People who develop eating disorders have a distorted relationship with eating, typically to help them cope with underlying emotional pain. Their attitude towards food and themselves become skewed, and they can find their thoughts consumed with what they’re eating (or not eating).
For some, eating disorders involve them eating less than they need, and for others eating more than they need. They may become preoccupied with their bodies, the way they look and their weight. Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any stage of life, though current statistics show young women are most commonly affected.
Eating disorders are serious conditions and early intervention is important to increase the chance of recovery. There are several approaches to eating disorder treatment that people can try, including hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy for eating disorders can be helpful, whether it’s used to understand underlying causes, encourage more positive thinking patterns or ease anxiety. Here we’ll look into some of the more common eating disorders and how hypnotherapy can help.
Understanding eating disorders
Food is something we all encounter every day. It’s something we need to survive and is therefore completely unavoidable. Many of us, however, have a complicated relationship with food. For some, this relationship becomes especially distorted and food (or the control of food) becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions.
When this happens, we typically call it ‘disordered eating’. There are certain conditions that affect people in specific ways called eating disorders. There are many different types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.
Someone with an eating disorder will have a different way of thinking than someone who doesn’t have an eating disorder. They may think about themselves and/or food differently to those around them and carry out specific behaviours because of these thoughts.
The causes behind eating disorders are complex and not always entirely understood.
Often they centre around poor self-esteem, a need for control and numbing out difficult emotions. Other influences like genetics, societal pressure and personality type can also contribute to the development of eating disorders.
If you’re worried about your relationship with food, you may feel worried about seeking support. Try speaking to someone you trust and then, perhaps with their support, visit your doctors for treatment. If you’re worried about someone else, be supportive, offer them space to talk and try to encourage them to seek professional support.
Treatments like counselling are often recommended for eating disorders and can be very effective. Everyone is different however and for some people, a different, or even a multi-pronged, approach is needed. This is where hypnotherapy can step in.
Below we look at some of the more well-known eating disorders and explore how hypnotherapy for eating disorders can support recovery.
Anorexia is an eating disorder that is restrictive in nature, meaning sufferers will restrict their food intake and/or increase their exercise output. This is usually done in an attempt to keep weight low and this can be for various reasons.
It might be that the sufferer perceives themselves as ‘needing’ to lose weight, wanting to appear thinner or to take control of their body. Some people assume anorexia is simply a diet gone too far, but this is rarely the case. There are often more complicated and deep-seated reasons.
A major part of recovery is getting sufferers to love themselves again. Learning new lines of thinking about eating will also improve a person’s relationship with food.
- Read hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi's article, 'How hypnosis can help your eating disorder'.
Hypnotherapy for anorexia
Hypnotherapy for anorexia can be supportive in a number of ways. If the root cause can be pinpointed, regression hypnotherapy can be used to uncover specific events that may have lead to the eating disorder.
Suggestion hypnotherapy can be used to encourage more positive ways of thinking, especially around the way the person sees themselves and food. In some cases, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) may also be used.
The aim of hypnotherapy for anorexia should be to raise self-esteem, decrease anxiety around food and improve confidence. Hypnotherapists will often teach self-hypnosis techniques too which can be used throughout the recovery process.
Bulimia involves a bingeing and purging cycle. This means that a person with the condition may eat a lot of food in one sitting (described as binge-eating) and then feel the need to get rid of the food they’ve eaten by purging. Purging can involve someone making themselves sick, taking laxatives or exercising excessively.
Those with bulimia will often feel a great deal of shame and may try to restrict their eating between binges. Like anorexia, bulimia can have many causes including feeling a need to lose weight or using binge-eating as a coping mechanism.
Hypnotherapy for bulimia
Bulimia is a very behaviour-orientated condition, with sufferers typically feeling trapped in a cycle of binging and purging. Hypnotherapy can be used to make positive suggestions to the subconscious to help break this pattern.
Helping to build confidence and improve self-esteem, the aim of hypnotherapy for bulimia is to improve the sufferer’s relationship with food and themselves.
Binging is a term used when we eat a large amount of food in a short space of time that can feel out of control. Binge-eating disorder is when this happens on a regular basis and when binging is used in an attempt to block certain emotions.
Someone with binge-eating disorder may find a certain comfort with food, and the body’s reaction to a binge can make you feel temporarily better. However, for many, this feeling is followed by regret, shame and a sense of emptiness. Food may then be used again to try and numb out these feelings - and this is how the cycle continues.
Hypnotherapy for binge-eating disorder
Hypnotherapy can be very helpful for those who struggle with binge-eating. Uncovering past events that may have triggered or influenced your relationship with food may be done through analytic hypnotherapy or regression techniques.
Reducing stress and anxiety is another key way hypnotherapy for binge-eating disorder helps. Often those with the condition find symptoms are exacerbated by stress, so easing this stress is ideal. Relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis can help people continue with this work outside of their sessions.
Hypnotherapy for eating disorders can be a helpful tool for many, especially if other approaches are failing to work, but it is important to discuss all treatments you’re trying with your doctor or mental health team. Hypnotherapists may work alongside others within your team to ensure there are no conflicts in treatment approach.
Checking your hypnotherapist has appropriate training and experience to work with someone with an eating disorder is important too, you can check these details on their Hypnotherapy Directory profile or enquire to find out more. And finally, your hypnotherapist should not offer nutrition advice unless they also have qualifications as a dietitian.
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