Anorexia – A Case Study

NLP Master Practitioner Steve Wichett details his work with a typical sufferer of Anorexia

Jeannie was a bright and intelligent 17 year old, a rather frail looking girl, around 27 pounds under her expected normal body weight. So, not quite in the life-threatening stakes as yet, but with concerns from her parents and herself that she might be heading in that direction.

Nothing else she or her family had tried seemed to have helped her, only reinforcing her issues. Her mother was very worried about the behavioural aspects of all this weight loss, and concerned that she really wasn’t eating enough, was exercising too much, eating the wrong kinds of foods, obsessing about her image, and her health was suffering as a result of this.

When Jeannie spoke to me on the phone about her own concerns, it was as though they belonged to someone else, as though she ‘should be thinking this way’, and ‘feeling this way’, but it was only ever expressed as a detached attitude or a thought, and didn’t really seem to be a deep part of who she was.

So her mother brought Jeannie to see me. She work loose clothing that concealed her actual body shape, and her posture was awkward and contrived. Her periods had become sporadic, and she had recently started feeling weak and often like fainting. She had lost weight quite quickly, and now seemed terrified of regaining any of this.

Although she was only 17, both were happy for her to then be seen privately and individually by me. Knowing that her mother was nearby, but not actually in the room, was the perfect balance for Jeannie, who started to run the processes of fear, doubt and denial that she had run with many other therapists and doctors before, but in a different way – it was almost as though she was displaying these to me, as an example of her habitual old patterns. These didn’t work well for her, but she felt compelled to run them, much like the anorexia itself.

This wasn’t who she ‘was’, it was the way she ‘found herself being at the moment’. Almost as divorced from this as she was from her initial feelings about what was occurring, for her. Knowing this to be the case, it was easy for me to employ a light-hearted sense of humour, an open, friendly, and relaxed (but at the same time purposeful) approach to helping Jeannie. Looking at what was happening for her, in a way that wasn’t about her, in a way that met her own vision of the world, a way that ’conformed’ with what she was doing – so that she could see, in a remote way, how she was being, without that being ‘anything to do with her’.

That meant that there was nothing for her to resist. It also meant that she could start to plan her recovery in a very indirect and ‘distant’ way. How she may want to appear, based on something that wasn’t really immediately present within her, but rather something that was ahead of her, somewhere in her potential future.

Having got that idea firmly in her mind, she could start to fill in the picture, she could start to add many details to what it was she wanted to ‘see herself looking like’. And again, being aware that it wasn’t really who she was, it was just some who she may well find herself becoming, it was very easy for her to step into that. Either one step at a time, or just for brief periods, and then flash out again. Knowing that each time she did that, she was reinforcing within her unconscious mind just how she should feel, and look.

She would rehearse this, with my encouragement and suggestions. Sometimes she would rehearse standing in front of a mirror, looking at herself, and feeling pleased with what she saw as she slowly and steadily regained more of her normal bodyweight and appearance. It meant that her focus wasn’t on eating, quantities, exercising, calorie counting, measuring and deciding, it wasn’t about being good or being bad. It wasn’t about evils and sins, or virtues and graces. It was about how much did she enjoy stepping into who she was becoming, and how much did her unconscious mind realise that this was the way forward, for her to be.

In a relatively short space of time, between six and eight sessions, she found that she could say clearly that she had regained control over her mind, thoughts and feelings. Control over her weight naturally followed. She put on 23 pounds during the time we worked together (a seven and a half month period), and although she was not completely back to her normal expected body weight and appearance, she was so pleased to know that she could move things in the right direction, and never again be worried that it may ‘go too far’ – because she knew exactly how to build for herself the kind of body she wanted.

In the same way that an airline pilot will always course-correct, even though he may not be actually pointing at his destination 100% of the time, maybe being blown off course by headwinds or crosswinds, or stuck in a holding pattern for a while just waiting to land, but eventually landing safely, at the appropriate destination.

So, whatever her goals, her pursuits for the future, whether this was larger body, or a smaller body, more muscle or less muscle, more shapely or less shapely, more hunger or less hunger, she knew just how to do that, by putting in front of herself the perfected image of how she was becoming., and course-correcting to direct herself towards that outcome……..

Note: The above case history is shared with client and parental consent, and with all identifying features changed. © Steve Wichett 2013. All rights reserved.

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