Get to Know Chloe Cook
Interviewed by Tina Shaw
Chloe Cook is a Quest trained Cognitive Hypnotherapist and supervisor, who specialises in Eating Disorders. Chloe is based in Stafford and used to work at Harley Street she now (2020) works exclusively online. Chloe struggled with anorexia for over three years, and it was through Cognitive Hypnotherapy that she got better. Chloe believes that without it, she wouldn’t be here today.
Chloe you came to Cognitive Hypnotherapy because of the help it provided you in your own battle with Anorexia. What was happening with you that meant anorexia was able to take hold?
Several things happened at the same time to trigger it off for me. I was used to getting very good grades at school and college, but I failed an exam in a subject that I’d been struggling in because of being bullied by a boy in the class. Then I was dumped by my boyfriend at the time, who said some particularly nasty things about my appearance, which I found out about via a ‘friend’. I think I thought that if I perhaps lost a bit of weight (after seeing a slightly unflattering photo of myself on holiday) that maybe he’d want me back. So I cut out sweets and chocolates. I lost a bit of weight. He didn’t want me back but it felt good to be back in control of something. And it spiralled from there.
How long did you have this condition before others became aware of it?
I think my Mum noticed pretty quickly – after a month or so. I began by throwing my lunch away at college. Then it moved on to skipping breakfast. Then I started eating less at dinner time. The weight came off pretty rapidly and my clothes were looser – it was obvious that something was going on.
What was the trigger that meant you got the help you needed?
I think I’d been getting steadily more and more ill for about 6 months. In February 2001 my weight had dropped low enough that my body started giving up. I was at college and I called my Mum and asked her to pick me up as I didn’t feel well – this was unheard of as I would normally insist on walking home. When we got home I just sat on the sofa, and as far as I’m aware I just sank in and out of consciousness. The hospital had been prepared for this to happen and had instructed Mum to take me straight to hospital. I was put on a saline drip to get some fluids into me and I remember fighting the nurse who was trying to get the drip into my arm. I was admitted onto a general children’s ward for 2 and a half weeks. I insisted that I be discharged and they eventually agreed on the understanding that I was to attend the day care unit in the eating disorders department at the hospital every day as an outpatient. So I went. And I hated it – every single second of it. About 4 months later we were told via a friend of a friend of a friend about Trevor. I didn’t really care what happened by that point, so went along and had a first session with him. After the session I came out, burst into tears and said that I wanted to go back because I thought he’d be able to help me. And he did. We worked together for 18 months overall, and without him I wouldn’t be here today. It wasn’t without its drama – I continued to get worse for another couple of months before I hit rock bottom and very nearly got sectioned. After that I managed to turn things around and very slowly, very gradually I improved.
How did Cognitive Hypnotherapy help you?
Cognitive Hypnotherapy helped because it helped me figure out what was actually going on underneath it all. I was desperately unhappy and felt very out of control of everything. I knew that it wasn’t really about food, but that was the only thing I felt I had any control over. It helped me realise that I could choose to take control over other things in my life, that I had other options and that I had other things to look forward to that I could choose to focus on instead of food and weight. I didn’t know who I was, so ‘being anorexic’ gave me the identity I thought I was looking for – it made me somebody, even if that somebody wasn’t someone I particularly wanted to be. It helped me realise that I didn’t need that label or that identity, or indeed any label – that I could just be me. Cognitive Hypnotherapy helped me realise that despite what the eating disorder had led me to believe, I was very, very loved by an awful lot of people, and that I’m good enough just as I am.
What sort of support is available generally to people who are suffering from any sort of eating disorder? And where can their friends and family go for advice?
Generally the GP is the first port of call, followed by referrals to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) if they are under 18, or straight to an ED clinic. If I’m honest, the support isn’t that great – sometimes it can take months to be referred and families are often just left to get on with things as best they can in the meantime. There is a charity called B-eat that provides access to information and online support forums for people who are struggling as well as those who are caring for friends, family members or partners who are struggling. There is also a ‘Help finder Directory’ that lists both NHS and private clinics and therapists who can offer support.
