Eating disorders

To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself


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Does hypnotherapy work for eating disorders?

Hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective at disrupting eating disorders and their maintaining patterns. Eating disorders are serious, complex and vary wildly for person to person.

To get results the eating disorder needs to be treated on many levels and often benefit from a multiple treatment program.

Some of the common issues which hypnotherapy can deal with include:

  • your relationship with food and yourself
  • identify the underlying causes
  • dealing with the emotional aspect
  • changing negative behaviour patterns
  • improving your self-confidence and self-image
  • challenging your automatic negative thoughts
  • encourage more positive thinking patterns
  • reducing stress and anxiety

How does hypnosis work for eating disorders?

Eating is one of the many ways through which our emotions and distress can be expressed.

Understanding feelings and behaviours linked to certain eating disorders can be helpful.

Hypnotherapy for eating disorders works by promoting an overall change in mindset. Hypnotherapy enables you to change eating disorders that cannot be changes through education, willpower, threats, or motivation alone.

In hypnotherapy, you are empowered to work on an unconscious and conscious level to change beliefs and behaviours that are maintaining the eating disorder.

Hypnotherapy helps you to:

  • build a positive relationship with food
  • deal with the root cause of your eating disorder
  • address any emotional issues around yourself, food and eating
  • turn negative habits into positive ones
  • adopt new eating habits, so your eating is balanced
  • become aware of the negative thought patterns, so you can change them
  • feel more confident and happier within yourself, so you naturally start eating healthier food
Woman With Anorexia On Bed

Hypnosis for restrictive eating

Hypnosis for picky eating can help you to recognise what your current eating limitations are, set goals around what you would like to try and change, whilst still maintaining boundaries around things you aren’t comfortable or ready to change. A hypnotherapist can help you to recognise any traumatic past experiences with foods, identify specific food anxieties, and apply mindfulness techniques to help make mealtimes and trying new foods a less stressful experience.

Hypnotherapy techniques for eating disorders?


Regression is the technique to affect a conscious understanding of a your unconscious. Regression can be used to remove the anxiety or other emotional state associated with a traumatic event from the past – usually from childhood. When we locate the root cause of a problem or symptom and resolve it in the mind, it can resolve many issues all at the same time, at a very deep level.

changing negative self-perception:

How you see yourself impacts on how you think and behave. Many eating disorders can be caused or worsened by a negative self-image. You spend a lot of time worrying about flaws in your appearance, your behaviour, or your abilities.

We can identify and correct false beliefs and negative perceptions of yourself.

Changing unhelpful thinking habits

We tend to develop unhelpful thinking habits such as being too self-critical. Once identified you become more aware of unhelpful thinking patterns. Enabling you to challenge yourself and see the situation in a more helpful way.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing resolves issues from your past. Disturbing experiences can continue to cause you distress because the experience was not adequately processed. These unprocessed memories are understood to contain the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and physical sensations that occurred at the time of the event. When the memories are triggered these stored disturbing elements are experienced and can cause the symptoms of eating disorders.


Hypnotherapy encourages your body to activate its natural relaxation response, reducing levels of stress and anxiety, and instilling and overall sense of well-being.

Imagining/triggering something that makes you feel anxious whilst maintaining a deeply relaxed state helps associate the trigger with a relaxation response instead of an anxious

Relaxation techniques alone can help ease anxiety associated with eating disorders.


Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques. You can learn to perform breathing exercises or techniques to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. During breathwork you intentionally change your breathing pattern.

Many people find breathwork promotes deep relaxation or leaves them feeling energized.

eating junk

What are eating disorders?

An eating problem means any relationship with food that is difficult for you. Not every eating problem will be diagnosed as an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is a mental health condition where you use food to cope with feelings and situations.
This may include eating too much or too little or worrying about your weight or body shape.

You can recover from an eating disorder with treatment.

