I recently discovered the Facebook page of Alex Brounger, a hypnotherapist who works with people with a range of psychological issues, including eating disorders. Many of my clients present with ED symptoms or diagnosis. Sometimes they don’t realise they have an ED and are almost relieved to find out that what they’re suffering is a fairly common issue, though one that seems pretty tough to crack.
I am not qualified to treat psychological disorders, though fitnaturally can work alongside those specialists to provide good nutrition and structured eating. In time fitnaturally aims to build a network of ED specialists to support our clients and we are very happy to have found Alex. I asked Alex how he would treat three of the main EDs we see at fitnaturally; binge eating disorder, disordered eating through stress, and selective eating disorder. That is where the person will not eat certain foods based on texture, usually vegetables and fruit.
Binge eating disorder and disordered eating through stress are typically anxiety-related; the aim is to reduce levels of anxiety. As our underlying levels of anxiety increase, parts of the subconscious brain encourage us to revert to habits which sabotage our fat loss and healthy eating efforts. That part of the brain is looking for immediate comfort, which binge eating can often provide; although it is often quickly replaced by a feeling of guilt or self-loathing which increases our underlying levels of anxiety further and makes it more likely that we’ll binge again. Because it’s the same area of the brain which has helped us to survive the last several million years, it is enormously persuasive and hard to say no to. Additionally, when people are trying to exert greater control over what they eat, i.e. by ‘dieting’, their levels of anxiety will typically increase; levels of cortisol in people who are dieting have been shown to be elevated in several studies. Hence that old subconscious brain activity is fired-up and we can slip into another series of bingeing.
By encouraging the development of new skills including, but not exclusively, the ability to relax, clients learn ways to better handle stress thereby reducing their underlying levels of anxiety. As a result they get better control over what they eat, and a lot of other things in their lives.
To give you a few examples:
I treated a lady recently for binge eating and she stopped within a few sessions, as she began to understand how the brain works and why she was resorting to that behaviour. She had ten sessions, over which time she started exercising again and improving her diet, ultimately achieving a healthy level of body fat.
Another client had an obsession with food and couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it. They had achieved a healthy weight a few years before and did not want to go back to old ways. Again there was significant improvement in just a few sessions, though I usually recommend that people continue for a while to make sure they’re well-practised in the skills that stop them operating from that sabotaging part of the brain.
Selective eating disorder may be due to heightened levels of anxiety (again a bit of a vicious circle, they know they should be eating the healthy foods but a mental block is stopping them, which increases anxiety further, making the mental block bigger). Emptying the ‘stress bucket’ will always help, we also have a couple of techniques which can be very useful. One is ‘rewind’, the other ‘reframe’. They are NLP techniques, which have sound scientific backing to prove their effectiveness in a therapeutic setting. The rewind de-traumatises particular events in people’s lives; perhaps they were forced to eat certain foods in the past or the fact that they didn’t like something caused them such acute embarrassment that it made the whole situation much worse. The reframe sends a very strong message to the subconscious part of the brain that eating those items we previously found difficult will actually be a pleasant experience rather than one that we have to be phobic of. I recently used these techniques on a guy who could not eat salad, fruit or vegetables.
To be sure that a hypnotherapist has had the proper training and works to an appropriate standard, people should check hypnotherapists.org.uk or better still the AfSFH. Members of the AfSFH work to a solution-focused-therapy format which has been shown to be highly effective.