Bulimia and Anorexia are similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I have seen a significant number of clients (of all ages) with Bulimia. Often, a younger person will begin having Anorexia problems in teenage years, and then progresses into a "management phase" where it develops into Bulimia. Sufferers can exist like this for many years before seeking help.
I have to add a disclaimer here because, unfortunately, it doesn't always help. Please don't expect a miracle cure.
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Anorexia Nervosa and Anorexia Builimia are both psychiatric disorders characterized by an unrealistic fear of weight gain, self-starvation, self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives and conspicuous distortion of body image. (Taken from Free Dictionary)
There seems to be a genetic component and so where a family member has Anorexia, you'll often find another member also has either anorexia or bulimia. (This has certainly been my experience.) Many sufferers have a genetic variation that makes them over-react to Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin reduces appetite but also increases anxiety levels. Anxiety itself increases Serotonin and so a vicious cycle forms. When we don't eat, or don't keep hold of any food we do eat, the brain can't make so much Serotonin and so the anxiety level drops significantly. People quickly learn that food "makes them anxious". (Interestingly, treatment with Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which many GPs use as a first treatment for many mental illnesses, would be expected to make the anxiety worse.) This means that, whilst Hypnotherapy can be a useful way to reduce anxiety, and to motivate sufferers, it can't cure these food disorders. However, since it the anxiety that is the main negative effect, Hypnotherapy could be a very important tool.
I have found that every instance of Anorexia is unique. The idea that it's ALL about thinking you're fat, and wanting to die, is just too simplistic (and deeply unfair to the sufferer). Sometimes, it's just about being special - just wanting to feel important, or to get attention from parents. I recall one seventeen year old who got the fright of her life when doctors told her she might die! She continued to find it difficult to eat, but she tried really hard to put weight on. She'd just been pushed to hard by her parents (who "were only trying to help her").
It's very difficult and distressing to constantly watch what you eat. Sufferers desperately want to feel "normal". Most people think that the solution - simply to eat stuff - is so obvious that sufferers want to be ill; that it's quite deliberate to gain attention. The difficulty we all have is in grasping just how much control is actually in the hands of the Unconscious Mind. It's the Boss! If it sees some advantage in pursuing any behaviour, then that's what it will do. There are two principal problems with the Unconscious Mind, though:-
The condition is always accompanied by low self-esteem and a real dislike of their bodies. There is always a reason for this: something has happened or has been happening in the person's life that has skewed their image of the world and their place in it. This can be because of serious events such as sexual abuse or because one or both parents have failed to help him or her to feel that they are loved, no matter what. Many parents see it as their duty to "encourage" children to always do better. The trouble is, a child may often feel that nothing's ever good enough, or that the parents do not love her because she's always failing to live up to their expectations.
When we look in the mirror, we see what we think we ought to see. So, if, for example, a teenage girl feels bad about herself and is in the early stages of Anorexia, her Unconscious will expect to see something bad. Since her parents seem to be treating her better since she started to lose weight, she begins to notice how much more she has to lose before things are perfect.
Before she can be persuaded to start to eat properly, she has to be helped to like herself, which means addressing whatever has happened to her that has lowered her self-esteem and triggered the Anorexia.
Definition: Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder occurring mainly in girls and young women, characterized by episodic binge eating followed by purging or other behaviours designed to prevent weight gain and by excessive influence of body shape and size on the patient's sense of self-worth. (Taken from Free Dictionary)
I believe that Bulimia is a lot more common than is believed by the medical profession. I see many, especially female, clients who simply detest the way they look. Many have previously suffered from Anorexia - conquering this in their late teens, but then carried on hating themselves. (I have successfully treated clients in their 60s.) They often identify fat as evidence, somehow, of their "Badness". I am convinced that Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) plays a huge part in those with bulimia and anorexia.
For most people, the condition developed at some point in their lives, because something was making them unhappy. This means that past events are the cause - something must have happened to bring on the problem. This is where hypnotherapy comes in.
Hypnotherapy, specifically Hypnoanalysis, is a process where the client identifies the events that are causing the problem, and then can change the way they feel about them. The emotional content of any memory is really its meaning - what the event says about the client's place in the world. By changing how you feel about it, you also change how it is able to affect you.
Hypnoanalysis certainly isn't easy option for the client and, unfortunately in my view, because it's not easy for the hypnotherapist either, there are too many therapists who simply never use it. I liken it to having toothache: you know that it will probably hurt when it's treated, but it needs to be done. In hypnosis, you feel safer and more protected, however.
I don't intend to imply that hypnotherapy is some kind of panacea here. However, it can significantly improve how some people feel about how they look, and ultimately who they are.
David Stocks RSM
2 Crowhill Road,
Monday to Friday 9am - 7:30pm
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