Can you hypnotise yourself thin? Emma Bartley gives it a go and documents the start of her journey here...
Someone emailed me recently to ask if I wanted to try a hypnotherapy course called Lose That Weight Now. “OK,” I wrote back, thinking, there are going to be some great gags in this. After all, what’s it going to be? Some Mystic Meg voice murmuring: “You are feeling skinny. Veeeery skinny…”
I didn’t have to go anywhere to do it - it’s an online course - and as it happens I am about half a stone heavier right now than I’d like to be. I’m always at least half a stone heavier than I’d like to be: it’s one of the things I think about in idle moments, along with That Wrong Thing I Said Earlier On and That Thing I Still Haven’t Done. So I figure if this crystal-waving, mumbo-jumbo nonsense can keep me away from the Ben & Jerry’s, that’ll be a result.
The first step is to download an MP3 file from the website of The Stresshacker Sue Smith , a “hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, life coach and trainer”. So far, so mystical. Sue covers some practical matters - I shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery while listening to this recording (luckily my forklift truck is out of service right now) - then tells me to relax each part of my body in turn.
Finally, she counts down from ten, explaining that as she says each number I will feel seven times more deeply relaxed. “This is total bulls***,” I think, trying to visualise some physical steps into my trance. “Why not six times deeper? Or eight?”
Then I fall asleep. Where Sue went wrong was asking me to lie down and relax. My toddler has a cough: I lie down, I fall asleep. But the idea is to listen to the 20-minute recording every day for six weeks, so I sometimes catch a bit more of it - it’s stuff about confidence, smaller portions and healthier food choices - before I pass out.
Then Sue starts emailing me (at least, it looks like her, I’m aware her website probably does this by itself) and setting me written exercises. And do you know, the exercises are really bloody hard. Harder maybe than burpees.
One of the first is to write down the first 50 things that come to mind in response to two statements: “‘I can’t lose weight because…’ and ‘If I lose weight…’”
Even though I basically make lists for a living writing this column (see The 10 Biggest Lies Mums Tell Non-Mums ), I’m very doubtful I can think up 50 reasons I can’t lose weight. Sue says it’s OK to have some that are a bit repetitive, so I jot down both “chocolate ice cream exists” and “cake”. But even so, once I’ve been through all the usual excuses - childcare, booze, fat genes - I get stuck at about 20. And that’s when something weird happens.
“I’m not in control of myself,” I write.
“I’m not disciplined.”
“It seems vain to diet,” and then:
“I feel like work is the only selfish activity I’m allowed.”
When I write that last one, it takes a moment for me to take it in. This statement is somehow both absolutely true, and a complete surprise to me. Somehow, despite all my feminist principles, Leaning In etc, in my core I feel selfish for working now that I’m a mother. And given how much time I spend away from my daughter to work, I can’t justify taking any more time away to exercise.
Sue, I realise, may be on to something. There’s no way I’m going to listen to the track every day (I wouldn’t be fat if I stuck to resolutions). And I’m not throwing away my scales because like my fellow GTG columnist Imogen Edwards-Jones, I do it most days . (Sue says this is all part of our unhealthy weight obsession, but it’s December when I start, and I’m too far gone not to check that I haven’t gained a stone in mince pies and Quality Street.)
But there are exercises like the one described above to do every few days, and I find it much easier to see how these are helping than the hypnosis element. The first is simply to make a pledge to do one single thing that will help us to lose weight. I make mine, “I will not eat sugar in the evenings”. The idea is that this becomes an automatic process. We also have to keep a food diary for a few days, work out where on our bodies we feel emotions such as anger, fear and shame, and look at our personal danger points - times we tend to overeat.
It’s all a bit of a time commitment, and I struggle to keep up with it as Christmas approaches and my to-do list becomes more of a to-do essay. But So I’m going to keep going with it, because starting the process has made me realise that I am expending way too much mental and emotional energy on feeling fat.
Back to Exercise Two, and under “If I lose weight…” I’ve written: “I’ll be able to look at pictures of myself building sandcastles on the beach with my daughter without my eyes going straight to my fat rolls.”
Referring to a very fat roll-y picture from our first proper beach holiday this summer, that statement is just so tragic. Self-obsessed and pathetic. Whether hypnosis can really change my mind or body, who knows, but I'm going to try, for my daughter's sake.