconscious mind”. Anyone who has ever stared down a golf ball knows all about this. Or the modern day version of this so “tell me what you want, what you really really want” and how does this compare to “what you have”. Happiness may well be a function of how much you have integrated your unconscious and conscious processes. How much happier would you be if you placed food in another context? So that food was there to satisfy your hunger, to give you pleasure and build your self esteem as you eat it correctly.

Jane worked with me over a couple of months. She is very successful with a good job in computers but had very low self esteem and blamed herself for everything. She would come home at night and eat in front of the television. She told me that she felt “driven to eat” and she could not stop. It was as if her hands were on automatic pilot, digging into the food. When she entered hypnotic trance,  I asked to talk to the Part of her that is responsible for the overeating and I asked the Part to take me back to the origin of the disorder. I asked her to see her life as a movie so that she was dissociated from the event. She was a little girl, aged 7 and her father told her that there would not be enough food for her that day. I asked her how that made her feel and she said “Unimportant”. Shame was the chief emotion behind her eating. She felt shame from eating and this reinforced low self esteem producing more shame and more food.

She ate as she felt that it would make her “important” or “powerful” and “protected”. She came to understand that her 7 year old child was still eating for protection. She realized that she had made a decision unconsciously at the age of 7 to “protect” herself. She had hung on to this belief all these years. She was able to let go of the decision that she made unconsciously, change the belief, establish healthy goals and brake the cycle of low self esteem, shame and more food.

A client will call and say “I lose weight and then I gain it all back again”. And that is right, you cannot stop eating consciously otherwise I could just say “Ok, don’t do that anymore” and that would be the end of it. But it does not work that way.

Imagine a ship if you will, one of those tall ones with sails! It is the Captain who makes final decisions including the ship’s itinerary and the well being of the crew. It is the crew’s responsibilities to carry out those decisions. The Captain is the conscious mind and the crew – the unconscious mind. It all works well until there is mutiny! Uncontrolled eating, binge eating, food cravings, food obsessions, “closet binge” eating, anorexia, bulimia are “private mutinies” and they carry with them emotional pain.

Your conscious mind is the mind of choice and your unconscious mind is the mind of preference. If you eat for emotional reasons, then preference wins.

The emotional reasons for eating are varied – punishing yourself (guilt) or punishing another (anger), fear (protection), depression (sadness), stress, (fear of the future or anxiety), loneliness, boredom and insecurity. Approximately 20 per cent of overeaters have been sexually abused. Abuse survivors feel driven or compelled to eat. Abuse survivors describe a “big, empty hole” in the center of their being. There is an urge to fill that emptiness and it is frequently eating a lot of fatty, starchy foods. And in many other cases, there are other types of compulsive behaviors including shopping, drinking, gambling or addictive relationships.

For abuse survivors, the emotional pain that they feel is beyond words. It is shielded also in painful silence. It is chronic, intense and gnawing. An animal caught in a trap will simply chew off it’s own limb. An abuse survivor eats food with the same urgency- it’s an emotional need. But there is never enough food, never enough sedation, never enough love.

They frequently have no conscious memory of the abuse and they eat as if there is no tomorrow for unconsciously their lives are ruled by their past rather than their future. Sexual abuse can be physical or psychological.

Janet had been abused by her neighbor, a nine year old boy. He was “playing doctor”. She was only seven years old. She had linked sexual pleasure and fear at that time. She had been aroused and then enormously afraid. She gained weight so that men would not be attracted to her. She felt shame as her seven year old child who had initially felt pleasure with the sexual stimulation had wrongly thought that she was to blame for the abuse. She married and had four children. Sexual intimacy was always a problem as she felt that it was “dirty”. She told me that she had not bought new underwear in many  years – she felt like “used goods”. Although she wanted to please her husband, sexual intimacy was difficult for her. Her husband had an affair. She felt that his affair was her fault and the old feelings of shame came up, she gained even more weight. With therapy, she was able to understand that it was not her fault, let go of the shame,  forgive her husband, set weight goals, let go of weight and move on with her life.

Phyllis was overweight. She came from an affluent family, who had very high expectations of her and she was extremely successful in her career. She had always complied in life, and prided herself on “doing the right thing”. She was exquisitely dressed, with perfect hair and nails. She would not admit it to me, until the third session, the fact that she was a “closet binge eater”. She ate alone and secretively. Her husband thought that there was something wrong with her medically - “ An under active thyroid”, he suggested. She dutifully complied and had the appropriate medical tests. She hid food and binged after the children went to bed. She frequently was alone with her husband’s out of town work pressure.

