I had a client today who was overweight, but certainly not obese. We talked about her eating habits, and she told me that she doesn't overeat. She doesn't snack, or binge or eat over-large portions. On the other hand, she said "I think about food all the time".
She told me "on the way to your office I was thinking that afterwards I would have a lamb chop breaded with pesto and some nice vegetables". "In fact" she said, "when am eating breakfast I'm thinking about what to prepare for lunch". "I think about food all the time".
I listen carefully to what clients tell me. I also listen to what they don't tell me. One thing I have learnt over the years is that when a client is doing something all the time, they are not doing something else. I said to the client "if you're thinking about food all the time, what is it that you're not thinking about?". She had no idea what I was talking about.
I explained that if someone is thinking about food all day, I always suspect that they are doing it to avoid thinking about something else. They are filling their mind with some acceptable subject, so that they do not have to examine their own feelings and emotions.
Origin of the overeating
I started to explore this client's emotional background. I was trying to nail down what it was that was so terrible in her early life that she could not bear thinking about it now.
She told me that she had been brought up in Australia. Her mother had severe depression, had attempted suicide, and was constantly threatening to do it again. Her father was angry and distant. The wider family resented the marriage and constantly told my client that she was an outsider. The result was that my client came home from school every day dreading that she would find her mother hanging. Even as a little girl she stayed away from home as often as she could to avoid her father's sudden rages. She never felt she belonged there. The constant criticism from the family wore her down, and she escaped into daydreaming.
She grew up with a terrible feeling that something awful was going to happen, that whatever she did she was never going to be good enough. It was this feeling that she was trying to avoid by thinking about food all the time.
I put the client into a light trance. I asked her to think about the place she had grown up in, how she had felt in that place. After a while, with repeated reminders from me based on what she had said, her eyes began to fill with tears. She was now back in the feeling, not reliving a specific memory, but connecting to her feelings about growing up there.
I asked her to think about the feeling, to become aware of the feeling even more, and to think about the feeling as if it wasn't object. I asked her to describe the object. She told me it was like a purple diamond. This purple diamond was rotating so fast that she couldn't think. Then she said the purple diamond was turning into a swirl of cloud and then back to the purple diamond. She told me that the spinning of the purple diamond was always putting her on edge. When it was spinning she felt overwhelmed and her throat closed up. Its constant relentless spinning made her angry, and she lashed out at other people.
I asked her what she would like to have happen to it. She said she wanted it to stop spinning. She said when it stopped the sun could come out and its glow would give her strength.
Using her own resources
I then asked what would have to happen to make the diamond slow down a little. She mumbled something I didn't hear about "water". I suggested that the spinning diamond could meet water. Then I asked her "what happened with the water?" She said "it has stopped now". I asked her to look at it carefully now that had stopped. She said, surprised, "it's actually an oval". The change in shape indicated that the transformation of emotions had started. I continue to develop the oval by suggesting various things that could happen to it. Then she told me it's turned into a balloon. I tried to develop the balloon by suggesting that it could get bigger and bigger. She told me "it's inflating, and then deflating, and then inflating again". This indicated to me that she does not have the resources to clear it unaided.
I needed to get her to destroy the balloon. So I suggested that she allow it to get bigger and bigger. This worked for a while and then she said "I'm afraid it will pop". I said to her "that's exactly what needs to happen". Again I suggested inflating the balloon until she said "I can't get it to go any bigger". At this point she needs more resources. I then suggested that she inflate that balloon with her own energy, with her own refusal to accept what was going on, what was being done to her. I was trying to get her to summon her own energy and resources.
She then said "it's popped".
I got her to confirm that there was nothing left of the balloon. By destroying the object, she has removed the negative feelings.
I brought her out of trance, and asked her to go back inside to check how she felt. She said "it feels calm in there. And I can feel that sun come out now". I got her to check how she felt about her parents and the whole situation. She said "it all feels calm there now". That feeling and the theory generated has now gone forever.
It really does not take a lot of therapy to deal with even the most debilitating feelings. I hope this client is now able to get on with her life free of anxiety. And I predict that she will be able to lose weight now.