Diagnosing an eating disorder

Eating disorders can sometimes be diagnosed by a GP or you may be referred to a specialist in mental health. The diagnosis involves a full assessment of your psychological and physical wellbeing, as well as the specific eating disorder symptoms. The criteria for making a diagnosis cover physical health, attitudes to weight, body shape, and behaviour. Sometimes an assessment can involve medical tests to look at your physical health and rule out other causes of the symptoms. Tests include blood tests to check fluid and nutritional levels, an ECG (Electrocardiograph) to examine heart function and bone densitometry to assess bone density. Different types of eating disorders have different symptoms and diagnostic criteria.

It can be difficult getting a formal diagnosis: If your problems with eating aren’t easy to categorise, you might not get a diagnosis. You may have a very difficult relationship with food that doesn’t fit into any current diagnoses. You may be experiencing more than one eating disorder, or symptoms from multiple disorders.

However, you should not need an eating disorder diagnosis to get treatment for an eating problem.

Who is most likely to have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are common and becoming increasingly common. It is estimated that 8.4% for women and 2.2% of men will experience some form of eating disorder during their lifetime.

Anyone can get an eating disorder, but teenagers between 13 and 17 are mostly affected.

Eating disorders do not discriminate and can occur in people of any age, weight, size, shape, gender identity, sexuality, cultural background or socioeconomic group.

Long-term impact of an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can affect your physically, mentally and impact on your life. You can experience behavioural problems, medical complications, social isolation, disability and an increased risk of death as a result of medical complications or suicide. If you suffer from anorexia nervosa you may be up to 31 times more likely to commit suicide and 7.5 times higher if you suffer with bulimia nervosa. The eating disorder does just affect you, but often it often affects the people around you.

What are the symptoms of eating disorders?

Eating disorder symptoms can show themselves in many ways. You might eat less than you need and not have enough energy to function properly. Or you might eat more than you need and may make yourself be sick afterward to ‘purge’ what has been eaten. You may even struggle with food types, variety, textures, or smells which can have a significant impact on your diet and overall well-being.

Symptoms can be either physical, psychological or behavioural.

How many hypnosis sessions are needed to treat eating disorders?

The number of hypnotherapy sessions required for lasting change is different for everyone. Whilst Hypnotherapy is not a magic wand, it does help you create positive change in a relatively short period of time. How long it takes to see results from hypnotherapy can vary based your individual goals and personal circumstances. Typically for anxiety and stress related issues, a minimum of 4 – 8 sessions are required to benefit.

Sick Teenage Girl

Physical symptoms of eating disorders

 Physical symptoms include:

  • frequent changes in weight or sudden weight loss
  • disturbed sleeping patterns
  • osteoporosis – brittle bones
  • extreme sensitivity to cold or warm weather
  • feeling fainting, dizzy or tired
  • swollen jawlines and teeth damage caused by frequent vomiting
  • constipation
  • excess body hair growth
  • headaches
  • skin problems
  • Frequent minor illnesses
  • muscles weakness
  • amenorrhea – periods stopping which can lead to infertility
  • stomach pains
  • acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • low blood pressure (anorexia) or high blood pressure (bulimia and binge eating)

Psychological symptoms include:

  • feeling out of control
  • ashamed of how much you eat
  • excessive worrying about your body shape, weight and food calorie values
  • depression and/or anxiety
  • fear of gaining weight
  • a negative body image
  • anxiety around mealtimes
  • being overly sensitive to comments about appearance
  • irritability
  • Anger issues
  • low self-esteem
  • difficulty thinking clearly

 Behavioural symptoms include:

  • eating large amounts all at once (bingeing)
  • eating without thinking about it
  • often eating unhealthy food
  • eating when you feel stressed, upset, bored or unhappy
  • eating until you feel uncomfortably full or sick
  • using laxatives or vomiting
  • constantly weighing yourself
  • wearing baggy clothes to hide weight gain or loss
  • lying about eating habits
  • constantly making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
  • excessive calories counting
  • avoiding eating with around other people
  • obsessive and ritualistic behaviours, such as cutting food into tiny pieces.
  • eating very slowly to make it appear as though you are eating more food
  • hiding food
  • excessive exercising
  • refusing to admit that you have a problem or the seriousness of the problem

Warning signs of an eating disorder in someone else

An eating disorder can be a very isolating condition. People who have a genuine fear of food will avoid places where food where there is food. This can lead to avoiding seeing people so they can stay where they can control their exposure to food. Isolation is a big risk factor for depression.

