By Susanna Sweeney, MSC, MBACP, CHT
I spoke with London hypnotist Sara Ellis about weight loss hypnosis and specifically about her book "Stop Overeating When What You Want Is Sex". Watch the close captioned video interview or read it in the article.
Sara Ellis: Hi, Susanna, thanks so much for inviting me. And you have a very impressive lineup of guests, so I'm honored to be one of them.
Susanna Sweeney: You're very welcome. And I'm so curious to hear your story because you have a story to tell. Tell me, Sara, about your hypnotherapy story around your weight. And as we move into that straightaway, I might just pull up the picture that you've shared with me because I think that's really impressive, right, what you have achieved...and there we go, this is Sarah's before and after picture of what you have achieved with weight loss hypnotherapy. Is that right?
Sara Ellis: Yes, that's right. It started with hypnosis and mind techniques. I was, in the before picture, I was size 18. In the after I'm size 10. And 25 years later, I'm still a size 10. I maintained the weight loss even after lockdown- i am a size 10, which is quite impressive.
Susanna Sweeney: Which is not as easy may I say?
Sara Ellis: No.
Susanna Sweeney: And for a lot of people lockdown has been a really difficult time in that regard.
Sara Ellis: Absolutely full of triggers. Yes. And the statistics for overweight people maintaining weight loss are very low. They're around 1%.
Susanna Sweeney: Right, right. So how did you do it?
Sara Ellis: Well, I yo-yo dieted for many years. I wasted years from my teen years to late 20s dieting and then with each diet, I would gain a bit more weight. So I would sometimes have- have a bit of success with the diets.
Susanna Sweeney: It's a very difficult story isn't it?
Sara Ellis: Yeah. But oh, miserable making and so depressing that I would end up eating more. And also, I was ruining my metabolism every time I did some stupid starvation diet. So then of course, the minute you start eating your body says, woah, I'm going to hold on to this.
So with each diet, a binge would follow, and I would gain more weight. And I was in that cycle of dieting and bingeing for about 14 years, you know, and it's, it's just a terrible waste of life. And so that is...
Susanna Sweeney: It must have been really tough.
Sara Ellis: Yes, it was horrible. And when I look back, I think I was young, I had better things to be doing with my time than dieting and being miserable.
Susanna Sweeney: So how did you manage to break that cycle, Sarah.
Sara Ellis: Well, I- I had done one diet where I lost quite a lot of weight and I was very slim and I looked great. And then I had a, I went through this terrible phase where a few things went wrong in my life.
And because I had always been an emotional eater, I started eating a lot and I gained a lot of weight. And that's when I really went up to the size 18 that you see in those pictures. And I can remember at that time saying, I cannot do another diet, I just can't put myself through it again, there has to be another way. And I knew that there was a big emotional and psychological component to it.
So I started reading books about emotional overeating and the the metaphysics to it and also funnily enough, I came across- I'm really showing my age now... do you remember back in the day little cassette tapes...
Susanna Sweeney: I do...
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Hypnosis has been shrouded in mystery. There are many myths or, simply, false beliefs attached to hypnosis. You, too, have likely picked up a few of them as they are ‘around’ in public consciousness. Let me bust those myths for you so you can be free to enjoy and appreciate hypnosis for what it is.
Hypnotic trance is referred to with much mystery. Is it really that spooky? Allow me to talk you through what the experience is like.
Sara Ellis: ...there was probably some of your viewers won't even know what that is. A little cassette tape came free with a magazine. I don't know if you remember you used to get little free things with women's magazines. And it was a hypnosis recording to help you lose weight and it was by a guy called Robert Farago. I don't know if you've ever heard of him.
Susanna Sweeney: Never.
Sara Ellis: Well, unfortunately, I- my understanding is that he no longer does it. He's an American guy. And he was very big about 20 years ago.