She was a perfectionist and she said that she felt that as long as she was perfect on the outside, nobody would notice that she really did not like herself. She had no conscious memory of the psychological sexual abuse from her Uncle’s statements “that women were really only good for one thing....” She had been binge eating since she was a little girl. There was enormous shame attached. She came to realize that she liked the excitement of it all, getting away with it. However, then she would feel guilty, ashamed and she hated the extra weight. The cycle was set up. She was able to understand the emotion behind her “closet binge” eating, let it go, and get on with life.

Incest is ugly. The very word seems to cause a shudder. It is the ultimate betrayal. The child feels guilt as he/she may well have enjoyed the experience. Sexual enjoyment is natural, but in this situation it is accompanied by fear and betrayal. The child may feel that because she lubricated that she encouraged her perpetrator. She is guilty. She is to blame. There is also a horrible silence that surrounds incest. The child is frequently told that she must not tell anyone and the whole episode just becomes a “dirty little secret”.

The guilt leads to shame and anger that is directed inwards. There is a huge emptiness that pervades the soul of an incest survivor. The memories are so awful that they are frequently forgotten, but they reside in the unconscious mind and the fear, anger, guilt and shame are manifested in overeating, anorexia and in many other forms of self abuse. Some incest survivors completely dissociate the memories and form another personality, which has a history. They have multiple personalities, and the different personalities are not aware of each other’s existence.

Anne came from an alcoholic, dysfunctional family. One day when her father was passed out on the floor, her uncle raped her. She was 10 years old. She never told anyone and felt ashamed and very dirty. Her teenage years were very painful, and she starved herself and at the age of 19, she only weighed 90 pounds, and her build was not small. She switched from food abuse to alcohol and drug dependency. She has mutilated herself and attempted suicide on various occasions.

Hypnosis for the purpose of letting go of weight is about changing your relationship with food. It is not about dieting. Dieting frequently brings about overeating.

Your unconscious mind does not like deprivation. My clients tell me that diets do not work. The weight goes down and then goes up. It is the Yo – Yo syndrome. This sequence results in a constant feeling of failure and subsequent failure reinforces the belief that the next attempt will fail. There are exceptions to this, of course and I have had clients who have successfully combined Weight Watchers program and hypnotic reinforcement. People often call a hypnotherapist as they have a sense that the problem is unconscious and they are aware that there is something in their past that is affecting the present. It maybe experienced as a dream, an image, a symbol if you will.

One of the most important functions of your unconscious is to release negative emotions including anger, fear, guilt, shame and sadness and you can add others to the list. By releasing the emotions, your unconscious can better protect you. Your unconscious will also repress memories and keep them repressed until circumstances change and you are ready to look at them. The emotions are attached to memories. Memories become stringed together around a certain subject and this is known as a “gestalt”. The first event or initial sensitizing event frequently happens in the first seven years of life. Other events become linked, a “knotted rope”, and we have all had the experience of having the rope pulled or our “buttons pushed”. We have gestalts for everything – happiness, sadness etc. The memories are relatively unimportant as we all remember things in different ways and memories are by nature subjective. But the attached emotion is very important. The Hawaiians view these memories as “little black bags” which are stored throughout the body. At night, when you are dreaming, a little black bag can open and say “Do you want to look at me now?”

Food is such a common addiction because it is what is there when you were a child. The first seven years of life are the imprint period or the Cookie Cutter period, the one trial learning period and it is in this period where negative emotions can become linked to food. It is often the first event in the gestalt.

Kim remembers being forced to eat everything on her plate as a child. She felt in life that she had never lived up to her parents’ expectations of her. She felt that she was a failure. She felt a huge “emptiness” an emotional “void”. and she ate and ate to fill that void or sense of emptiness.

Fran felt that she missed her childhood. Fran was raised by a single mother, who treated Fran as her best friend. Fran’s mother shared intimate details about her relationships with men and other inappropriate issues. Fran became the parent. Fran’s mother shared with her - but the boundaries were inappropriate and Fran was unprepared, as well she should have been to be her mother’s mother.

Neglect and emotional abuse like this can take away a child's sense of childhood. It leaves a void, an emptiness due to the lack of emotional parenting. This void may be filled with food, which may numb the pain for a while but then leaves the overeater with a sense of disgust and shame, that she has once again overeaten. So the cycle continues.

There is desperation connected with food addiction. Food addicts especially food bingers do not even taste the food they are eating. In fact, they tell me that they do not really like food. They stand by the refrigerator, often with door open, fork in hand, open the container and just “wolf it down.”

Desperate can be a useful state for many addictions. I like this with smokers who proudly tell me that they have used all kinds of methods including gum, the “patch”, “cold turkey” etc – I  want smokers to be desperate for change. Desperate is a strong word for overeaters because they have already lived in quiet desperation and emotional pain all their lives. Desperation can bring a willingness and motivation for change “I have reached the bottom of the barrel – I am ready to change – I will do anything” a client may say.

