Comfort eating

Comfort eating and teenage anxiety

I had a new client yesterday who came to me about weight loss. To start with, I really could not understand what was motivating her to overeat. Depression is the most common source of being overweight, but this client showed no signs of it. She seemed bright and cheerful, although she was clearly well overweight.

I asked her what she got from eating. Like most clients, she said she has no idea why she ate. "I eat when I'm bored". "I just like chocolate and snacks". "If there is a snack in my desk, I eat it". "So why do you buy the snacks?", I asked. "I don't know. I just love eating."

Sports career ruined

I asked her if she had always been overweight. "No", she said. "Up until about age 16 I was really skinny, really fit. And then I injured my knee. I loved playing softball, it was my life, and then it was all over. Soon after that I started putting weight on and have battled with it ever since".

I have heard this before from athletes. They put their whole heart and soul into becoming good at the sport. They become really good, and hope to make a living as a player. And then they get injured, and their sporting career is over. It is a devastating blow for young person, and many athletes go through a period of despair and resentment. After that the athlete feels they have nothing to lose, nothing to live for, so they get into smoking, drinking, drugs and whatever else they want to do. And then they find they can't stop it.

I suspected that might be the case for this client. "How did you feel when you could no longer play softball?" She said "Oh, it wasn't just the softball. I got a terrible attack of asthma immediately after that as well."

A perfect childhood

It has been my experience that asthma is usually associated with stress. Asthma in children is usually associated with stress with the parents, and at home. So I asked her how she got on with her parents. "I had a wonderful childhood. I really loved my parents. We got on really well". Usually when a client says they had a wonderful childhood, I suspect they're hiding something. So I probed a bit more.

It turned out that my client was the middle child. Her older sister bullied her, but no more than sisters normally do. For some reason her parents were very hard on her older sister, but really indulged my client. "I remember going away for six or eight weeks in the summer on holiday with my parents camping and having a wonderful time with them. On my birthday I always got cakes and presents and chocolate. Really, I could have anything I wanted."

And then it all went wrong

So, summarizing I said "So you injured your knee and got asthma". "Yes" she said, "and then I went away to live with relatives in a different town." Because of her intense asthma she was advised to leave her home town and go to a much drier atmosphere. So she moved away from home and lived with some distant cousins. They were cold and distant and not very happy getting a teenager forced on them. And thus started a period of intense unhappiness for her. And this was when she began to eat.

It was now clear why she was addicted to eating. At the time she was living in a cold, unhappy place. She had lost all her friends. The passion of her life, softball, was over. She was no longer the golden girl who was indulged by her parents. Her life was empty, and turned to comfort eating.
Part of her unconscious mind was trying to get back to those wonderful days of holidays and Christmas when she was given whatever she wanted. It was her sad attempt to get back some happiness. And that was what her eating behaviour was all about. And she had been eating ever since, for more than 20 years she had been overweight. Since then she had got married and her parents had died.

Choosing the therapy

It seemed to me that my client was stuck in the past. She was trying to get back to a golden time, and had to be helped to move on from there. Thinking about psychological resources, using her mother as a resource seemed like the most promising approach.

I decided to use a script called Bridge to Freedom. This includes leading the client in trance to a bridge. On the bridge there is a Figure of Power who helps the client to get rid of whatever it is that is holding them back. I took her through the script, adjusting it to her own particular circumstances. I fully expected that she would see the Figure of Power as her mother.

Then I used the shortened version of another script called Cathedral of Parts. In this script the client is taken into something that represents their own inner mind. Then all the parts that make up the person's personality are brought out. One of them that is not doing what it should is singled out and changed. Normally the client says that they saw all different parts of themselves in various forms.

Coming out of trance

When I brought the client out of trance, we talked for a while about what she had experienced. She said "I feel completely different about eating now". I asked who the figure on the bridge was. She said "I think it was me". This meant that she had been using her own resources on the bridge. Using your own resources is much more powerful than getting resources from somewhere else.

I asked what the parts look like. And to my great surprise, she said "they were all foods". It seems that, in this particular case, it was actually particular foods that were her problem. It really was chocolate and snacks that were the culprits. So in her mind, she has changed her relationship with them.

And that should be the end of her comfort eating problem.

David Mason

David Mason

Therapist at Wellington Hypnosis
David Mason is an experienced and university qualified hypnotherapist with 15 years of clinical practice. He has a PhD and a Masters degree in psychology.
He is highly regarded in the hypnotherapy community. He is Vice President of the New Zealand Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (NZAPH).
He is regularly consulted for advice by other hypnotherapists around the world. He is known for the quality of his published scripts. He presents at international conferences and has published on hypnosis and advanced hypnotherapy.
He lives in Wellington New Zealand with his wife Trish and a cat called Parsnip.
email: davemason@besthypnosisscripts.com
David Mason

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