Over the past few weeks, I've been blogging about the fact that our ancestors’ experiences got passed down to our generation, along with the color of our hair, our height, and our general personality traits.
Today I want to share the story of a client who inherited her mother's recipe for a lifelong battle with her weight.
We'll call her Emilia.
Emilia first came to see me because she needed support around losing weight and "creating sustainable practices that nourished" her on a long term basis. She had done many different diets over the years and she was "stuck in a cycle of negative thought patterns" around her weight.
Not only had Emilia tried many diets, she had also studied health coaching. In other words, she wasn't struggling with her weight and feeling "stuck" because she didn't know what to eat. She absolutely knew what to do, but she was starting to realize there might be something deeper to all of it.
I asked Emilia about her weight struggle story, and this was among the first things she said:
"My mom is a compulsive overeater… she has been her whole life. My family culture is very judgmental, assessing how you look the minute you walk into a room. For a long time I had gotten to a place where all of that was manageable... [but now it isn't]"
"The reality is that my relationship with my mother is work. I love her dearly and we can have good connection, but I struggle in that relationship."
Emilia told me the story of her parents, how they were both immigrants who came from a very religious, very judgmental community. Their childhoods had also been difficult, not having enough food. This meant that once food was easily available for them, they frequently overindulged.
Not only had her mother been a compulsive eater her entire life, she had also been a chronic dieter. As a result of her terrible eating habits, she became quite unhealthy with a variety of chronic conditions, including heart disease.
Her relationship with her mom got more challenging as Emilia became interested in healthy eating and making better choices. Whenever she visited her mother or attended family gatherings, her good choices were questioned and often put to the test:
"Overeating is something my family does as a group activity – there will be 14 full desserts for 10 people… and because of the scarcity mindset everybody has to have every dessert. I sometimes feel kind of stuck; it’s too much to overcome – being the only one trying to not do that... so I stopped spending holidays with my family because of the food. My mom is a food pusher… her relationship with food was a model in the house."
I asked further about her mom's pattern and Emilia explained that her mother would binge as a way to feel better, and this became a pattern: eat to feel better, then say, "I'm so naughty.. I have no will power," so she would start a diet.
Emilia explained that her mom would "stuff her sadness with food." The biggest sadness came from the fact she'd had a baby before she was married. Now, because of her very religious upbringing, she was forbidden by her parents from telling anyone about it and she was forced to put the baby up for adoption.
Emilia's mom was not only shamed for having become pregnant, she also then experienced the deep grief from losing her baby.
So she ate.
To soothe herself.
To quiet the sadness... year after year.
This profound wound was passed from her mother down to Emilia, as she was born 3 years later.
As we spoke about it, Emilia realized how true it felt that she in fact had been carrying her mother's grief. She then learned to follow her mom's eating and dieting pattern too.
We began the work of moving through the grief to bring closure and healing to those ancestral memories. We did this through an NLP process called a Timeline. It is very much like regression hypnosis, but it's done much more interactively than regular hypnosis.
We went back to the time of her mother's pregnancy with her first child.
In a Timeline, we bring the resources that were not present at the time of the painful events.
Emilia was able to identify that back then, what her mom had needed was: support from her family, unconditional love, to feel listened-to without judgment, and to feel included in her community. Through NLP tools, we helped Emilia access all of those feelings and resources, and then provide them for her mother within that memory.
As we did this, she began to have a bodily experience of what it would have been like for her mother to receive that support. In doing this, we were creating a new version of the original events that gave birth to the grief, which later gave rise to the overeating.
Clearly, all of this only took place within Emilia's mind, in her internal representation of the memory. Her conscious mind knows that it didn't happen in the "real world" but her subconscious mind is more flexible.
When we use powerful tools like NLP, the subconscious mind allows us to modify memories so as to resolve painful events and unhelpful patterns.
Emilia created a new memory where her mother received the love and support she desperately needed but had not received in the original story. The fact that it didn't actually happen is irrelevant. What matters for Emilia is how she relates to the story.
When we were done with the timeline, Emilia's simple comment was, "wow, that was really powerful."
Over the next few weeks, Emilia became acutely aware of how profoundly her mother's story had been alive within her all along, and how that grief had always been the primary force behind her chronic mindless snacking and overeating.
She also started to feel a greater compassion for her mother and all of her losses. She could see her mother's attempt to control was her way of holding tightly to those she loved so as to not lose another child.
In our following sessions we continued to dissolve the remaining charge of her mom's story within Emilia's life. We used EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and other tools.
At the end of our work together, Emilia said she no longer felt obsessed with being on a "plan" (aka. diet) and instead was learning how to be healthy without a forced structure.
In other words, Emilia had become free of her mother's bingeing-dieting cycle. Importantly, she was learning how to practice healthy habits that emerged from loving herself rather than those that emerged from trying to fight or control her body.
"I'm giving up the idea of doing program and choosing to simply love myself."
Healing the ancestral grief she'd carried since birth allowed Emilia to let go of the compulsive eating with ease, rather than forcing herself into another diet.
She found deeper love and compassion not only for herself, but for her mother as well.