Anyway, so I- I got this, this little cassette recording hypnosis, and I listened to it on my Walkman, and it actually had an effect on me and I was finding that was in a better mindset and I was making healthier food choices and I'm feeling better. So that's what started my interest in hypnosis.
And I yes- and I was also reading the other books there were a couple of other books about the the mindset and as I say, some of them are more the metaphysical books and, and that really just got everything flowing for me where I after that I never looked back. I never did a diet again after that, and I just started losing weight.
Susanna Sweeney: So this was self hypnosis. You didn't even attend a hypnotherapist for...
Sara Ellis: No, no...not at that point.
Susanna Sweeney: Amazing. Yeah, there are some of those stories around that you see that people do it with self hypnosis, losing huge amounts of weight. So it's quite doable.
Sara Ellis: Yes, absolutely.
Susanna Sweeney: What do you think what would you say it takes for someone to see the process through what will be the biggest quality they need?
Sara Ellis: To have... to really want to...
Sara Ellis: Right.
Sara Ellis: Yeah, that's the first step is, is that intention to say, I really want this. Your desire to be slim and be healthy has to outweigh any payoffs that there are to being overweight... and there are quite a few.
Susanna Sweeney: It makes sense, doesn't it if you want it, that's your motivation, right and that's, that's what's gonna get you through.
Sara Ellis: Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah. And Sara, was it your own personal experience of doing this weight loss process with hypnotherapy or with self hypnosis- is that what led on to you writing your book?
Sara Ellis: Yes, absolutely. And that's actually another funny part of the story was prior to Robert Farago's cassette tape, not long before that....I think about a year before that I was on holiday with my friend in New York. And we went to a big bookstore.
And and I was looking at these books, of course, I was in the Self Help section, personal development because I loved that. And, and I remember that I was I was studying, I was looking at these books and this book- fell out and hit me on my foot. And the woman next to me said, I think you really need to read that book, whatever it is...
Susanna Sweeney: Great American accent...
Sara Ellis: That was New York, sorry, that might not be a very good New York accent. So I picked this book up and it was how to have an orgasm. And also, in that bookshop, I bought a book about hypnosis, and I can remember reading it and it was by this hypnotherapist and he was saying these things that he could make somebody think that a- desserts were- you know had maggots in them and they didn't want to eat them, you know, which is what you and I know is an aversion therapy.
And I remember at that time thinking, wow, you can actually do that. How does somebody do that? And, and so I was interested in those two things. It seemed to all start in that bookshop of the how to have an orgasm and, and reading about this hypnotherapist and then years later I wrote a book how, you know, how to stop you stop overeating, when what you want is sex. That's the title of my book.
Susanna Sweeney: Stop overeating, when what you want is sex.
Sara Ellis: Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: Very good title.
Sara Ellis: Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: So tell us what's your book about what can the reader expect?
Sara Ellis: Well, it's really a book about how we have to stop numbing out our feelings with food. I mean, people have a whole myriad of ways that they numb out feelings, as we see in our society: alcohol, smoking, shopping, gambling, I deal with people that are over eating, we're also seeing the soft addictions which are, you know, binge watching on Netflix and Facebook.
But yes, people are numbing out feelings. And my book is about how to stop numbing out your feelings with food, and manage those feelings and let yourself have the things that you want. And that includes the intimacy that you want. It's not just about sex. I mean, it's not all swinging from the chandeliers.
I mean, obviously, that's great if you want to, but it's also about getting your intimate needs met, which are connection as well, because it's easy to get sex, but getting fulfilling sex is really what you- fulfilling and satisfying, satisfying sex is what you want. And getting that...
Susanna Sweeney: I think really the connection, the point you're making, around connection is really important because these days there's a real decline in that the way society is going. So absolutely, I think food also is very much like an undetected addiction a lot of the time. Because it's not, you know, it's not as dangerous as alcohol or drugs. So people can get away with it for much, much longer before they notice.
