PHPA Case History - Comfort Eating

(Personal details have been changed to protect client's identity,)

Name:  Dee

Age:     32

Occupation:  Working with homeless and vulnerable people

Compulsive Habits:  Eating

Previous Medical History:  Suffered from depression and asthma


Dee confessed that she never knew her real father (her mother told her that she was a result of a one night stand) which made Dee feel deprived of her 'lack of roots'.

Her mother married when Dee was young and she was adopted by Mum's husband whom she felt was totally uncommunicative and obsessed by religion; however she spoke with affection about him.

Two siblings were later born. The eldest boy (Tim) was physically violent towards their mother - to the extent of hitting her. Dee is angry with her mother for allowing him to 'get away with such bad behaviour'. She pleaded with mum to phone for the police but her mother refused. Dee felt appalled that her mum wasn't prepared to do anything about it.

Dee suffered from depression and felt that her home environment was at the root of it. She married at the first opportunity but her husband was too 'easy going'.

It was a short lived marriage and before long she met someone stronger. However this marriage didn't last either because of her new husband's destructive behaviour.

Dee's third marriage also ended in divorce after he beat her up badly whilst he was on drugs. When Dee ended up in hospital she knew it was time to end the relationship.

Dee appears to be obsessed by people who treat her badly - in particular her first boyfriend who was also into drugs and abused her.

Dee's problem is overeating. This is something that she turned to for comfort in her earlier years.

Dee is also afraid of the dark - the only connection found to this is that her brother attacked someone late at night outside a bus shelter.


Dee is an attractive albeit slightly overweight lady. Although she shows a tough exterior this covers up a frightened and confused persona. Dee is angry with her mother for 'depriving her of knowing her real father' and has little respect for the way that her mother refused to seek help or report Tim for his violent behaviour.

She also appears to identify with her mother as she (Dee) is allowing others to mistreat her in the same way; in effect she has taken over her mother's role. However it was her mother's lack of firmness which first led her into depression and started the cycle of comfort eating.

Dee's first husband was 'too easy going' - in other words he was like her mother. Dee already identifies with - and has little respect for - her Mum.

Dee respects her adoptive father and blamed her mother for the way that Tim turned out. At the same time - because Tim was her adoptive father's child she became confused as to how men should behave, thus unconsciously seeking out destructive partners in her choice of relationships.; The little girl inside her still battles between what is right and wrong and so, even when she ends a bad relationship she will still enter an equally bad, if not worse one in the future.


Dee's presenting problem was compulsive eating. She could eat 2 packets of biscuits and 3 chocolate bars on a bad day.

Session One
This involved listening to Dee and observing her responses to questions asked, note-taking and answering her questions, then giving a pre-induction talk, testing for suggestibility and a mini hypnosis session to increase her responsiveness in the second session.

Session Two
Dee says that she already feels better and has only binged on food once (instead of the usual 3 or 4 times in a week). However bingeing only once is not enough, this issue needs to be stopped completely in order to help Dee.

This session involved helping Dee to understand why she reacts to uncomfortable situations the way that she does. At this stage I used an ego-strengthening approach - together with inner child work; she could visualize herself as the intelligent adult that she is, comforting the little girl who was so appalled by her mother's lack of discipline, whilst at the same time, understanding why her mother was afraid. Mother wasn't a confident person and Dee's adoptive father wasn't the easiest person in the world to talk to.

Session Three
Dee smiles as she enters the door; she is proud of how much more confident she is - binge eating didn't enter her mind until 2 nights ago when Mum phoned her. She managed to resist but is still slightly apprehensive that this could recur at some future point in her life.

In session 3 my main aim was in helping Dee to understand her comfort eating.; After what she had told me and knowing how well she responded to hypnosis I had no doubt in my mind that this would resolve Dee's problem, however I didn't want to go straight into this before addressing her other issues.

Dee was comfortably relaxed as I talked gently to her - setting up ideomotor signals in case they were necessary. Dee was taken back to the very first time she turned to food for comfort - she was six years of age.

Tim was only a toddler but he was destructive even at that age. Interaction with his father was minimal, Mum had an older daughter who was quite a wilful little child and Mum was expecting her 3rd child. Tim had tantrums and Mum had to attend them. Dee starts to tell her Mum that Tim has broken the toy that she got for her 6th birthday and Mum tries to appease Dee by giving her a bar of chocolate.

Dee said she really didn't want the chocolate at the time - but having started she might as well finish it. She soon forgot about the broken birthday present and this method of appeasement carried on, reinforcing her comfort zone each and every time.

After the Session

Dee was amazed that she could remember in such detail things that she had previously had no conscious memory of.

She was a bit dazed when she came out of hypnosis but this is quite normal. In many cases I find it useful not to question clients too much about the session because every thing they need to know to help them is already there in their subconscious mind.

However, with regression it's a bit like a dream - if you don't recall it instantly then it probably will be forgotten. That's not to say that it won't have some impact on their life.

Session Four

I figured that Dee wouldn't need a further session; however we arranged one more on the premise that if all was going well for her then she could phone and cancel. On the other hand, if she was still feeling even the slightest urge to comfort eat then we should explore any remaining uncovered issues relating to this problem.

Dee phoned the night before her fourth session was due to ask if she could postpone it for another week. We made another appointment and she phoned to explain that she'd been feeling 100% better but wanted to wait another week - just in case.

According to Dee she had not wanted or even thought of comfort eating. Her confidence had increased and she had met (in Dee's words) 'a decent bloke - he treats me nice and I feel that I can be me - I think that this relationship is going to work and - well, thanks for helping me to understand myself better'.



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