I could fill an entire book listing, in chronological order, my failed attempts at weight loss. Instead, I’ll just offer some highlights: Seven halfhearted rounds of Weight Watchers; two days each of every crash diet you can think of; two juice cleanses; training for and running three half-marathons; and diet pills that were basically prescription meth and made me such a raging lunatic my now-husband threatened to call off our wedding if I didn’t stop taking them.
Sure, I’d lose three pounds here and seven there — except for those diet pills; I looked damn good on those — but I always ended up where I started, or heavier. Slowly, those extra 15 pounds I’d never been able to shake turned into an extra 20, then an extra 25.
Friends, family, and even some doctors had told me to stop worrying and accept my body the way it was. And maybe I didn’t need to lose it — not everyone needs to lose weight. But my issues went beyond the scale. It was clear I had a complicated, if not clichéd, relationship with food.
Growing up, my family was on food stamps and I was a free-lunch kid, so whenever I was around good food I made sure to eat as much as I possibly could. And it only took a few therapy sessions in college to admit that I didn’t ever really feel love from my mother, so I ate until I didn’t feel anything but full.
After more than ten years of working in the industry, I started to wonder if I had become a food writer and stylist to camouflage, or at least lean into, a food addiction. So, at 15 pounds over my oh-shit weight, I started attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings. Based on AA, the program has helped lots of people lose impressive amounts of weight. To my surprise, I was able to get past the religious aspect, and even the hand-holding and chanting. What I couldn’t get over was the overarching theme of coming out of the program “a different person” than the one who first walked through the door.
“But I don’t want to be a different person,” I’d tell my sponsor. “I just want to be a version of me who doesn’t eat an entire jar of peanut butter in two days.”
Pregnancy was a great way for me to slip out of OA. I knew that if I tried to stick to any sort of regimented diet or eating plan while growing an entire human inside me, I’d fail and feel even worse. So I tacked on another 40 pounds throughout my pregnancy — not an insane number, but I’d hoped to gain no more than 25, the recommendation for overweight women.
And, I quickly learned I’m one of those unlucky mothers who doesn’t lose weight nursing. Eight months postpartum, and weighing 209 pounds (my heaviest non-pregnant weight ever), I was feeling down and desperate. I didn’t even want to be skinny-skinny — my happy weight still has me firmly in the “overweight” category on the BMI scale. I just wanted to fit back into my size 10 jeans without a muffin top.
Getting there, I knew, would take a major mental shift.
My brief stint in OA made me realize I’d already accepted (if not overcome) the emotional issues of my youth. I was a genuinely happy adult, doing a pretty damn good job of being alive. There was just this one area where I needed help.
I needed to be able to tell myself to put down the family-size bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, to put the lid back on the peanut-butter jar after two tablespoons, to not eat cupcakes I’d been photographing when I don’t even like sweets. And then I needed to listen to myself. I needed to change my eating behavior, not my entire emotional state. I needed to break a 34-year-old bad habit.
I’d flirted with the idea of hypnosis before, but repeatedly dismissed it because I just didn’t believe it was legit. Wasn’t it for the same people who were convinced some guy on TV could help them talk to their dead relatives? But desperately wanting something — anything — to work, I read a few articles on mind control and started to feel hopeful. After all, it was my mind, and its penchant for nut butters, that needed controlling.
I found a hypnotist near me — with a Ph.D. in psychology! — whose website suggested I could lose 25 to 30 pounds by having six sessions over eight to ten weeks. I emailed her, sharing my skepticism and desperation, and we decided I’d schedule one session, “just to see if it’s for me.”
A week later, as I settled into her Eames-knockoff lounge chair, I explained that, for the most part, I had my shit together in all other areas of my life, but I had no power over food. I’d gotten to the point where I stopped believing I could actually lose the weight — at least without my magic meth pills.
We talked about nutrition, and metabolism, and that in the weight-loss world, there are three categories of body types: endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph. She explained that my particular type, endomorph, just can’t burn through carbs like other bodies can. Having someone look at my body, describe my type, and pretty much tell me that pizza is my enemy — it felt like a welcome diagnosis. After all, I’d once badgered a doctor into testing me for celiac disease hoping a positive result would force me to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle.
Together, we decided that along with portion control and not eating out of boredom (or sadness, or joy, or anxiety, or exhaustion, or stress), my hypnotherapy would center around my eating the right foods for my body — a high-protein, low-carb diet — when I’m hungry. She said we’d work to “put food in its place”; food I was styling or photographing was not food to eat. Work was work, and meals were meals.
Before “putting me under,” she explained that hypnosis is about accessing subconscious parts of the brain while the conscious mind rests. I didn’t think my conscious mind was capable of resting, but I closed my eyes, anyway, and focused on her meditative music. She counted backward from 10, and told me to imagine warm, golden massage oil running over my head, down my back, and then all over my body. It sounds like the hook for a bad R&B song, but it worked and I immediately felt my muscles start to melt into the chair. Next, she told me to picture myself writing numbers on a chalkboard, beginning with 99, then erasing it, and writing 97, then 95, then 93 …
I have vague recollections of her talking about compartments of my brain. There were stairs, and duct tape, and doors, and an affirmation that I knew exactly what I should (and should not) be eating. She took me to my happy place, a cold lake in the mountains. More than once, I lost count of my numbers. I was definitely still aware of my conscious thoughts, but they were deeply relaxed, almost as if I’d just smoked really good weed. If I’d wanted to, I could have snapped out of it at any moment, but I had no desire to. I can’t remember ever feeling so chill (and I get a lot of full-body massages).
After “waking” me, she laughed at my original skepticism. Apparently, I appeared more relaxed than any of her patients had ever been in a first session (I posited it was new-mom sleep deprivation). Still, she warned me I likely wasn’t fully hypnotized yet — it could take a few more sessions — and to not feel bad if I couldn’t follow my eating plan right away.
That night I ate chicken breast and sautéed vegetables for dinner and was perfectly content. It felt a little like the familiar mania of starting yet another new diet, but somehow also calmer. I ate the right stuff the next day, and the day after that. I could hardly believe it when I made it past the three-day mark without a Taco Bell detour. By my next session, I’d stuck to my plan for an entire week and lost three pounds.
A month and three appointments in, I was ten pounds down and felt good about my progress, so we switched to maintenance sessions. They’re a little shorter and cheaper than regular ones. But we still talk first — about how I’ve eaten, how much weight I’ve lost, what I’d like to accomplish next. She even throws in little bonus categories (this week, I asked her to encourage me to curb my online shopping). As always, she starts her counting, and I get the imaginary, not-at-all-kinky massage oil and sink into the chair.
I don’t know if continuing my sessions is doing me any good at this point — I don’t feel a burst of enthusiasm for nutrition when I leave her office or anything like that — but I do know that I now have control over food. I eat when I’m hungry, and, most of the time, I stop when I’m full. (And I haven’t bought anything online since my last session.)
Maybe it was the hypnosis, or maybe it was the newfound knowledge about my body type (I tend to think it’s a combination of the two), but after ten weeks and five sessions, I’ve lost 21 pounds. I still have nearly 30 to go, and I know my weight loss has to slow down at some point, but for the first time I can remember, I truly believe I will reach my goal. And I’m sticking to my eating plan.
Sure, I have a cheat here and there (four of my husband’s fries, one bite of his ice cream), but it’s almost always a conscious decision, and it doesn’t derail my entire diet. In fact, it doesn’t even derail my day. I’m able to get right back on track — something I’d never been able to do before.