Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist, and Dr. Chris van Tulleken, research scientist and TV presenter, took 75 overweight volunteers on a diet programme lasting for three months, during which many of the participants had life-changing experiences.
Armed with ‘hidden’ cameras and aided and abetted by various ‘obesity scientists’ from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, they set about testing the theory that if you are trying to lose weight, you need a diet that is tailored to your specific type of eating habits. The type of over-eater the participants were depended on the results of lab tests based on their genes, their hormones, or their psychological profiles. The results saw them grouped into 3 categories:
1. Feasters – those people who once they started eating just couldn’t stop. These people had a hormone deficiency which meant that once they were physically full the signal to their brain was much weaker and so they wanted to keep on eating.
2. Emotional Eaters – those people who tended to ‘comfort eat’ in response to stress or depression.
3. Constant Cravers – those people whose genes disrupted the signals to the brain to say they were full so were constantly thinking about food and craving it all the time.
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I was beginning to theorise how I might use hypnotherapy or mindfulness techniques with these three categories of over-eaters.
The series of three programmes, showing their progress over a period of three months, involved:
The Feasters – being given a non-stop sushi buffet. The normal intake for most people in this situation would be 5 or 6 bowls. The feasters were seen to consume up to 17 bowls.
The Emotional Eaters – these people were put into stressful situations such as retaking a fake driving test and abseiling down a very tall lighthouse. They also underwent brain scans where they were induced into experiencing a low mood and then monitored when they anticipated the ‘comfort food’ of their choice.
The Constant Cravers – were subjected to a grip-force test 2 hours after a main meal, where they were presented with different foods. The force with which they gripped the monitoring equipment showed how much they desired that food at that particular time; they were also taken to a fun-fair where they had to wear glasses fitted up with cameras to show where their attention was drawn.
The diets they were given for the next three months depended on which group they fell into:
The Feasters were given diets that made them feel full (high protein/low gi) – fish, chicken, pasta, lentils, basmati rice.
The Constant Cravers were told to go on an intermittent fasting diet which required that their calorie intake on just two days a week was no higher than 800. They also had to cut out bread, pasta and fruit but could eat meat, eggs, fish and vegetables.
The Emotional Eaters were told to undergo a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy coupled with group support meetings such a diet clubs.
By the end of the three month study, the group of 75 people had lost a total of 103 stone, and the one who’d lost the most had lost a massive 3st 4lb.
Having watched the programmes, I concluded that hypnotherapy and mindfulness, or a combination of both, could help all three categories of over-eaters:
The most obvious one was the Emotional Eaters – hypnotherapy employs techniques based on Cognitive Behaviour – in other words, understanding why we do things and recognising when we do them so we may have more control over what we actually do. Hypnotherapy can also work successfully with helping people to increase their motivation to do something. The relaxation employed in hypnotherapy also helps to overcome the stress response.
Mindfulness could easily help with the Feasters. At one point, they were advised to eat their food more slowly. This enables the level of their gut hormone to increase to a level that makes them feel full. Mindfulness encourages us to relish every single mouthful of food (or drink) and to really take our time to enjoy it. I regularly take mindfulness meditation sessions which involve people making a single raisin last for over twenty minutes!
The Constant Cravers could also be helped with hypnotherapy. It was suggested that the Constant Cravers tried to see the world of food in a very different way. In other words, instead of looking at fast food outlets and snack bars as friendly things, they were encouraged to see them more as ‘the enemy’ trying to get them to stay overweight. Hypnotherapy often involves getting people to ‘reframe’ the world, or parts of it, into a more helpful one just as the participants were trying to do here.
So, by the end of the series, it was really interesting to see how well these people had got on with their weight-loss programmes.
More interestingly for me, it was good to know that each type of over-eater could be helped using techniques from both hypnotherapy and mindfulness.