In my first post I laid out some of the commonest early causes of adult eating problems that I’ve encountered. I’ve done this to let everyone “off the hook”. If you understand the roots of habitual overeating and being overweight, then you can forgive yourself. This gives you a good sane base from which to proceed and be able to make adult decisions about your life.
Sometimes the programming has been handed from parent to child – the anxiety about appearance and the beginning of control of food, being put on a diet, the restriction leading to the need to rebel. Or the family might have a culture of overeating, an identification with being big people or “sweet tooths”. Or, all too often, there’s a history of childhood trauma.
THE MIND THAT DRIVES THE BEHAVIOUR
In this post I’d like to share with you the commonest everyday thoughts, emotions and beliefs I encounter that drive overeating behaviour in adults.
By the time people come to a hypnotherapist (still regarded as off the wall by many!) they’ve tried every diet, willpower, self-punishment, detoxes and wellness retreats, even bariatric surgery. They’ve changed their habits temporarily but as soon as “something goes wrong” and big emotions are on the move they go back to their tried and true coping strategy, comfort eating. The old stuff was just lying dormant, waiting for a moment of weakness. They start overeating, feel out of control, guilty and depressed which leads to more comfort eating until the anger builds, the restriction starts, they feel deprived and the rebellion breaks out again. An endless cycle, often for decades.
The underlying emotions can be “stress”- anxiety, agitation, frustration or anger, powerlessness, worthlessness, hopelessness, rejection, sadness, shame, guilt, unlovedness, loneliness etc. The food serves the purpose of quelling the inner agitation (a full stomach does tend to calm people momentarily), or filling up an emotional hole (loneliness, sadness, purposelessness), or establishing autonomy (against the inner diet Nazi or outer critic) or sometimes it’s an act of self-destruction or self-hatred. I’ve had many people tell me that they are “killing themselves” with food. The eating behaviour is an attempt to fill a sense of inner deficit from the outside.
THE RELENTLESS SHOULD
One of the main thoughts that drives all this is, “You shouldn’t have that”- the inner authority figure. Most people know what they “should” be doing to be healthy but if the behaviour is momentarily fulfilling an otherwise unfulfilled need or the person doesn’t believe that they can change it or that they are bigger than their desire / habit then they feel powerless to resist the sheer force of the urge. And they might not feel that they have the energy, the will or even the belief that it’s possible for them or even that they are worth it.
Every “should” defied is a brief assertion of independence or a comfort given but another failure to add to the pile. That then becomes a belief, an identity, “I always fail, I’m hopeless, it’s impossible” etc.
We all have success or failure spirals in different parts of our life – self-fulfilling beliefs that seem to be proved true.
If you are told as a child that you are good at tennis, you’d have a positive attitude, expect to play well so there’s a potential and you’d want to play. Then, as you practised, you would become more confident and focussed and you’d be good at tennis. “I’m good at tennis” becomes part of your identity. You’ve spiralled to success – belief > potential > action > outcome > BELIEF reinforced.
Equally this holds true if you are told that you are hopeless at tennis or anything else, a failure spiral.
With food, if you were told that you were greedy, fat, “you’re just like your (overweight) dad”, lazy, eating too much, that you were somehow wrong and bad for eating or “we’re all sweet tooths”, or if you’ve just had lots of diet /blowout (failure) cycles then those beliefs stick like glue no matter how much you consciously try to forcefully overcome them.
REPETITIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
There can simply be repetitive thought patterns. “I’ve had a bad day” followed by, “I deserve a treat” or “You deserve a treat” is one of the commonest.
Other patterns include:
“I really want it” (overwhelming desire).
“I want it and I’m having it” (defiance, “you can’t stop me”)
“Who cares!” i.e. no one cares so I don’t care.
“What’s the point?” i.e. what difference does anything make? So what if I live long or am healthy? (I won’t be happy anyway because of xyz)
“I’ll just have one…” and the dieter’s perennial favourite,
“I’ve blown it today, I’ll start tomorrow”.
Our daily health is a result of what we do, think, eat, drink and feel. It isn’t just what you’re eating and how much but what you think and feel in your mind. The good news is that no matter how many decades you’ve been stuck or how entrenched the patterns seem to have been, they’re just your mind. Minds are flexible and can be changed. It is all workable and you do have agency even if that hasn’t seemed true so far. There are mind technologies that can help you do this now. Changing the mind changes the habits then the body changes. Mind first. Body follows.
I usually see people 5 times over 5 weeks for this. In the first session I take them through a simple process called TAT to neutralise the past and present emotional drivers of the overeating behaviour and extinguish the negative beliefs. Then it’s relatively easy to delete the negative desires with hypnosis. If someone doesn’t even want whatever the “bad” foods are then the fight is over.
With hypnosis I program people to enjoy real food instead of rubbish, eat slowly, know when they’ve had enough, stop eating automatically and feel satisfied, content. And it’s easy enough with hypnosis to avert the boredom cupboard/fridge run. It’s not a diet. There’s no being good and being bad. There’s just natural, easy healthy eating habits for the long term.
One of the commonest things people say after a few sessions is what a relief it is to not be thinking about food all the time. Food is just food again. So, they can spend all the energy that was locked up in the fight about food on something much more interesting and creative!