Sara Ellis: Oh, yes. And not just get away with it. It's socially encouraged. And as a person that was a food addict, I can say that it's just as powerful an addiction as any drug and it's a drug that you can buy on any street anytime of the day.
Susanna Sweeney: Exactly, exactly. And there's so much advertising around food and everything you buy- that always strikes me as interesting when you buy stuff in the supermarket- most things have sugar in them.
Sara Ellis: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. It's a big problem, sugar addiction.
Susanna Sweeney: So when you work with weight loss clients these days, Sara, what methods do you use? And how does that feel, working with you from the client's perspective?
Sara Ellis: Well, I use Ericksonian hypnosis. And I do think that you're
Susanna Sweeney: You are basically having a conversation with the person, is that right.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes. And I think that there is no one hypnosis technique that is better than any other. I think that it is all about rapport. So for example, somebody that you interviewed Steve Miller, who's a hypnotherapist that I massively admire and respect.
He has a very authoritarian and direct approach that- and he's very successful, that works with some people, having been a very overweight person. I know that if somebody said to me: You're fat. You look terrible. Get off your fat ass. That would have sent me running in the opposite direction, it would have been the worst thing ever for me.
But that doesn't mean to say that it it doesn't work for other people. So it's all about rapport. And I can remember, many years ago, I had a friend and acquaintance who went to a Paul McKenna seminar and she called me and she said, oh, Sara, I've got to tell you about three weeks ago, me and my girlfriend went to this Paul McKenna seminar and he was amazing. He just had us all eating out of his hand. You know, it was fun. It was such a fun day.
And I said, ahm, have you lost any weight since, and she said ahm, no. Somehow because Paul knows about creating incredible rapport and he has a wonderful charisma, he managed to make her think that her money was well spent. And she'd had- had a great time even though she hadn't lost weight. So, you know, I'm not criticizing tha- she had a great time. But my point is, it's all about rapport. So you have to...
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah I had this discussion with with Steve Miller. It's, it's this thing about your ideal client will find you. Right, and the others will drop off.
Sara Ellis: Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: So that the- the clients most suited to you are the ones that will end up working with you and have great success with you.
Sara Ellis: Yes, absolutely. Everyone...
Susanna Sweeney: We are not everything to everybody.
Sara Ellis: Totally. Yeah, you can't be.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah. So everybody's got their thing. So when somebody does Ericksonian hypnosis with you and these NLP techniques that you bring in, what does that feel like for the client? Do you think? Does it feel gentle or does it feel kind of authoritarian?
Sara Ellis: No, no authoritarian with me No, I can't do that I I've been told that I have a very nice hypnotic voice and and I can do that gentle voice and I can guide somebody into a trance and and I'm also good at using it to great effect in my personal life.
I'm brilliant at getting a table in a restaurant that is packed that my friends say, how do you do that? Look into my eyes it's all is all about the technique. And the power of persuasion is wonderful when you when you have the right technique and you know what to do. And then people go into this this wonderful state where they're in a trance and you plant the suggestions there and and they I find that they're making changes effortlessly.
Susanna Sweeney: So you do bring them into a trance state using conversational hypnosis.
Sara Ellis: Oh, well, I do the pre talk, which is part of Ericksonian hypnosis and a lot of storytelling. And then I do the trance, and then in that I will give some more direct suggestions.
Susanna Sweeney: So that's a little bit of Elman in there, too, then...
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes. Yeah, love Elman.
Susanna Sweeney: Very good. Actually Do you know very, very refreshing for me to meet somebody who does both. Because they're really very distinct camps I find. And one camp tends to not like the other. And I'm always thinking God, they work great together.
Sara Ellis: Yes. Well, there's a lot of snobbery in the industry. I don't think there has to be. I've done all different trainings and to be honest, I think that being a hypnotherapist is a little bit like, you know, people say that you have driving lessons, pass the test, and then you learn to drive.
