It was a butter braid pastry that sent me to the hypnotist.
I’d been gorging myself for days. On cookies, pizza, Indian food, eggnog bread pudding and whatever else made its way into my kitchen or onto my plate.
As a result of my incessant over-stuffing and lack of self control, I made a decision: I would eat reasonably healthy for three days. That’s it — just three days. Then I could go back to eating sickening amounts of cookies, pizza, Indian food and eggnog bread pudding.
Five minutes after that pledge, I was eating a cold — cold! — strawberry cream cheese butter braid straight out of the fridge with my hands, frenetically tearing into it and shoving it into my mouth. I knew full well that no, this did not qualify as “reasonably healthy” (and couldn’t I at least pause long enough to heat the thing up?), but I couldn’t stop myself.
Yes, I have a binge-eating problem.
When I was younger, it was somewhat amusing, albeit still a little horrifying. Now it’s just horrifying.
It’s not uncommon for me to eat a cheesecake out of the pan with my hands, or down a big wad of cookie dough — easily enough for a dozen baked — in under five minutes. Once, I finished an entire pumpkin pie in the time it took my husband to walk from our attached garage to the kitchen.
But as I get older, my stomach isn’t quite as Teflon-clad as it once was, and I’ve been warned of the post-40 metabolic slowdown.
I’ll be honest, the only thing that might have motivated me to change my binge-eating behavior is vanity, but so far massive weight gain hasn’t been a problem. (Bless you, Tracy Anderson workouts!)
And so I continue to eat pint after pint of ice cream with abandon. I was sheet-caking long before Tina Fey ever made it a thing.
Frustrated by my total lack of self-control and really, truly wanting to eat like a normal human being, I turned to the know-all, be-all for help: Google.
To break the cycle of compulsive overeating, Google told me to eat healthy foods, eat only when hungry, eat slowly, stop eating when satiated, not label food as “good” or “bad,” and give in to cravings in moderation.
Gee, thanks, Google.
Yet buried amid all of this obvious, easier-said-than-done advice was something crazy, something I’d most definitely never considered: hypnotherapy.
Now, I believe in very little — least of all hypnosis — but it was an entire butter braid that I demolished a mere five minutes after resolving to eat healthy. I was willing to try anything.
The Girl Who Eats
The more I researched, the more it made sense. By accessing the subconscious mind, we can affect our conscious actions. Most of us consciously know that smoking is bad, that we probably shouldn’t eat the whole jar of Nutella with a spoon or that the butter braid would taste a whole lot better if we’d just heat it up, but that rational thinking goes out the window when confronted with that cigarette, Nutella or carb of choice.
Clearly, our conscious minds need help.
Hypnotherapy claims to access our unconscious minds by putting us into a trance-like state. From there, the hypnotherapist can give suggestions or images to alter our behavior, nudging our conscious actions in the right direction.
Truthfully, I was as afraid of the hypnotherapy working as I was of it not working. Eating large quantities of food has been an integral part of my identity for as long as I can remember. And while I enjoy being able to eat lots of great food, I don’t enjoy the total lack of control I have over my appetite whenever I meet a tray of brownies or bowl of cookie dough.
My immense hunger has become a crutch of sorts, a party trick I can whip out whenever I’m feeling uncomfortable or unremarkable. I may not fit in or ever be one of the cool kids but, boy, can I eat! Much easier to rely upon my elastic stomach to impress than having to connect with someone on an emotional level or listen to myself stumble over words, caving to my social anxiety.
Who would I be if not “The Girl Who Eats?”
But I was tired of eating myself to the point of sickness and regret. Motivated by the excitement, promise of a fresh start and all the “new year/new you” stuff that Jan. 1 brings, I booked a session at Boulder Hypnotherapy Center.
My only “experience” with hypnotists had been watching the charlatans in the movies swinging a pocket watch and snapping their fingers, so I didn’t know what to expect.
Most of the 100-minute long session with Ingrid Johnson was spent talking. The first hour-plus was very similar to traditional therapy while she got a sense of who I was and what emotional issues might be playing into my bingeing.
She asked about my childhood, relationships and family, and I feel like in that hour she got a pretty good sense that I’m an anxious, overextended person who does not know how to slow down, whether it’s in food or life.
After all the talking, it was showtime. I laid down on the elevated cot in the center of the room and pulled a blanket up to my chin.
Johnson, seated in a chair a few feet from the bed, instructed me to close my eyes and relax, guiding me through a series of relaxation techniques intended to put me into that hypnotic trance. The whole thing was very much like a guided meditation, with positive subliminal messages being implanted into my subconscious.
I didn’t ever lose consciousness, but I did feel very calm and relaxed. Who knows? Maybe I did enter a bit of a trance-like state, just not like the ones you see in the movies where the hypnosis patient clucks like a chicken. For me, it was more like zoning out, like when I drive past my exit in spite of having lived on the same street for nine years.
I left her office feeling incredibly calm but wondering the same question that had brought me there: Will it work?
“How ’bout some fruit”
When I sat down at my computer to eat lunch that day, I started plowing into my food as usual. But I soon instinctively slowed down, eating more deliberately. I was a little freaked out. Slowing down when eating is not something that happens to me naturally.
It got weirder.
During my afternoon slump when I was hungry again (legitimately, not mindlessly or stress-induced), instead of reaching for peanut butter — I eat a lot of peanut butter — I stopped myself and thought (and I swear this happened on its own without any conscious effort) “I’m not really craving peanut butter right now. How ’bout some fruit?”
How ’bout some fruit. Never in my adult life have I thought of those words when it came to my diet.
As I write this, it’s been a week since my hypnotherapy session. (I only signed on for one session, but many hypnotherapists recommend more for optimal results.) While I haven’t had any full-on, pouring-cake-batter-down-my-throat feeding frenzies, I have given into temptation (a mango-maracuya margarita torpedoed my Dry January attempt) and gone overboard when I didn’t need to (a second chunk of sous vide pork belly when I had five other courses to go).
But I also haven’t longed for something sweet after every meal, and I seem to have become immune to the siren song of the two pints of ice cream in my freezer. I’m calmer. I don’t fantasize about Oreo truffles. Or at least not as much as I used to.
I still don’t have a full answer to the question of whether or not the hypnotherapy worked. It wasn’t as if a switch was flipped inside of me and now I’ll only eat reasonable amounts of good-for-me foods, but I do feel some positive changes. Whether that’s a placebo effect, wishful thinking or genuine results, I can’t decipher.
Only more time — and maybe a butter braid in my fridge — will tell.
Interested in altering your consciousness to alter your eating? Here are some local hypnotherapists who focus on binge eating, plus a low-budget alternative.
Boulder Hypnotherapy Center: 2299 Pearl St., #204, Boulder, 303-776-8100; boulderhypnotherapycenter.com; from $100
Sunrise Hypnotherapy: 6500 S. Quebec St., #300, Denver, 303-921-1473; sunrisehypnotherapy.com; $110/hour
Mindzai Hypnotherapy: 777 Grant St., #304, Denver, 303-831-9342; mindzaihypnotherapy.com; from $200
Lose Weight Hypnosis PRO app by Surf City Apps LLC; $3.99