I'm usually people's last resort in their quest to lose weight. These clients have tried every conceivable diet plan and are desperate to find something that works. By the time they get to see me, they've probably been on umpteen diet regimes, bought gym membership, taken fat burners or appetite suppressants and they might even have had weight-loss surgery. So, what is it that I do that none of the other methods didn't do? Why do they come to see me, a hypnotist? Weight loss interventions earn mega amounts of money but so many of them are based on such very simplistic and naïve views. Most interventions focus only on two variables in the weight equation: food consumption and exercise. Very few interventions examine the relationship that you have with food and the relationship you have with yourself. I don't just offer a personalised set of hypnotic suggestions to these clients to discourage eating, doing so might have some short-term benefit but it wouldn't be sustainable in the long run. Weight gain is often the physical manifestation of some deeper, unresolved emotional stuff lying in your subconscious mind, and to solve it, you need to dig deep into your emotional archives and core belief systems.
I'll let you in on some of these cases and then, a bit later in this show, I'll tell you about the remarkable realisations that each came to before their fat melted away:
The first case is of a woman in her early forties. Let's call her Mary. She'd been trim all her life but had gained a huge amount of weight over the past four or five years. She couldn't understand why. In all weight loss cases, a physician and/or endocrinologist must examine the person to make sure that there aren't any medical reasons for the weight gain. Here are a few common illnesses that cause weight gain: hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces too little of the hormone needed to regulate proper metabolism; there is Cushing's syndrome, where the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol; chronic depression is another medical cause for weight gain; as is diabetes, where some people with longstanding diabetes tend to eat more than they need to prevent low blood sugar, or hypoglycaemia; another cause is the long-term use of corticosteroids as they increase appetite in some people that then leads to weight gain; oedema or fluid retention can leave the body swollen and puffy; and polycystic ovary syndrome typically results in women putting on weight around the waist. But, back to Mary. She had a clean bill of health which ruled out any underlying medical condition. Her husband always had eyes for other women. He preferred slim women. He was a high-power executive sales person and incentivised his sales team with lavish vacations and expensive goods. The strategy worked for him at the office and so, he decided to encourage his wife to lose weight, because he, "couldn't stand the way she looked." So, he purchased a very expensive Swiss watch for her and placed it in the wall-safe behind the picture with the stipulation that she could have it once she reached her ideal body weight.
Another healthy woman, let's call her Sarah, was also in her early forties. Her husband absolutely adored her and their marriage was solid. Unlike Mary's husband, this man said that he "accepted her unconditionally, no matter how she looked." Sarah had constantly gained weight over a four- or five-year period and it bothered her more as she grew heavier. Her husband seemed unaffected by her weight gain but she became shy of letting him see her undressed. They still engaged sexually but she felt ashamed of her body and preferred a lights-off arrangement. The more she fretted over her weight, the more he confirmed his unconditional love for her.
The third woman, let's call her Charmain, isn't just one woman I've seen, she represents a huge number of women who collectively have had the same experience in life. All of them were repeatedly, sexually abused. Some from as early as 10, others much later on in their teens. I have spoken before about sexual abuse in Soul Searching Episode 22 of this show, "The Emotional Damage of Child Sexual Exploitation" and again in Soul Searching Episode 32, "It's never too late to have a Happy Childhood." One of Charmain's close family members raped her regularly. For many "good" reasons, she never told anybody about it. I was one of the very few people she had ever told. Charmain carried excess weight throughout her life and she just got larger and larger as she grew older. She weighed twice her ideal body weight when she saw me. By now, she had had a few children and had settled into reasonable domestic bliss. She struggled with her self-image and didn't like intimacy but went along with it because it was her wifely duty to give this service to her husband.
These cases are about women but they could easily have been about men too.
Anatomists use three physique classifications to describe human body shapes, they are: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. Endomorphs are blocky, they have wide ribcages, thicker joints, hips that are as wide or wider than the collarbones, and they have shorter limbs. Mesomorphs have wide shoulders, narrow waists, thinner joints, and long and round belly muscles. Ectomorphs have narrow shoulders and waists, small joints, a thin build, stringy belly muscles and long limbs. We don't all fit neatly into one of these three body types but have a blend of each class. I'm 25% endomorph and 75% mesomorph. Your body characteristics are part of your genetic makeup and are there for the duration of your life. Your weight is the combined weight of your bones, internal organs, muscles and your body fat. You can't really change the weight of your internal organs. They have a constant weight. Heavy lifting exercises can increase the weight of your bones and an illness like osteoporosis can reduce your bone mass but otherwise, this weight remains constant. On average, your skeleton weighs 15% of your overall mass. It's clear to see that there are only variables that allow you to vary your weight, and they are: the weight of your muscles and the weight of your body fat. A cubic centimetre of muscle weighs much more than a cubic centimetre of body fat, so, if you are muscular, you could weigh much more but look much thinner than a person who has weak muscles and carries lots of fat.