And I think it's a bit like this, like I got the qualifications and then where I really really learned stuff was all the reading all the CDs that I bought the things that I studied. And so I, you know, then did my own hybrid of it all and you know, what works and what doesn't and, and as I say it's about the rapport and it's also about your bringing your own personality to it.
Susanna Sweeney: Absolutely, you and I love that actually in the hypnosis field that it's so open to you bringing in your creativity, your own into your intuition, your creativity, your own personality.
Sara Ellis: Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: So then when you're working with weight loss, what I have often seen and- this is my question. Do you see that too, that at the bottom of the what you can find is actually that what it's all about is a lack of self esteem and confidence. Do you find that too?
Sara Ellis: Oh, it can be and it's a little bit of a double edged sword because often if people didn't have low self esteem and low confidence, before they got fat they they often do when they are fat I mean, you know, children will get bullied. I know from my own experience of being fat that people can make unpleasant comments, you can be discriminated against.
So to answer your question, self- low self esteem and low self confidence can lead to it and then certainly, you- by the time you end up coming to see me, you you probably have low self esteem. Not always I mean we see in our society, some women that are bigger and they're very confident and that's great, but but usually the ones that end up coming to see me do have some issues around low self confidence and self esteem issues. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: Hmm. And how do you work with that?
Sara Ellis: Well, as I say that there are many levels to it because what's going on when people are very overweight is it's often purely habit. And they are they are stuck in a groove of unhelpful habits.
Sorry to say this, a lot of the, the, the British girls, the Bridget Jones types like their white wine, you know, they, and they're in that. And, you know, they come to me, they say they want to lose weight, but they don't want to give it give up going out for their white wine. So, yes, often it's purely habits that are in place that needs changing.
And then I get them to just see how they want their life to be and get them to really see themselves, smell, hear sense themselves as a thin person. And what I say is you've got to start thinking, feeling, acting, behaving, like a thin person, and you will become one. That's what I did.
Susanna Sweeney: Hmm. So a lot of visualization and really future focused.
Sara Ellis: Yes...
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah, yeah. Great. And you find that the confidence comes then.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes. Usually, if you're doing the other techniques in tandem with the weight loss, which include taking steps to start putting in boundaries and saying no when you when you don't want to do something, these types, they it's not just the changing the habits and the weight loss.
It's there are some other things that we do as well where where people start to, for the first time ever sometimes start putting in boundaries and being able to say what they want. And then yes, definitely an increase in self confidence comes.
Susanna Sweeney: Wonderful. And tell us you there's a trend now and you see that in magazines a lot in the last few years. The movie, The Secret was so big and it's become really absorbed into into the culture- this idea of working with affirmations. What's your take on that, do you think that works?
Sara Ellis: No, not alone. Not- you cannot out-vision-board your programming. So if you have a programming- let's let's say off the top of my head um you have a programming that all, all men are terrible, all men are unfaithful you know you you saw your parents had an unhappy marriage.
Your mum said, all men are terrible. If you have that programming, sticking an affirmation on your fridge saying, I now have the perfect husband, I now attract a loving man into my life. It's not going to work.
It's- it isn't you have to go deeper and you have to bypass the critical mind and get into the subconscious which is what we do as hypnotherapists and plant the suggestions there which is what, where I had massive success in my life because I didn't just lose the weight I also transformed my, my relationships status.
You know, when I was younger I had disastrous relationships, because I had so many unhelpful beliefs around relationships and I use the hypnosis to help me reprogram that. And then I started ahm meeting healthier men and having relationships with healthier men. Well, let's say choosing healthier men because I'm sure I was meeting the healthier men when I was younger. I just wasn't choosing them.
Susanna Sweeney: You started recognizing them...
Sara Ellis: Absolutely. So, so no, I, I don't think affirmations on their own work. And you talk about the Secret- I can remember- I don't know when it was about 14, 15 years ago, when the Secret and all this Law of Attraction was, was the big buzz thing going on.
