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I was put on my first diet at 9. At 57, I finally enjoy food again

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I celebrate who I am – and far I’ve come (Picture: Becky Wright)

For years, I woke up every morning and put a hand on my stomach. ‘Still fat,’ I’d think. Then I’d get out of bed and start my day.

That was how much my weight consumed me – it was my first thought, every single day, for decades.

Convinced I needed to lose weight, I’ve spent most of my life on diets, trying to eat as little I could while still functioning, all the while desperately hating my body.

It has taken until I am 57 to break out of that cycle and finally feel happy with how I look. All thanks to hypnotherapy.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, everything was focused on weight, and losing weight.

Jane Fonda released her first workout video in 1982 and women were beginning their obsession with looking like the super-slim stars they saw on TV.

I was just nine when I realised that I was bigger than most of my classmates. Looking back, it was natural – now 5ft 8in, I’ve always been tall, so my body was simply in proportion. But I couldn’t see that then.

‘You’re too big. You have to lose weight’, I was told (Picture: Julie Bale)

At that time, it was usual for the scales to be brought out at dinner time, and for me and my siblings to be weighed before having something to eat. As the oldest, and tallest, there would inevitably be sighs, and tuts and ‘oh dears’ when it was my turn.

I’d be advised to stick to cottage cheese and Ryvita and run around the garden as exercise.

You’re too big. You have to lose weight. It was all I heard – and not just at home.

At school, when I was 11, the boy who I liked told my friends that he wouldn’t look at me until I’d ‘lost a few pounds’.

When I got my first job in a supermarket at 16, the security guard commented that, ‘I’m surprised that someone of your size can shift so quickly.’

Julie (top right) with her family in the 70s (Picture: Julie Bale)

I was just an average size-14 girl. I didn’t have a lot of weight to lose. If any.

But I started to hate myself. My body became my enemy.

Magazines were full of ‘lose weight quick’ diets, and as a teen, I tried them all. My first was the ‘grapefruit and egg diet’, where along with the two obvious food types, you’re encouraged to stick to lean proteins, fruit and vegetables and I remember getting thumping headaches and feeling faint after a few days.

So I moved onto the Hay diet, the F-plan diet, the Cambridge diet… all different ways with one aim. To eat as few calories as possible.

Julie (L) tried all manner of diets (Picture: Julie Bale)

In my 20s, I moved onto weight loss clubs. I remember feeling delighted when I lost a stone at Rosemary Connolly.

Because that was the thing. I never actually had a lot of weight to lose, so I never lost a lot. At my biggest, I was a size-16, at my smallest, a size-12.

And I was always doomed to fail. Because I was so restrictive with myself, I’d inevitably end up bingeing on all of the food I’d denied myself. This only fuelled my self-hatred.

Whenever I went out, I’d find myself constantly comparing myself to other women. ‘You’re bigger than her,’ I’d tell myself. ‘And her – and her.’ It was an awful stick to beat yourself with.

There was no denying, too, it impacted my relationships – both my first marriage and with my current husband, Andrew.

I’d be furious when he added extra oil when he was cooking food. I’d refuse to attend social events where there’d be a buffet, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself.

My weight would affect my confidence in auditions (Picture: Julie Bale)

‘I wish you could see yourself with my eyes,’ Andrew would tell me. But I just couldn’t.

I’d always loved singing – I came out of the womb singing, I often joked. But my weight would affect my confidence in auditions. So I started doing meditation before going to auditions, where I imagined it going well, and it would calm my nerves.

Then, I did a hypnotherapy course, which helped even more.

I became aware of the negative words playing in my head, telling me I was going to fall flat on my face, or forget my words.

Once I was aware of those automatic tapes, I could turn them off, and replace them with other, more empowering images.

So I trained as a hypnotherapist and started a course, teaching other singers exactly what I’d learnt.

I’ve spent most of my life on diets (Picture: Lynne Kennedy)
I found myself sticking to three meals a day, with no urge to snack in between (Picture: Matt Haswell)

But then it hit me. If I could hypnotise myself to control my nerves, could I hypnotise myself to control my eating? I decided to give it a go. It wasn’t with the end goal of losing weight, but more to reset my relationship with food

I had practised a hypnotherapy exercise, where I set up a belief where I had taken a hypnotic jab that suppressed my appetite. Not wanting to set it up forever, I told myself this drug would last for one week, and would then need to be topped up.  

Then, I set up a word – grace – in order to trigger the effects of the hypnosis session. And it worked. I found myself sticking to three meals a day, with no urge to snack in between.

Through that, I found myself relearning my natural hunger levels. After all, I knew from my years of bingeing what stuffed felt like, and what starving felt like – but now I was finding out what ‘full’ felt like.

So I started to focus on what I was eating, chewing each mouthful slowly, then pausing to ask myself if I needed anymore. It amazed me to realise how small a portion I actually needed.

I also purposefully let myself have whatever I wanted. And with no foods off the table, the voices in my head – constantly urging me to eat chocolate or crisps or other ‘bad’ foods – began to quiet.

And because I was eating mindfully, taking the time to really taste food again, I really noticed how each food made me feel.

I became aware of the negative words playing in my head (Picture: Julie Bale)

Within that first week, I lost 5lbs – without dieting, without restricting myself. Just through hypnotherapy.

As I continued my journey, I started questioning and decluttering my old beliefs and behaviours. Like, why I’d spend five weeks starving myself for a holiday, then eat exactly what I wanted while I was there.

Now, I’m back to being a size-14. Exactly where I started. But this time, I feel good about myself. Excellent, actually.

I can control myself around food – I’m no longer scared of going to the buffet table. And I definitely don’t compare myself to anyone else.

Instead, I celebrate who I am – and far I’ve come.

If I want a piece of chocolate, I’ll have a piece of chocolate. And I’ll truly enjoy it.

I’ve finally put all of the toxic diet culture behind me and am teaching others to do the same. I am determined to stop them living in a cycle of starvation, self-hatred and bingeing.

With the right help – and a little bit of hypnotherapy – it really doesn’t have to be like that.  

For more information, visit: juliebale.com

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