Hypnotherapists soon get used to the fact that clients have certain preconceptions about the whole business of hypnotherapy. Even when they don’t say it you suspect they might be thinking something like: “will he make me cluck like a chicken” or “will he get me to sing like Barbara Streisand”. Sometimes people ask me those questions outright. I usually say that I charge extra for such services! But then I take some pains to explain that hypnotherapy isn’t really some species of conjuring trick, that hypnosis is a serious therapeutic tool and that therapy is a serious business – a partnership between client and therapist which aims at getting the client where he or she wishes to be.
Client expectations are very important. They can be immensely helpful. If a client has high expectations of a successful outcome then she or he is already on their way to a solution to their problems. If a client has low or negative expectations – “you’ll never get me to give up smoking!” – then those preconceptions need to be looked at so that a positive outcome becomes more likely.
If a client seeks treatment for, say, low self-esteem or some other personality related condition then they usually do not expect that everything can be set right within the space of a single session. But with a habit issue such as weight loss people very often expect a single-session solution. Sometimes this is possible. Usually it isn’t. Weight loss is, actually, a complex issue. What I want to do here is to offer a little more explanation both of the issue itself and of its treatment.
Why do people become overweight? Everyone’s circumstances are different but I think the reasons can be grouped under three headings:
i. Personal reasons – comfort eating due to low self-esteem, bereavement or any number of other such causes.
ii. Lifestyle reasons – too busy to cook, no time or no desire to exercise etc.
iii. Physical reasons – thyroid problems, water retention, problems relating to metabolism and so on.
These categories are not exclusive – people may find that their weight issue is due to factors from any combination of these three groups. To clarify matters, let me give some examples:
A man lives by himself. He can’t be bothered to cook for one so he buys his meals ready cooked. He claims that he eats a modest amount – and that may be true. But it is what he eats which is causing the problem – takeaways, burgers, pizzas and easy-cook stuff like sausages and bacon. He likes to unwind with a beer. Or seven.
A woman occupies a position of responsibility at work and has to work whenever needed. Long, irregular hours, a sedentary but stressful job, no time to exercise, meals snatched on the hoof, recourse to chocolate bars to get rid of inconvenient hunger pangs, meetings with clients in wine bars while consuming alcohol and various nibbles and snacks – and on go the pounds and up goes the blood pressure.
A man has separated from his long-term partner. Most of the time things are fine – at work, with friends, when occupied. But at home, in an empty flat, he reaches for something which will make his evenings feel a little less barren. The weight goes on, his confidence in his ability to find another partner goes down.
A lonely and frustrated woman eats chocolate, cakes, sweets and crisps both as a comfort and as a kind of self-punishment. She feels she doesn’t deserve to be happy so what does it matter if she’s overweight?
Even a quick glance at the above examples will show that weight control is rarely a single and isolatable issue and that therefore one type of approach will not suit everyone. Personal issues may need to be recognized and treated for what they are – separate issues. The weight loss issue can be approached in many different ways. Here are just some of the methods which can be used:
i. Direct suggestion
This is the sort of thing which one is usually taught in training college – a set script which says that you will eat less, cut out saturated fats and carbohydrates, eat more slowly, and so on. The advantage of this method is its commonsense and simplicity. The disadvantage is lack of clarity and flexibility. Eat less – fine! But what exactly do we mean by “less”? How much less? Do we cut out all saturated fat, carbohydrate etc? Where do we draw the line? Is there any advantage in eating less of an inappropriate diet?
ii. Positive reinforcement.
If a client knows what sorts of food he or she should be eating then one can reinforce this by emphasizing the deliciousness, juiciness etc of the “wholesome” food. One can also reinforce the positive advantages of losing weight – feeling better, more healthy, less lethargic.
Here we get the person to “see” themselves after having lost some weight – looking leaner, strong and healthy. The advantage is that it gives the weight loser a sense of direction, something to aim at. The disadvantage is that one has no way of knowing whether what they “see” is feasible, healthy or realistic.
Associating a nice but “bad” food with something disgusting. For example, chocolate may be associated with – something else that is usually brown and generally malodorous! I have to say that I’m not keen on such techniques. I think that everything has its place within reason. Do you really want to be put off chocolate for life?
This has the great advantage of convenience and flexibility. If you know what situations or foods are causing the problem then you can “target” them effectively using simple and easy-to-learn techniques.
vi. Virtual Gastric Band.
The jury’s out on this one. Most of the “evidence” in its favour is anecdotal. I have yet to see convincing scientific evidence. Essentially this involves telling a person under hypnosis that they have had a surgical operation. I have a number of concerns about this. Firstly, this “treatment” is of comparatively recent origin. Its long-term effects – positive and negative – are simply not known. I have very serious qualms about lying to people under hypnosis. I am also not convinced that this method is safe. What if the “virtual” operation causes the person to eat less than they should? What if they have some kind of reaction – physical, psychological or both – to this hypnotic “surgery”? I am also aware that there are “practitioners” out there who are charging vast amounts for what is, in effect, a very simple sequence of direct suggestions. I do not offer this at present. If I become convinced of its safety and effectiveness then I may consider it in the future. But I put the health and safety of my clients first. I will need some convincing.
These are just some of the methods one can employ, and they can be used singly or in combination.
So you want to lose weight? What happens now?
Some weight issues are easy to solve. Many years ago I had a client who was a professional dancer. She said she needed to lose a few pounds and needed help to stick with a diet which had been drawn up for her by an expert dietician. No problem. Two sessions – job done.
Most weight loss issues are a little more complex. If you want a short-term solution, a sticking plaster, or a simple modification of diet then that can probably be done quickly and easily. But if you are looking to the longer term then there are three steps to success: Understanding – Planning – Commitment.
Understanding. Understand why you are overweight. Understand the underlying cause(s). This first step is often the hardest step of all. People often delude themselves. Many years ago, one of my clients told me that she only ever ate salads and couldn’t understand why she was overweight. A bit of further investigation revealed that a “salad” would typically include honey and almond glazed chicken breast, pate, new potatoes served with butter, cheese, mayonnaise, rich salad dressings, crusty rolls and butter – and I can’t remember what else. Sounds tasty! Nothing wrong with a meal like that. But if you’re eating like that on a regular basis a weight problem may occur. To be honest, there is probably less saturated fat in one of my grandmother’s famous scrag stews with dumplings than in one of those “salads”.
Planning. Weight loss is a serious project. It can be a matter of life or death. You need to decide when to start. It may not be a good idea to embark upon a new dietary regime just before Christmas, or during a period when there are lots of celebrations of one sort or another. Having chosen the time you then need to think about the practicalities. How does this fit in with your lifestyle? Are other family members going to be affected by this? Is your proposed change of diet, or new healthy regime, practical? If not, are there other ways to achieve your goal.
Commitment. You know what you need to do. You know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and when you’re going to implement these changes. Then you need to commit to the process. This is your project. It is important. Take it seriously. Take yourself and your health seriously. Think of the long-term.
If you really want to lose weight – you can!