It all started one late-summer day in Michigan with an issue of Good Housekeeping. I was lounging in my parents’ kitchen flipping through the pages when I came across an interview with the actress Olivia Munn. Expecting nothing but skin care tips for a “girl next door” look, I was pleasantly surprised to find an article about her near-death experience in a plane crash as well as her struggles with OCD and trichotillomania (a hair-pulling condition associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder). In the interview, Munn mentioned seeing a hypnotist as part of her therapy for the disorders. As a bonus, he also hypnotized her to start working out.
“I’m not exaggerating: That was on a Friday, and by Monday I was working out every day at 6 a.m. If I missed a session, I’d double up and do it the next day. Now I feel so much stronger,” she told the magazine.
Having been successfully hypnotized once before on a cruise ship (I swear to you, it worked) and not exactly a consistent exerciser myself, I decided to make an appointment to see if he could help. Shurr is a life coach, speaker, and consultant who has been practicing hypnosis for 27 years. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in psychology, Shurr has spent the past 21 years in the coaching business.
During our first session it became apparent that my problem getting to the gym wasn’t my biggest concern at all. I unloaded on Shurr about my personal life and my goals for the future as well as my tendency to self-sabotage when stressed. He asked for an example of the latter.
I listed a few, including one that seemed the most simple (relative to the others) to address: binge eating McDonald’s. In my early 20s I ate it regularly. It was cheap, and it was delicious to me at the time. As I got older and began taking my health more seriously, I quit. For years I had stayed clear of the fast food, but following a breakup, some financial stress, and feeling a bit down, I began eating it again for comfort. It reminded me of my childhood.
Sitting in a Lay-Z-Boy recliner, I listened as Shurr directed me through a series of mental and breathing exercises. Minutes later I was in a completely relaxed state, entranced by the sound of his voice. He told me to imagine my favorite meal from McDonald’s, putting each item piece by piece into a blender, then turning it on, then drinking it. I could feel the scowl on my face. Shurr then told me to think about the blob of blended food in my stomach, how it made me feel sluggish and tired. He told me that moving forward I would eat more things that made me feel the opposite, like fresh fruits and vegetables.
His words sounded good in theory, but I asked Shurr to explain how exactly this was going to work.
“There are two things at work,” he said. “One is your subconscious. Eating is an emotional thing, so this will tell your brain, ‘I don’t really want that.’ The second part is that once you get off unhealthy foods and go back to them, you realize they’re pretty gross. It’s like smokers who don’t notice the smell until they quit and then suddenly cigarettes smell really bad.”
It was months before I was tempted to try my favorite fast food again. Instead of feeling hungry when I passed billboards with giant french fries, I felt something that resembled running into an old friend that you fell out with years ago — a little sad at first but then confident in your decision and glad it’s in the past.
But then one day, while driving to Michigan for the holidays, I pulled into a drive-thru. I was pressed for time, I was stressed, I hadn’t been feeling well. Plus, I wanted to put the second part of Shurr’s theory to the test. He was right. The food was awful. It didn’t taste warm and salty and safe. It tasted cold and dry and soulless. I haven’t had it since.
I have, however, been back to Indy Hypnosis a few times. After our first session, Shurr sent me home armed with a book titled “Getting Out of Your Own Way,” an audiobook titled “The Cure for Self-Sabotage,” and a few “Aha” moments, as Oprah would call them. I read the book and listened to the CD in my car, despite feeling a little silly as I repeated mantras about my self-worth while driving on I-65. Later, in other sessions, we worked on tips and techniques to avoid other destructive behaviors. I always left feeling more at peace.
But what about working out? During a follow-up conversation Shurr explained to me that remapping our subconscious is all about starting new things, not just stopping bad habits.
“The goal isn’t to pull weeds; it’s to grow flowers,” he said. “We’re wired to gain pleasure and avoid pain. The only reason we procrastinate about exercise is because we associate pain to it, so you need to associate fitness with pleasure.”
I’m still trying to convince my subconscious mind that it loves exercise. Unlike Olivia Munn, one hypnosis session didn’t cause me to start working out every day. It did help me realize a new awareness about my mind, my body and the person I want to be — as silly as it may sound sometimes.