The more we try to educate ourselves on how to be healthy, the clearer it becomes: There is a vast gulf between knowing the healthy thing to do, and actually making yourself do it.
As Eileen Bogo, the clinical nutrition manager at Manatee Memorial Hospital, likes to say about eating right: “Nutrition is the science we all know; we just choose not to follow it.”
While the brain can be a great motivator, even an educated mind can also be our biggest obstacle in the quest to take better care of ourselves. Overthinking is the enemy of doing.
That’s when, says noted Sarasota hypnotist Rena Greenberg, the subconscious has to be addressed.
“When people come see me, consciously they’re motivated,” she says. “Subconsciously they’re programmed—things like, finish everything on your plate, have some cookies and milk when you’re upset. As children, these things are deeply ingrained in our brain.”
Many people are even aware that they’re being sabotaged by negative thoughts. But even that self-awareness doesn’t lead to a healthier outlook.
Among other hypnosis therapies (smoking cessation, etc.), Greenberg specializes in a “gastric bypass hypnosis,” which suggests to the mind that the stomach feel full after three or four or five spoonfuls of food. It’s hard to envision how that works, but Greenberg has been leading hospital-sponsored weight-loss programs for more than 20 years. A life-threatening ailment in her 20s led her to learning on biofeedback machines and eventually self-hypnosis.
Hypnosis, she explains, is a natural state that can sometimes occur almost accidentally—like, say, when you’re driving on the interstate, especially for an extended length of time. (She also uses this example to show that hypnosis does not mean becoming dangerously incapacitated—you’re still functioning, and in a moment’s notice, your conscious mind can return.) The key is that, without the chatter of the conscious mind, you can uncover and make adjustments to that subconscious programming that may be sabotaging your goals.
It’s a tricky thing, to think yourself into not thinking. Greenberg emphasizes a lot of one-on-one analysis to uncover each client’s personal setbacks and thought patterns. Then, after a few sessions, she can recommend personalized self-hypnosis techniques for further improvement and maintenance.
What’s especially cool is that, by tapping into those subconscious ruts—the things that make certain behaviors feel obligatory and unavoidable—the results can be that you’re no longer fighting with your impulses. “On a diet, you’re trying not to think about all the things you don’t get to eat,” she says. “It just makes you want it 10 times more.” She tells me the story of a woman who wanted to lose weight but struggled going out with friends and not drinking wine. After treatment, found herself no longer preoccupied with the issue—she could not drink and not miss it at all. Once those unhealthy, often contradictory impulses are addressed, being “healthy” stops being about control and deprivation and starts being about freedom. “I can eat whatever I want,” Greenberg explains, remembering her long-ago passion for sugars and ice cream. “I just don’t want that stuff anymore.”