I often get emails from people enquiring about weight loss. Usually these are from people who have ‘tried everything’ like this lady seemed to have done. She had been on countless diets, had read every diet, weight loss article and book known to man and had even given counselling a go. She would lose weight only to put it back on again and often more than she originally lost.
When I first met this person, she appeared tearful and fed up and expecting this to fail as had everything else she had tried. The first important thing, therefore, was to get rid of these feelings of failure in order to give this the best chance of success. If you go into something expecting to fail, then it becomes a self-fulfilling process and you probably will. I also manage people’s expectations from the outset. It’s not a matter of me waving a magic wand each session and the person in my therapy room magically goes away a stone lighter than when they came in! It’s a matter of helping people change their thoughts and behaviours around food. Many of our thoughts around food and our patterns of behaviour are set up in childhood. Even when we are adults, our minds will run the same programmes and the same beliefs unless they are asked to do something different.
This lady became upset when she described how some of her earliest memories, around the age of three, involved food. She could see as the adult she now was, that her own mother had a very difficult relationship with food. She remembered food in her childhood being ‘all or nothing’ as in, there was either plenty to eat or nothing at all and she could spend several days feeling so hungry she didn’t know what to do. She also described how her mother threw food she had bought into the dustbin so she wouldn’t be tempted to eat it. So as a little girl, if food was in the house she learnt to ‘binge’ on the food, eat it quickly and eat lots of it before it got thrown out. She described how as a teenager and having her own money, she bought food and stashed it away in the house and began secretly eating without her mother knowing. Even though she was now an adult with grown up children of her own, her mind was still running these patterns of behaviour; not consciously but subconsciously.
We worked on reprocessing these memories and the surrounding emotions. Interestingly, her attitude towards her mother changed as we did this. From feeling angry and hurt, she was able to be more compassionate and actually feel sorry for her mother for having such a dreadful relationship with food which had blighted both their lives. This lady also recognised that being overweight had also given her ‘an excuse’ (her words) for not doing things.
Even after the first session, she reported back that she had spent the week craving vegetables, especially broccoli, even though we had hardly mentioned food! By reprocessing old emotions and memories and by asking her mind to find other more beneficial ways of meeting the unmet needs and emotions, she was already starting to feel more in control. Often binge eating and stuffing down food is a way of stuffing down hurts and repressed emotions. By dealing with these hurts and repressed emotions in a healthier way, the pattern of behaviour was going all by itself.
We had 3 more sessions spread over a couple of months. At one time she noticed a craving for sweet foods which we were able to work on and I knew things had changed for her when she told me that one evening when she was bored, she had thought about raiding the cupboards but had recognised the emotion of boredom driving the craving, so found something else more productive to do which stimulated her and made her happy.
I heard from her a few months later. She sent a picture of herself, looking so healthy and well. She had achieved her goal but most importantly, she and I knew that this time she would keep and maintain those changes she had worked hard for.