And I used to go to a book club you know, a book study group and studying these books and and these laws and I would look around me and think, Why, why were these people not, not getting the things that they were saying they wanted, you know what they were putting on their vision board. And then I realized, it was it was the hypnosis that they were missing the, the subconscious mind. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: So your subconscious mind basically keeps playing the old program, right? So in your conscious mind. You might think right now I'm going to change, now I want this, that and the other but the subconscious mind has a different idea.
Sara Ellis: Yes, absolutely. And the subconscious mind will always act out. I mean, look, let's take the example of the man, the married man having an affair and he leaves out a receipt for a diamond necklace that he bought his girlfriend. I mean, or, you know, he leaves it somewhere or where his wife will find it, like in a jacket pocket or in his desk drawer or something. Consciously there's no way that guy is going to do that. Subconsciously he wants it to be find out, found out that will that will act out.
Susanna Sweeney: That's a fascinating story. Is that derived from real life?
Sara Ellis: Sorry?
Susanna Sweeney: Is that derived from real life?
Sara Ellis: I've heard of that. Yes, yes. We might. Yeah, many times. Yeah. And and lots of what would be perceived as mess ups. Like that. Where What? Why on earth would I have done that? It's, it's your subconscious mind...
Susanna Sweeney: ...has its own agenda. Hmm.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes.
Susanna Sweeney: So then if people want to move through the limits, and they want to reach their goals and they want to grow as people how does that work?
Sara Ellis: I would say the most important thing is stop listening to the naysayers- doubt the doubt. You've got to doubt the doubt and just be clear on what you want and go for it. And what I say is, the definition of confidence is the absence of a story. So you know often if you ask anyone about something they want to do whatever it is, they will immediately say, but I'm, I'm too old I'm too- I'm too young, I'm too fat, I'm too thin, I'm too tall I'm too I'm
Susanna Sweeney: You know, but, but but, but...
Sara Ellis: Yes, I'm I'm an immigrant. My English isn't my first language, my English isn't great. You know that. They will come out with a lot of stories why they can't do it. And if you look at really confident people, I mean, somebody that I love is the actor Dustin Hoffman.
And he, I remember reading a book by some film director that said that he worked with Dustin Hoffman when he was young. And they would go to a diner and the most gorgeous waitress, Dustin would always get their number, and he's this little five foot nothing guy with a big nose and buck teeth. You know, he's not the tall, dark, handsome stereotype of what a lead actor looks like. Excuse me. But there wasn't a goal that he couldn't get a number.
He went on to become one of the greatest actors of his time, because he had confidence, he did not have. So he had the absence of the story. He wasn't saying, well, I'm sure I've got a big nose. I'm you know, I've got this nerdy accent... he didn't say any of those things.
He was just totally in his pure potentiality and, and he went for it and the rest of the world falls in with it. You know, they that kind of confidence- you can't help but but fall in with that. I mean, I don't know if you've ever been around really confident people, you're just fall in with it. Mm hmm.
Susanna Sweeney: Well, I totally identify with that. My story would have been around a lot of self doubt for many, many years. And when that stopped, my life changed completely. So everything then fell into place. And it was really this, you know, what you describe as the absence of a story. It was the absence of a negative story. Right, I stopped telling myself negative stories about myself. And then everything kind of, just fell into place after that, and continues to do so.
Sara Ellis: Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: Yeah. So you are you're basically you're whatever the story is inside you, you radiate that to the outside world in some mysterious way. Right? We're always communicating that. And then that's exactly what comes back to you.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes.
Susanna Sweeney: When you radiate a lack of confidence, or you radiate low self esteem. The world will confirm that this is so.
Sara Ellis: Yes.
Susanna Sweeney: And when the inner program changes, you're radiating something else, the world will confirm that.
Sara Ellis: Yes. Hmm.
Susanna Sweeney: This is the work you do with your clients right changing the inner story.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes. And I have massive success. You know, people- funny enough, my my next door neighbor was terminally single, a confirmed bachelorette.