Body-Mass Index [BMI] is a ratio of your height and body weight. Calculating your BMI is easy: multiply your height in meters by itself (e.g. 1.8m multiplied by 1.8m = 3.24); now divide your weight in kilograms by this number. A BMI below 18Â½ signifies that you are underweight; between 18Â½ and 25 is normal; a range between 25 and 30 makes you overweight; and, a BMI greater than 30 puts you in the obese category. A quick rule of thumb is to take the last two digits of your height in centimetres as a guide to your maximum ideal weight. Let's say that you are 1.8m tall, that's the same as 180cm. Taking the last two digits of this number, eight-zero, your maximum ideal body mass, in this example, is 80kg.
Under normal circumstances, there are only two factors influencing the weight of your body: your energy input and your energy burn. This means that there are fundamentally just two natural ways to change your weight: either eat less, thereby decreasing the input; and/or, exercise more, thereby increasing your burn. Most weight loss programmes play around with these two factors in different proportions, usually as kilojoule reduced diets in combination with exercise regimes. A (25g) slice of brown bread has just over 1,000kJ of energy while a (150g) grilled steak has just 910kJ and an hour of vigorous bicycling burns between 2,300kJ and 2,800kJ.
There are various surgical techniques aimed at weight management: (1) Orthodontic jaw wiring [OJW] which is also known as Inter-Maxillary Fixation [IMF] which is a procedure where tiny brackets are fitted on some upper and lower teeth and then held together by wire so that you can't part your teeth. It a re-education method aimed at heightening your resolve to lose weight by preventing the eating of any solids and focussing on liquid nutrition to give the stomach chance to shrink. However, ⅔ of these patients regained some weight after the wires were removed.
(2) Then there is gastric bypass surgery where a small stomach is formed from your existing stomach and attached directly to the small intestine. (3) There is sleeve gastrectomy where your stomach is formed into a vertical, tube-shaped stomach so there is less room for food. (4) You could of course have lap band surgery, which is the placement of an inflatable band around the upper part of your stomach, which constricts the stomach. (5) You could have a biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch which is the creation of a small, tubular stomach which is then attached to a section of the small intestine. (6) You could have a vagal blocking device implanted under the skin to block hunger signals between your body and your brain. (7) Lastly, you could have a stomach pump placed inside the stomach that allows you to pump food out of your body before calories are absorbed. Woe! These are hectic methods to help you lose weight and I suppose that there are certain obesity cases that need this drastic type of surgery. These methods, with the exception of the vagal blocking device, are designed to reduce the energy intake part of our simple weight equation.
There are myriads of lotions and potions designed to do different things. Fat burners often increase your metabolism and core temperature so you burn more calories throughout the day. Appetite suppressants are products that use various combinations of drugs to promote weight loss by manipulating hormonal and chemical processes in the body that control hunger pangs and the sense of feeling full or satiated. They can, however, have many undesirable side effects, ranging from the jitters all the way up to hypertension and heart-valve damage. There is much that we do not fully understand about the physiological and psychological effects of anorectics, the medical name for fat burners and appetite suppressants.
When all things are considered, there are only three main reasons for eating: (1) your body needs nourishment; (2) eating is part of socialising; and, (3) in the worst case of all, eating to suppress or deal with your emotions.
When it comes to nourishing the body, hunger is a very strong drive that compels us to find food, eat and stay alive. Satiety is the opposite which signals that you have had enough to eat. Different types of food we eat play games with hunger and satiety. For example, fatty foods trick the brain into believing that you have eaten fewer calories than you actually have, causing you to overeat. This is because fatty foods such as butter and fried foods contain a lot of densely packed energy. However, other foods give a lasting sense of fullness. Fibre triggers the release of gut hormones that make you feel full. A low fibre diet though, with little or no wholemeal or fruit and vegetables, may leave you open to feelings of hunger. Foods with a low glycaemic index [GI] such as nuts, vegetables and beans release energy more slowly than high GI food such as white bread and sugar. Eating more low GI foods will suppress your hunger by increasing levels of gut hormones that help you feel fuller for longer.
