I’d always been, as my mother was fond of frequently telling everybody, ‘a big girl’. My parents happily gave me the nickname ‘dustbin’, something which they clearly thought of as amusing, but which I feel psychologically degraded me. Yes, I was a big eater, but I was also a child and labels like that stick and do untold damage to your self-esteem.
But what was to affect my life seriously happened when I was eight – a close relative abused me. That day, when it first happened, is the day I lost my childhood. In the beginning, I just wanted to become invisible. I felt unable to confide in my strict parents. The thought of having to tell them that one of their own close relations was a perpetrator filled me with fear.
My only comfort was in eating. I’d later learn that where abuse exists, it is common that food becomes an issue in the victim’s life. The pain they have suffered comes out in one of a number of ways; they could go on to develop an eating disorder where food is strictly controlled, such as in anorexia, or they eat large quantities of food and purge, or they make the connection between eating and finding a temporary escape from the feelings of hurt. I always had this sense that I was somehow different from my parents from a young age. Not only physically – I was always very tall for my age and towered over my sister so I stuck out like a sore thumb – but also in terms of personality.
I soon became a ‘reflection dodger’ – avoiding mirrors, windows and photographs, because whenever I was forced to confront what I looked like, I hated myself and would mentally castigate myself with a mantra of ‘you’re fat, you’re ugly and you’re useless’. The more self-loathing I felt, the more I ate. It was a cycle I just couldn’t break. Even though I went to slimming clubs and seemed to be constantly following a diet, I ended up with the same results. After initial success, those old feelings would resurface and cause me to fall off the diet wagon. Marriage became a feature and not only did I find it impossible to shed the baby weight I’d gained, I spent a great deal of time looking after the kids on my own as my husband worked away for months at a time, and food became my only focus when I was lonely and alone. I grazed all day, hungry or not, on savouries like cheese, meats, mayonnaise and bread products. At this time, I’d dwell on the past and that sense that I felt totally disconnected emotionally permeated my relationships.
Friendships were transient. I never really gave anything of myself emotionally, so I didn’t develop any of those lasting female friendships that might have supported me. I was highly self-conscious and very aware of people’s stares whenever I went out in public. By the time I was 40, I was diagnosed as clinically obese by my GP. I weighed 108kg and fatigued by diets and having my hopes dashed of any chance to change, I felt weight loss was a metaphorical mountain to climb and I just didn’t have the emotional strength to try. It was in my 50s that I moved to Dubai with my husband, and although I was very overweight, it had stayed static. Being far from home and feeling isolated, Dubai offered food riches that I plundered and my weight didn’t just creep up, it rocketed, tipping the scales at 120kg – the heaviest I had ever been.
I had gone to my doctor to see if I could seek dietary support of some description – I knew I needed help. While I was actually in the doctor’s surgery I happened to be flicking through Friday magazine and came across an article that was to change my life once again. I’m a real believer in fate and I felt that day it was my fate to read a story about a man named Russell Hemmings who had helped a young woman called Sarah lose weight after she had been publicly humiliated because she was too fat to fit in an airline seat. I was so inspired by the story and felt such an overwhelming sense that I had found the answer to my weight issues that I contacted Russell’s office the minute I got home. A few days later, I received a call scheduling an appointment and when I finally met Russell, I knew he was someone I could relate to.
In that first meeting I probably only told him 10 per cent of what I was actually feeling. But Russell was so perceptive that he got straight to the heart of the matter with the question ‘Why do you think it’s food you turn to when you feel low?’ I felt so at ease, even during that first meeting, that I almost spoke about what had happened to me, but couldn’t quite find the words. I had never told anyone about that chapter in my life, not even my husband. Those feelings were buried deep and it was a closed book as far as I was concerned. At the end of that first session, we had just talked and got to know each other, but I was anxious that when we progressed on to the hypnotherapy stage, all would be revealed and I would be forced to confront those painful memories head on.
What happened next was truly remarkable. Russell said to me ‘Anne, I sense you are deeply troubled by something. I never ever push my clients beyond boundaries they feel comfortable with, but if and when you feel ready to share what is at the heart of how you’re feeling, I will be here for you and ready to listen.’ I was so struck by his words that when the next session came around, I felt such a powerful sense that this man could help take away the burden that I had been carrying around for years, I finally broke through the barrier and began to tell him my story. He listened with real empathy, never judging or pitying me, but simply allowing me the space to release the pent-up pain and anger that I felt. Finally, he told me that he was going to hypnotise me and that he understood why I had been cautious, but there was no need to worry, everything would be alright… and it was!
I left that second session feeling relaxed, relieved and totally empowered. Russell uses a combination of talking therapy, life coaching and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy. He had arranged for me to access one of his recordings, which would help me with self-hypnosis and portion control hypnosis. Thanks to this I could carry on practising self hypnosis at home. Hypnosis is a skill and like any skill, the more you practise the better you become. Over the next few sessions I began to feel transformed on the inside and I started to see the changes on the outside. The emotional burden had been lifted and its physical manifestation – my weight – started to fall away. I felt energised, began to eat healthily and exercise. This time it felt so different. I didn’t have to eat special food, I just listened to my body.
Russell taught me to tune in to my actual hunger signals as opposed to my emotional hunger signals and as he explained, the hypnotherapy did the rest, working on my subconscious to make positive healthy life choices for myself. The talking therapy helped enormously too. Talking therapy helps you work out how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings to enable positive change. However, this is personal to each client and Russell does not share these methods publicly. Russell allowed me to see myself in a completely different light. Before I had always felt like I had to adopt a persona; put on my ‘Anne mask’, but with every session I felt that dissipating. I felt like all of those years of trying to escape those feelings of guilt and shame and failure were dropping away – along with the weight – and I was discovering the ‘real me’.
No longer did I feel the need to fill the void with food. The void had gone, and so had the comfort eating. Soon my clothes were hanging off me. In the first three weeks, I lost 5kg. And I can safely say, I have never wanted to go back to the old Anne. It’s not all been plain sailing, I’ve had a couple of wobbles, but each time I’ve simply gone back to listen to Russell’s words and have felt a renewed sense of purpose.
Now I’m 25kg lighter after six months and I’m still on my momentous weight loss journey, my target being 80kg, and I have total faith that one day I’ll get there.