Eating disorders can make people feel worthless and this may lead them to self-harm. The feeling of being out of control can have a impact on their ability to function normally.

Many people will experience feeling trapped because they are not able to control their issues around food and those issues now control them. The feeling of being trapped can lead to issues with guilt. Guilt then leads to frustration.

Those people who have eating disorders may feel as though they are selfish because of the effect that their condition has on the people around them.

Some examples of the effect that the condition has on their life include:

  • physical illness
  • Lack of confidence and low self-esteem
  • distorted body image
  • planning their day around food
  • less interest in socializing
  • Feeling of having no hope for the future

How eating disorders affect others

Family members of people suffering from an eating disorder may find that they are continually arguing about what to do in order to help. They may not know whether to confront them about it so that they can get support or whether this will make the situation worse.

If the individual will not go to any place where food might be present or avoid eating around people this can affect people around them.

How eating disorders affect the brain

Researchers have found that eating disorders alter the brain’s reward response process and food intake control circuitry, which can reinforce these behaviours.

One study enrolled 197 women with different eating disorders (including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and other specified feeding and eating disorders) , as well as 120 women without eating disorders. The researchers found that there was no connection between BMI, eating disorder behaviour, and brain reward response in the group of women without eating disorders. The group of women with eating disorders showed that their reward response system had been altered. For example, women with anorexia nervosa, restrictive food intake, and low BMIs had a response that strengthen their food intake-control circuitry, leading these women to be able to override hunger cues. In contrast, the opposite seems to be the case for women with binge-eating episodes and higher BMIs.

What causes eating disorders?

It is now believed that part of the problem has to do with how our brains process information about the environment and the body. People suffering from eating disorders may have had one or more of the following traits even as a young child: anxious, sensitive, obsessive, perfectionist, impulsive, difficult to soothe. These personality traits may indicate differences in brain function that put young people at risk of developing eating disorders.

it is also believed that eating disorders involve disturbances in the pathways of the brain involved in managing mood, emotions, reward, memory, fear, and attention.

Although we do not know exactly what causes eating disorders, they may include:

  • having a family history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug misuse
  • having been criticised for your eating habits, body shape or weight
  • feeling pressure to stay slim
  • having anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality or are a perfectionist
  • experiencing upsetting events, such as a death or abuse

The most common characteristic of an eating disorder is the obsession with weight and body shape.
Research into whether biological factors such as imbalances of chemicals in the brain can cause eating disorders has not yet proven.
Major life changes and trauma are believed to trigger eating disorders in some individuals.

Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any stage of their lives, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or background. Those who develop eating problems can have a distorted relationship with food. This may be due to trying and cope with an underlying emotional problem, such as anxiety, stress, or feeling like you have lost control over some areas of your life. This can also lead to your attitude towards food – and how you see yourself – becoming distorted.

anxious girl biting nails

Does dieting cause eating disorders

Imagine two people starting a diet together, and one gives up after a week and the other not only continues but becomes obsessive and underweight. It is likely that the difference between them is a difference in how their brains respond to less food. The one who ends the diet is responding to the biological need to eat normally. People respond differently to a diet. It is probably a person’s response to a diet can reveal an eating disorder. Rather than the diet itself causing the eating disorder.

Studies indicate that anorexia nervosa patients are able to ignore signals from the brain to eat that most people cannot resist. There is also evidence that anorexia nervosa patients may feel less reward from eating and feel some relief from anxiety when under-eating.

Types of eating disorders

There are many different types of eating disorder, this section covers the most common types.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is restricting how much you eat to keep your weight as low as possible by not eating enough or over-exercising, or a combination of the two Bulimia nervosa – eating a lot of food in a short time (bingeing) and then doing something to stop yourself gaining weight such as making yourself sick (purging) or using laxatives. This can also be accompanied by over-exercising.