All hypnosis is self hypnosis and we all have the power to let go and go into trance at any time and the results are a lessening of stress.  Hypnosis and meditation are essentially the same although in hypnosis we add the awesome power of suggestion. So you can you know, you can change your relationship with food. Because change is inevitable.  And it is a good thing to wonder how it is possible to promote a more satisfying relationship with food, and to extend that pleasure, by eating slowly and enjoying every morsel and as you do this you notice that you have a tendency to allow your self to put your fork down between bites. And you can, you know, you can change now or change later……..

What is going on here? Now here is the kicker …. if you carry an image of yourself as a FAT (Fear, Anger, Tension) person, then that is what you will be. We are all constantly creating our future by the images, feelings, self talk, sounds, smells that make up our internal representations or rather our intention or focus. If you hold negative images that is what you will get. If you give yourself negative self talk then that is what you will manifest because your self talk is a suggestion to your unconscious mind. And a very powerful one!

Your unconscious mind does not process negation. If I say to you “Do not think of a blue tree”. Now – what are you thinking about? Therefore you can’t not think about what it is you don’t want to think about without thinking about it first ….. Think about that ….. or not….!

All suggestions must be positive. I use the term “let go’ rather than “lose” weight. The reason is simply that if we lose things, we tend to look for them. Does this ring a bell with weight? The language is important. I do not like the term “quit” for smoking cessation, either. “Let go” is unconsciously preferable.

I tell my clients that they need to purchase an outfit in the size that they will be. Or maybe you have an outfit in your drawer that you will, will, will, wear again. Got it? Ok, so let’s continue. Let’s say that you need to let go of 40 pounds to look terrific in this outfit. Let go of two pounds a week and you will be in that outfit, looking terrific in twenty weeks. So here is the goal and there are rules for goal setting. Goals must be simple, meaningful, as if now (present tense), realistic and timed.

  • On (date) I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself in my outfit. I weigh (desired weight). I let go of a minimum of two pounds a week. I feel terrific. I am really proud of myself. I feel great.Now close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and actualize that image. Make sure that you can see yourself in the picture. Make it really exciting and appealing. Are there any sounds connected with the picture – laughter, applause? Are there any feelings? Make it really bright and focused or even change it to black and white or make it a movie. Whatever is more appealing. Good! Now as you relax even more, make this picture even bigger and amplify it onto a "drive in movie" screen. That’s right.

Hypnotic suggestion works best with reinforcement. Your unconscious mind loves repetition. I make tapes for my clients to reinforce suggestions, such as the following:

  1.  I always sit at the table when I eat my meals. It is peaceful and quiet.
  2. I concentrate on my food as I eat, really chewing it slowly and noticing the different textures of the food.
  3. I put down my fork between bites.
  4. I eat moderate portions and I am totally satisfied with less food and that feels fine.
  5. I enjoy the feeling of physiological hunger and can hear my stomach “growl” when I am hungry.
  6. I eat only when I am physiologically hungry. I reject “fool’s gold” which for me is “fool’s appetite” or emotional eating.
  7. I eat good healthy foods in the correct proportions.
  8. I feel great about my decision to let go of unnecessary weight.
  9. I offer myself large portions of self esteem, large portions of self confidence. I listen to my hypnotic tape everyday and every time I listen to it I am in a trance and the suggestions are accepted by my unconscious mind.
  10. I always leave a little food on the plate. My garbage disposal likes a little food.

Stress or tension is another causative factor in over or under eating. Stress and anxiety are actually emotions of the future. It is the old “What if…..?” syndrome. So a person who could under normal circumstances make good choices regarding food may make poor choices in a stressful time. Stress often accompanies a change in life, for instance, college students who leave home for college. They have a new environment, the absence of loving parents, their normal support system, school pressure and may not take the time for exercise. The stress can stimulate an enormous appetite for food which again is an emptiness at the level of the soul which is transmitted by the unconscious mind as an emptiness of the stomach.

Job stress is another example. For those with abusive backgrounds, there are often other factors at work so that the person will suffer job abuse and may well be in a negative codependent relationship with his/her boss. Codependent simply means taking on another’s pain.  A well- adjusted person would walk away from these situations but for those caught up in blame and low self esteem, the person just takes it. The stress becomes another excuse for that person to overeat.

In summary, you can “let go” of weight very easily using hypnotic suggestion if your eating is not driven by emotional factors. If you are eating for emotional reasons, your unconscious mind will need to be “reframed” before it will accept the suggestions. In other words, if you are eating for protection (security) then you will need to take on a new belief system and let go of the limiting decision that you made “unconsciously” to eat for this reason. The latter can be done very easily with a competent hypnotherapist who can assist you in letting go of the emotional conflict.