And I can remember just bumping into her on the Tube one day. And so we were sat down, having this train journey together. And she was saying: "Oh, it's really difficult to meet a man when you're over 40." And I said: "No, it's not." And so we have this chat on the train. And then a couple of months later, she got a boyfriend.
She went on a golfing holiday. And she said, I just remembered what you said about it not being difficult to meet someone and I got chatting to this guy. And, you know, he went on, she's still with the guy now, ten years later. Yeah.
Susanna Sweeney: Interesting how simple that can be. Mm hmm.
Sara Ellis: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. You just change a belief like that and stop saying the negative things.
Susanna Sweeney: Hmm. Wonderful. Wonderful. So Sarah, what's next for you and your career? Do you have immediate plans at the moment?
Sara Ellis: Well, we've all had to slightly restructure off what the idea of what our careers look like, because the pandemic and I really love my job. And I love seeing clients one to one, and I love doing workshops as well and speaking and giving talks. So we've all had to rethink that.
So everything has been going on online. So hopefully, God willing, ah, that will change soon. And obviously, my book is is a big part of, of what I want to be doing. I would like to get that out there more. So who, who knows if we'll be able to fly again and do book tours and that kind of thing.
So, obviously, I would, I would like to get my book out there more and really, just bring hypnosis to the world more and and for it to be more accessible to people and for anyone that is out there not living their life the way that they would like to be for them to turn it around. And if I couldn't be part of that, that would be wonderful.
Susanna Sweeney: So that kind of answers I usually finish these interviews on a magic wand question. If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the hypnosis world? Have you already answered that question? By saying you want to bring hypnosis more out there, or...
Sara Ellis: I have a little bit more to say, I think some of your other interviewees have talked about the image of hypnosis and how you know, it used to be and still is up to a point- people think of a man with a beard and dangling the watch.
Um, and I think in addition to that now we also have a little bit of an image of the whatever you want to call it, the the wellness industry, personal development and I include hypnosis in that- as being the preserve of the wealthy so women like Gwyneth Paltrow, and you know, there's nothing wrong with her.
She's great because she's bringing a lot of the alternative therapies to the world and, and I watched Goop and it was great. I mean, she had some wonderful experts on there and I really love what she's doing. However, I have to say that some of the things aren't really accessible to the average Joe.
She is a very wealthy woman, and I was thinking she was doing some fast I might not have got this quite right, so nobody sue me. I think it was some sort of three day for either way, it was a fast and she was sort of feeling a little bit lightheaded. And I thought, well, no, you a single mother that's working, can't have that amount of time out to fast and feel lightheaded and you know, not be able to go to that job.
And there are lots of things like that where I think the image of hypnosis and people that do it can be a little bit, It's these rich, privileged women. Um, and I would like to- there are so many people that can benefit from it. And I would like to see it more accessible to everyone and for it to not have this exclusive image or, you've got to have a lot of money to do it or..um...yeah, so I would I would like to see the image of it changed a bit.
Susanna Sweeney: How would you see that working? Do you have ideas around that?
Sara Ellis: I'd like to bring it a bit more down to earth. So I personally, I always make sure that I have some of my sessions, low cost, and accessible to people that couldn't usually afford it. I do not believe in doing free things. I did free things in the past, people just don't value it. They don't so I don't do free things. But I will do low cost things. I will go and give talks in rehab centers, you know, those sort of things.
Susanna Sweeney: So in fact then you're already working on those changes that you would like to see.
Sara Ellis: Yes, yes. And if anyone knows of any more ways that we can be getting it out there I would be interested to know.
Susanna Sweeney: Very good. Sarah, thank you so much for joining me today. We wish you all the best in your career. And we'll talk again.
Sara Ellis: Yeah, it's been great fun. Thank you so much.
Susanna Sweeney: Thanks for joining me. Bye bye.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with North London hypnotist Sara Ellis. Please leave a comment underneath and let our community know what you think!