Binge eating disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is eating large portions of food at one time until you feel uncomfortably or painfully full. As with bulimia, you won’t feel in control of your eating.  This can often be followed by feelings of guilt, upset, or shame.

Emotional overeating

Emotional overeating is using food to cope with negative feelings. These can be feelings like anxiety or depression. Eating food may help you to feel comforted.
Many people use food to help manage feelings; it’s normal. It may become a problem if this is the only technique that you have, or you are beginning to feel out of control. Emotional overeating can cause feelings of guilt and shame.

Selective eating disorder and Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

Selective eating disorder is when someone avoids certain foods, limits how much they eat or does both. Selective eating disorder comes under the umbrella of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is more than just being a fussy eater; people with ARFID may have a phobia about certain foods, a very restricted diet, a negative reaction to certain tastes, textures or even swallowing.

Reasons for ARFID include:

  • negative feelings over the taste, texture or smell of certain foods
  • a response to an experience with food that was traumatic, for example, being sick or choking after eating something
  • not feeling hungry or just a lack of interest in eating

People do not generally develop ARFID because of their beliefs about weight or body shape.

Orthorexia nervosa

Orthorexia is a proposed eating disorder, not a recognised clinical diagnosis. Orthorexia is when you pay too much attention to eating healthy or pure food. It may begin as a healthy diet but becomes obsessive. You may become socially isolated because you plan your life around food.


Pica is often eating things that aren’t food such as chalk, paint, stones and clothing. There is no nutritional benefit from eating these items and some can be harmful. Pica can lead to further health concerns such as dental and stomach problems.

Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is chewing and spit out food without swallowing it or bring food back up that you’ve already eaten and swallowed.

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) is having symptoms of an eating disorder, but those symptoms do not fully match anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. Previously, OSFED was known as ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS).


Treatment for eating disorders

Eating disorders need to be treated on many levels and often benefit from a multiple treatment program. Treatment typically includes a combination of hypnosis, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition education, and can sometimes involve addressing other health problems caused by the eating disorder.

Hypnosis for eating disorders:

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis to create a favourable environment to make changes at a subconscious as well as conscious level.


During Hypnosis psychotherapeutic techniques help you to:

  • achieve a healthy weight and improve your eating habits
  • change negative, unhealthy habits for positive, healthy ones
  • learn how to monitor your moods and your eating
  • explore ways to cope with stress
  • improve your relationships
  • improve your mood

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT):

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on behaviours, thoughts and feelings related to your eating disorder. CBT helps you learn to recognize and change distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorder behaviours.

Nutrition education

Nutrition education helps you to better understand your eating disorder and help you develop a plan to achieve and maintain healthy eating habits.  Nutrition education help you to:

  • work toward a healthy weight
  • understand how food affects your body, including being aware of how you’re eating disorder causes nutrition issues and physical problems
  • practice meal planning
  • establish regular eating patterns
  • avoid dieting, bingeing or purging
  • improve health problems that are a result of your eating disorder

Addressing health problems

Eating disorders can cause health problems related to not getting enough food, overeating, bingeing, and other factors. The type of health problems caused by eating disorders depends on the type and severity of the eating disorder.

Health problems linked to eating disorders may include:

  • electrolyte imbalances, which can disrupt the normal functioning of your muscles, heart and nerves
  • heart problems and high blood pressure
  • IBS or digestive problems
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • dental cavities and erosion of the surface of your teeth from frequent vomiting (bulimia)
  • low bone density (osteoporosis) as a result of irregular or absent menstruation or long-term malnutrition (anorexia)
  • stunted growth (anorexia)
  • lack of menstruation and problems with infertility and pregnancy

Getting help with eating disorders

If you think you may have an eating disorder, see your GP as soon as you can. Your GP will ask about your eating habits and how you’re feeling, plus check your overall health and weight. They may refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists.

It can be very hard to admit that you think you may have a problem and ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.

Getting help for someone else

It can be difficult to know what to do if you’re worried that someone has an eating disorder.
They may not realise they have an eating disorder. They may also deny it or hide their eating or weight.
Let them know you’re concerned about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.

Support for eating disorders in UK