Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Representation of Food in an Eating Disorder

(This blog was originally posted on April 11, 2016)

Photo by Rick Hustead

According to Dr. John Kepner, a hypnotherapist and expert in treating eating disorders, anorexia nervosa (self-starvation) and bulimia (bingeing and purging) tend to be learned behaviors without an obvious organic cause. However, these syndromes can result in severe physiological consequences, including death. These individuals can also experience extreme levels of depression and high levels of emotional suggestibility (somnambulism), he warned.

Children, adolescents and adults who suffer from these diseases have an uneasy relationship with food, Dr. Kepner observed. On the one hand, food is often associated with nurturing and being loved or cared for during infancy and early childhood, because the primary caretaker is fulfilling this basic survival requirement. On the other hand, the individual may experience separation anxiety and even suffer generalized anxiety if the parent or primary caretaker does not love or take care of the person.

Social pressures and expectations to be slim can also influence these behaviors, such as the frequent emphasis society and the media places on being thin as the “ideal” physique. The majority of the population does not look the way people are seen in movies, on television and in fashion advertisements. However, someone who has one of these eating disorders will tend to process this message to an extreme degree and is already hyper-suggestible to these messages. Ultimately, Dr. Kepner warned, the person starts to believe that achieving this ideal super-skinny shape or low weight is a panacea for all his or her emotional problems, such as resolving fear of abandonment issues or finding a loving partner.

In this person’s mind, food becomes an “enemy” whereby the idea of food/eating leads to getting fat and will result in being unloved. This trans-logic process would evoke anxiety about food or eating, thus inducing the person to simply not eat (anorexia) or induce vomiting or use diuretics and laxatives to get rid of any sustenance (bulimia) that has been ingested. Needless to say, “Anorexics and bulimics rarely seek hypnosis for fear of being revealed or made to gain weight,” said Hypnosis Motivation Institute founder Dr. John Kappas.

If a client does come in for therapy, a good starting point for this process is to “start moving the client to physical suggestibility, to come outside herself and get control over her symptoms, said Dr. Kepner. It is important to get the client to accept suggestions about gaining weight in hypnosis and in cognitive therapy, Dr. Kappas added.

In order to work with a person who has anorexia nervosa or bulimia in hypnosis, the hypnotherapist must refer this client to a licensed medical doctor or mental-health professional for treatment, Dr. Kappas said. With a referral from an appropriate licensed professional to make this diagnosis and for treatment, the hypnotherapist may also work with the client to help to increase the person’s self-confidence/self-esteem, support compliance with recommended treatment regimens, etc., through hypnosis and therapeutic guided-imagery techniques. Hypnosis and therapeutic-guided imagery strategies can also facilitate the client's compliance with recommended treatment regimens, etc., and encourage the client and his or her family to work with the mental-health expert to resolve Family Systems issues.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
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