I went to a hypnotherapist because I wanted to lose weight — but I learned something much deeper about myself

Full disclosure: The headline to this story is somewhat misleading. This isn’t a story of weight loss, though that was a side effect. This is about finding a path (a path I didn’t expect to find) to the healthiest, happiest version of myself.

Since college, but probably earlier than that, I have had pretty unhealthy eating habits. Once I had the newfound freedom of living outside of my parents’ house, I ate whatever I wanted, and lots of it at a time. I could hardly contain my excitement by the 24-hour dining halls freshman year. Waffle makers, stocked shelves of bagels, endless cascades of Frosted Flakes from a cereal spout. Surely this must be Heaven, I thought.

These habits continued and worsened in the coming years. I would eat until I was uncomfortable, especially when alone. It became somewhat of an obsession. I thought about food every minute of the day, and my daily life was punctuated and even dictated by meals. While eating, I felt warm and happy and comforted, but because I often overdid it, the feelings would shift into shame and guilt.

My obsession with food served as a backdrop to my life — not the focus. I still had a fairly normal social/dating life, good friends, hobbies, travels, and a career. I would have a week or two here and there of regular exercise and a balanced diet, always followed by dropping those habits and going back to my default lifestyle. I was never able to sustain anything healthy for long.

About three years ago, my eating habits intensified. I got married, and the first year was more difficult than I had expected. I turned to food for comfort, which resulted in rapid weight gain, decreased energy, and what felt a lot like depression.

Desperate for help climbing out of that hole, I turned to a doctor, who prescribed a diet medication that was basically glorified speed. It curbed my appetite and gave me the energy to exercise more vigorously than my body ever could before. It even made me “happy,” if not manic. I lost 40 pounds in five months. Due to a long list of terrifying risks, I couldn’t stay on that pill forever, and gained back 20 pounds very quickly after the prescription was up.

To mitigate the weight gain, I began starving myself on weekdays and binging on weekends. I had to force myself to exercise on “fasting” days, because I read somewhere that it’s the best way to ensure you are burning fat, but I was completely depleted of energy (duh), so I could never last much longer than 10-15 minutes. All of this effort, my obsession with the number on the scale each morning, the loss of about a pound or two a day and then the gain of 3-4 pounds on the weekends — what was getting accomplished? Nothing, except making myself emotionally and physically miserable.

I finally decided to try something totally different: Hypnotherapy.

I’d heard about hypnotherapy for weight loss before, but I was skeptical. I contacted a licensed hypnotherapist named Pramala in the closest city to me (about two hours — I live in the boonies) who had great reviews. We had a phone call, in which she said she could do hypnosis over FaceTime. I booked an appointment, relieved I wouldn’t have to spend four hours driving for something that might be a scam, meanwhile anxious for what the session would entail.

It turned out Pramala was lovely. A middle-aged woman with a warm smile and a total lack of judgment in her eyes — from what I could tell through a screen. We spent the first hour much like a standard therapy session, discussing my challenges, feelings, and background. I’d thought I had my food and body issues all figured out (or at least what they stemmed from), but Pramala quickly zeroed in on an aspect of my childhood that had never occurred to me as the root. As soon as she pointed it out, I was a sobbing mess.

I learned that my food issues had a direct correlation to the traumatic events that happened during my childhood.

We didn’t dwell on it. It seemed only important that we pinpoint it, so she could use it as a tool in the hypnosis. We then discussed my day-to-day routines, which at the time, mainly consisted of distraction from hunger through work, sleep, or my social life. Pramala then went over a new routine with me that involved eating small meals throughout the day. I told her I didn’t know how to eat without stopping. She said that I did know how — all I needed was to take control. Oh, thanks for the tip, I was thinking. I’ve never thought of that.

She had me sit back and close my eyes, and she began the hypnosis. It started with imagining a soft, warm light traveling through my body, followed by an elevator that took me down through three levels of relaxation. At this point, I was fully conscious, but my body and eyelids felt heavy and I was entranced with everything she said. When the “elevator doors opened,” I was supposed to find myself in the first memory I had of being ugly or inferior. To my surprise, I was there immediately, inside of a memory that I hadn’t thought about in at least ten years. Once I established those surroundings, and how I had felt in that moment, she had me separate myself, as an outsider looking in, and then hug the young me. She told me to tell this child that I loved her, that she was beautiful and funny and smart, and that she would grow up to be loved and beautiful inside and out.

It was one of the most freeing things I have ever experienced. Pramala had me go back and do the same thing with two more memories, and with each one, I felt lighter, relieved.

On to present day Carrie — her habits had to change. And hypnotherapy guided that change.

After the childhood memories, we went into the present. She took me through a regular day. I wake up, I am in control, I make myself breakfast and savor each bite, then stop eating when I feel satisfied. She went through each meal and snack that way, even made room in the day for me to take my dog for a walk. She closed with me congratulating myself on being in control of my own life and decisions, and she counted me out of the hypnotized state.

After our session, she sent me a recording of the daily routine hypnosis for me to start each day with. I listen to it most days, though occasionally I forget or don’t have time. Since the session, I have not deprived myself of food once. I haven’t even forced myself to give up carbs. I eat what I want to eat, and I stop when I’m satisfied. Food even tastes more delicious, now that I’m not eating mindlessly anymore.

I even walk the dog every day, and it doesn’t feel like a chore. It is a given, and even a treat, where I used to dread it and have to force myself to do it.

Pramala and I have had one other session since, just to be sure all my past hang-ups are addressed and released, and my new lifestyle is reinforced, but it’s not something that needs to be done weekly for the rest of my life. She said I can stop and start the daily recordings as needed, because eventually this will be second nature. It already feels like it is just over a month later.

Though my priority was weight loss when I sought out a hypnotherapist, these sessions have changed my perspective. My weight was never the problem. Years of yo-yo dieting, starvation, binging, shaming and punishing myself, and being obsessed with food while never truly tasting it — all of this was hurting my physical and mental health. I needed a sustainable, healthy change so that I could enjoy a longer, happier life. I needed to face the nasty thoughts and feelings I had internalized (subconsciously) all these years. I’m relieved that I found this solution as early in life as I did. I’m not sure I realized just how unhappy I was, until the day I wasn’t anymore.