Hypnotized into Health
One Curvette's turned to hypnotherapy to help with her anxiety and issues with food. Now, she shares her story.
Photo: Serg Zastavkin/istock
Dr. Ivan* looked and sounded just like a vampire. As I lay apprehensively on his couch, he droned in a rich, Romanian accent, “You are feeling very relaxed, very sleepy.” Part of me wanted to laugh, but soon most of me was feeling very relaxed, very sleepy…very hypnotized. While I was in that receptive state, Dr. Ivan convinced me that I was free of the fear of my ex, who had been cyberstalking me. In just an hour, I lost the worry that had for years interfered with my ability to work or sleep.
If hypnosis could cure my deepest anxiety, I thought it probably could help with my issues about food, too. But Dr. Ivan cost $150 per session, whereas my employee health plan offered hypnotism at no charge.
My first session with the lovely, very French Jungian Isabella* included no hypnosis. Instead, she asked me to talk about the memories I associated with eating, exercise, and my body. Isabella had the softest, most gentle voice I’d ever heard, and her cooing tone relaxed me even as I described my deepest issues.
I explained how growing up in an athletic family, I had felt inadequate and unattractive. I described teenage years of confusion and of sexual misadventures. No wonder, we concluded, that as an adult lesbian I dreaded drawing attention to my body. I felt self-conscious in my swimsuit, fearing that men at the pool would look at me and see me as ugly or, worse, overweight.
Isabella asked me about the times when I’d been comfortable with my shape. She would murmur, “How lovely,” or “How good that is,” when I described times I’d eaten healthily and felt good about my body. She asked about other, unrelated achievements—which in my case were largely academic.
In our second session, I took off my shoes and lay back on a recliner. Soft rain pattered outside, and I focused on a picture of a shimmering green forest as Isabella suggested how I might hypnotize myself. Eyes shut, I counted backward from 100 and visualized walking down a long flight of steps. I noticed my words getting slower and further apart, and my voice seemed to come from a distance. When it became too much of an effort to keep counting out loud, I counted silently.
While I didn’t feel particularly hypnotized, I certainly was relaxed. Isabella began by reminding me that I could be wise and compassionate toward my body and self. Although I realized that she was deliberately leading my thinking, I didn’t resist. After all, she was quoting my own words back to me. It was true: There were times when I hadn’t suffered from compulsive eating. I could be like that again! In fact, she said, I was like that—healthy, calm, wise—even now.
Then she began mythologizing my as-yet-unrealized success by tying it in with my actual achievements in the past, telling me things that weren’t actually true but sounded charmingly agreeable. “You got your master’s degree in exercise physiology,” she said. “You excelled in your studies.” I laughed a little, but I went where she was taking me, even when she asserted, ridiculously, “Later, you went on and got your Ph.D. in how to treat yourself well.” Her technique—to replace my shame with pride—was working.
She told me that I enjoyed moving my body, that I felt at home and natural in the water. I could relish the sensation of being buoyed up. If anyone were looking at me, she went on, they would think how good it was that I was moving in helpful, healthy ways. “You love to do what is right for you,” she said, and I believed it.
For the next 18 months or so, I felt as good as I ever have. I took many long walks, swam three times a week and once a month would swim an entire mile. I lost my addiction to sugar and shed over 30 pounds. More importantly, I felt lighter and stronger. One day, changing at the gym, I happened to see my nude torso in a mirror and I almost didn’t recognize it because it looked so normal.
But then, over the next several years, I took some indulgent vacations, and after each one I came home heavier than when I’d left. My dogs died, so I took fewer walks and I didn’t go to the gym as often. I gained back nearly half the excess weight.
Now, I still sometimes eat compulsively when I’m stressed, but it’s easier for me to forgive myself and return to healthy ways. I regularly do gentle yoga or go swimming. I consider the hypnotherapy to have been partly successful, and I think a refresher session would reinforce its good effects. In fact, I’ve got an appointment with Isabella next week.
* Names have been changed.