Many hypnotherapy schools, like the one I did my original (hopelessly crap though very expensive) training with, advertise their shorter introductory courses as giving you the tools to deal with “simple problems like weight loss and smoking”. Which is misleading, as weight loss and smoking can be some of the most layered, complex and intractable problems to resolve.
We know what doesn’t work: diets. In the long term they mostly lead to people gaining more weight than they started with, according to the meta-analysis of diet studies reported here.
So it’s not about calories and people making rational decisions about their diet. If it was that easy, everyone would be at their ideal weight.
At a very generalised level, I think we can identify 4 main factors that contribute to the difficulty of maintaining a healthy weight.
- It’s easier to eat junk than it is to eat healthily. The food industry makes more profit from processed food than it does from the good stuff, and makes sure we are bombarded with images of the things it wants us to buy, from MacDonalds ads to the ‘food porn’ articles in women’s magazines. Our bodies are designed to crave the sugar, salt and fat that used to be scarce (when we evolved) and now, when we are awash with the stuff, the craving is still there. Additionally, technology has removed a lot of the exercise that used to be integral to daily life – for example, it’s usually easier to take the car to the shop than to walk there.The motives for overeating are usually unconscious. The vast majority of people know roughly what they ‘should’ be eating (although the waters are muddied by the diet and food industries) but the impulse to overeat doesn’t come from the rational mind. It’s as if the mind of the overeater (or under-exerciser) has two ‘parts’ – the “elephant” of automatic processing (to use Jonathan Haidt’s lovely metaphor) and the “rider” of conscious awareness. The rider can make plans and lecture the elephant all he likes – unfortunately it’s the elephant who decides what to do moment to moment.
- This is why conscious understanding of “why” we overeat is not sufficient or even necessary to resolve the problem. The person knows that they “shouldn’t” overeat, but they still do it, again and again. Healing the division between the “part” that wants to stay slim and the part that wants to overeat, so the person is not wasting energy on an internal struggle, is an important step towards changing behaviour. This can usually be done quickly and effectively with an intervention like the NLP “Parts Integration” process.
- According to the maverick and extremely knowledgeable NLP therapist Andrew Austin (in his excellent book The Rainbow Machine and also in one of his videos on Youtube), overeaters often have a faulty decision-making process when they are deciding when and what to eat. If their decision-making strategy involves still pictures, they won’t see the consequences that a bad decision will lead to; a good decision-making strategy will often involve mental ‘movies’ of the choices, so you can see and evaluate the consequences.
- Finally, our cultural tendency, encouraged by the diet industry, celebrity mags like Heat, and papers like the Daily Mail, to think and talk about weight and food issues in moral terms: “I’ve been really good today, I didn’t have a slice of cake.”
If someone feels guilty and ashamed when they eat something they enjoy, and the ‘forbidden’ foods that they normally deny themselves become viewed as treats, and their learned response when they feel bad is to look to food as a comfort – well, you can see that this is a great strategy for feeling bad most of the time, but not great for healthy eating.
So who is offering a weight loss programme that addresses these factors? I haven’t read the book, but judging by his TV shows, Paul McKenna seems to be on the right lines, despite the misleading book title: “I Can Make You Thin“. Pete Cohen and Judith Verity’s Lighten Up is also worth a look.
Best of all, if you are in the North West of England, Vanessa Heaps (a graduate of my NLP Practitioner training) has put together a great programme called ‘Why Are You Eating?‘ which addresses the underlying issues that drive overeating to free you from the yo-yo dieting cycle. You can also download the first part of her e-course on weight loss for free.