Whether it’s America’s obesity epidemic, body-image fueled eating disorders, or issues of disliking a certain kind of food, one of the most common questions that helping professionals hear is “why is it so hard to change how I eat?”
Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock of Hawaii Hypnosis Center says the problem is that food is deeply engrained in our cultures and upbringing. “Almost every social event a child experiences involves food,” she explains. “From birthday cakes to pizza parties and from beach barbecues to shave ice on a hot summer day, food is everywhere in the happy occasions of childhood.”
This complex connection to food stays with people and creates a belief that food is somehow the source of childhood happiness. Later in life, when someone has a tough day, the mind can create an urge for sweets or unhealthy foods as a way to help them feel better. “The bad foods weren’t actually responsible for the joy we experienced as a kid,” Beverly adds. “Yet the young mind can often develop these erroneous beliefs around something as important as food, especially when the belief is reinforced event after event in childhood. When the joy of companionship and celebration is attached to food, it can seriously undermine efforts to eat healthy later in life.”
Even more challenging can be when a traumatic event occurs around food, such as child who chokes, vomits, gets food poisoning, or has a food allergy. Beverly says those events can create an anxiety-inducing relationship with food. She says that several clients have come to Hawaii Hypnosis Center because they were experiencing a fear or phobia related to food. “Some can’t eat certain kinds of foods. Others may be fearful of allergic reactions or frightened of eating out after a food-borne illness scare such as when a local sushi chain was linked to a hepatitis outbreak on Oahu last year.”
These complex fears around food can be challenging to address without proper access to the underlying subconscious mind. “There are many people who are impacted by an anxiety that prevents them from eating in restaurants or eating with other people,” Beverly adds. “Hypnosis can be useful to locate and resolve the mistaken origins of the fear.”
It isn’t just childhood positive and negative experiences with food that lead to challenges. In the teen years, Beverly says that the relationship with food becomes even more complex, especially for young women. “When we begin to emerge into our dating years, we become much more aware of our body image,” she says. “Powerful and ever-present advertising images often tell young people how they should look.”
Eating problems in teens can be serious and life threatening. Beverly urges parents to seek appropriate and professional help. “There are therapists, counselors, and treatment centers that specialize in eating disorders. Getting help is critical. As hypnotists, we work on referral from these experts to help sufferers realign the underlying emotional relationship with food and body image. It’s a complex and layered process, for sure.” While girls have traditionally been more likely to experience food-related body image issues, more and more young men are turning to illegal or risky health supplements to try and get the perfect beach body.
Beverly says parents play a key role in how teens develop their entire food lives. “The most important thing a parent can do is teach children that food is fuel and not a distractor to avoid dealing with issues. Also to make sure social events are about the social atmosphere of being with friends and family and to take the focus off of the food aspect of the event.”
She also encourages parents to place the family emphasis on health, not weight or beauty. By starting with healthy conversations early in childhood, food can take on its proper role as a source of energy and nutrition. When built properly in the early years, a healthy relationship with food can last a lifetime.