I have a personal rule when it comes to choosing food: the more naked the food in the supermarket, the healthier it is and the converse is also true, that the more expensive, glitzy and fancy the packaging, the worse its nutritional value. Our senses and bodies know what's good to eat and are attracted to natural healthy items but marketers must fool our senses into believing that junk food is worth eating and they do this through fancy packaging.
There's also a retail strategy that leads you past the wholesome, naked food first and then on into the shop where the food is more celebratory than nutritious. The psychology behind it is that having stocked up on the necessary food, you can relax and reward yourself by buying the extras. I buck the system by starting at the junk food end of the store, working my way back to the nutritious stuff. It has a reverse psychological effect on me — I buy far less junk and much more wholesome food.
Humans were hunters and gatherers. Unlike animals who forage for food, we collected it and brought it back to the cave where we shared it with the tribe. Social eating is core to our interactions with others and restaurants thrive on this need of ours. This is one of the reasons diets seem so cruel, they often seem to deprive us of the celebratory aspects of life and we rebel against this deprivation. If all we ever did was feed purely for nourishment, we might have been content eating highly quality, nutritious pellets, but were not. Eating is a multisensory experience: the colours, arrangement, textures, aromas, the crunchiness of noisy foods and the taste. They tickle our senses and compel us to eat more.
Insofar as the nutritional aspects of eating is concerned, I have a personal policy — whenever my body is feeling hungry and is calling for food, I'll find the most nutritious food that I can afford to eat. This provides me with all the building blocks my body needs to keep healthy. I'll relax these rigid rules if I'm eating and socialising. I'm not always hungry at these events but I will allow myself to indulge in eating things that I ordinarily wouldn't have at home, like: exquisitely prepared fine food, cakes, a dessert and some wine. These occasions are in the minority, in my life anyway, and I can really enjoy myself without compromising my overall health and I can do so without guilt and shame.
Returning to the three case studies I referred to at the start of this show, the category of eating that is the most dangerous to your health, is emotional eating. It's a form of self-medication meant to alleviate subconscious woes and quieten troubling beliefs. One can understand how food became the pacifier because the first programming that occurred in your brain was soon after your birth. Having survived the birth trauma, most babies are cleaned, wrapped up and handed back to their mothers. Her instinct is to suckle her child. With mom's teat in your mouth, a bonding occurs between mother and child and it's all triggered by the oral sensation on the lips. That's why giving a niggly baby a dummy can instantly pacify him/her. The oral sensation on the lips triggers feelings of safety, emotional wellbeing and comfort. Cigarettes are adult dummies and so are sucking your thumb and putting unnecessary food in your mouth. These habits trigger responses in the reward circuitry of your brain which in turn compels you to repeat this behaviour again and again.
Mary's overweight problems, I mentioned her at the start of this show, stemmed from her need to be autonomous. Her husband's expensive gift to incentivise her to lose weight for his sake, stripped away her independence and she felt abused and insulted by his actions. The only subconscious way that she could rebel against him was to control her weight by letting it become what he hated — fat. She was astounded at this revelation and soon found other, more appropriate ways of asserting her independence and she reframed her return to her slimmer self, not as his victory, but as part of her transformation into the self-assured, vibrant woman she always wanted to be.
In Sarah's case, the dynamics were very different. Her husband loved her unconditionally, regardless of how she looked. Sarah wept when she heard the warped dialogue she was having off the radar, deep in her subconscious mind. It was saying, "It's easy for him to say that he loves me unconditionally but unconditional love also has its breaking point somewhere." Every time she put on weight, she'd test his response. Each time, the stakes increased. She needed to test where his breakpoint was but he never broke. I remember asking her if there wasn't a more appropriate way to test their mutual love. They chose to publicly renew their vows.
Charmain's case of repeated sexual abuse as a young teenager, left her very confused and emotionally broken. She adopted a warped strategy that if she surrendered being sexy, dressed frumpishly and put on lots of weight, she'd be invisible to men. Invisibility meant that she was safe. There was a lot of necessary soul searching to help Charmain but she succeeded.
Indeed, in all of these cases, discovering and addressing the underpinning erroneous beliefs was far more important than focussing solely on food intake and exercise. They all rapidly shed weight as they adopted a different lifestyle based upon new, fresh outlooks on life.
I am convinced that you cannot solve obesity without some form of psychotherapy. Hypnotic techniques work exceptionally well as they have a way of ferreting out hidden, erroneous beliefs, replacing them with appropriate strategies and new patterns of living.