When I’m working with a client I always make sure they know I’m available to support them via telephone or email in between sessions and I get them to check in with me to let me know how they are getting on as well. I also offer free telephone and email support to their parents/siblings/partners if required.
What advice would you give to parents who have a child suffering from an eating disorder?
This is a really hard question. I guess the most important thing for parents to remember is that their son or daughter isn’t doing it deliberately – it’s not really them doing all these things, it’s the eating disorder making them do it. Most are absolutely desperate to get out of the hell that they’ve created – they just don’t know how to and the eating disorder is so strong that it’s got far more control than they have. In my experience most eating disorders come down to a belief that they are not loved, not good enough or not worth anything. My advice to parents would be to counteract those beliefs at every available opportunity. Parents love their children for who they are, they just don’t love the behaviours that they are doing. So remind and demonstrate to your child how much you love them (in the way that they know they are loved), tell them that you know they are doing the best that they can with what they’ve got, and let them know how important they are to you. It can be easy to get cross and lose your temper when they give in to the eating disorder’s pressure to restrict, or binge and purge, or compensate – what you need to remember is that it’s the eating disorder you are angry with – not your child. Support them in any way you can, don’t withdraw from them – it’s not attention seeking – and keep yourself as healthy and well as you can because they need you more than you know.
If there were one thing you learned from this time in your life that sticks with you the most what would it be?
That I’m strong and that by using that strength I can get through anything, no matter how hard it may seem to be.
How is your life different now?
Completely different! It’s been a 10 year journey and I finally feel like I know who I am. And I actually like myself and feel happy and content. I’ve got my three gorgeous girls – my little miracles – and a hugely supportive and very lovely partner, and life is good. My business is doing well and I’m helping people get through tough situations. I love being self-employed and choosing how I want to manage each day – everything feels balanced.
Are you still very body or weight conscious and have to manage that carefully or is that something that is very much in the past now?
This is a question I get asked a lot by clients and I’m always honest with them. My weight and shape have settled naturally to a level that feels right for me, even after having my daughters. I don’t feel that I have to manage it too much – I like eating healthily because if I eat well I feel better, and I do eat chocolate too – everything in balance, and that seems to work. On rare occasions, if I’ve let myself get particularly stressed out or overwhelmed with things, the little voice in my head pops up. The difference now is that I don’t listen to it or act on it – I just use it as a warning signal that I need to slow down or take better care of myself. As soon as I do that, it goes away again. Sometimes I wonder whether it would be easier to leave it all behind and stop working with ED clients, but then I get another enquiry through and I realise that this is what I’m meant to be doing – for now anyway. And I love the work I do. So keeping myself well is as important for my clients as it is for me and my daughters.
The media is renowned for bombarding us with ideas of the perfect body, do you think this has an impact on the numbers of young people suffering from eating disorders?
I don’t think images portrayed in the media are the cause of people developing an eating disorder – it’s far more complex than just wanting to be thin. Eating disorders are about identity and control. I do however think that images in the media could trigger someone into thinking they need to lose a bit of weight, which, in some people, could then develop into an eating disorder. I ask all my clients to stop buying magazines and I never buy them myself. If I do occasionally get given one by a friend or family member, I always end up feeling bad about myself. Having said that, eating disorders are undoubtedly on the increase, both in girls/women and boys/men. Social media has probably had an impact as well as the increasingly pressured society we live in, so it’s very difficult to give a definite answer to that question. This is something I’m quite passionate about actually – it’s astonishing how few people realise that the images in magazines simply aren’t real, that they are all airbrushed and altered post-production until they barely resemble the original image.
So you’re quite famous within the Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy community for your work with eating disorders and your personal story is well known too? But clearly that’s not who you are so when you are not working as a therapist what sorts of things do you most like to do?
Most of my time is spent with my family – my partner Neil and my three daughters Ella (7), Imogen ‘Mimi’ (5) and Lola (4). My favourite thing to do is photography – I love taking photos. I’m an introvert so candid photography is my favourite – I love capturing a moment, an expression, as it happens, without the subject necessarily being aware that I’ve caught it. I also love telling a story with my photos, capturing all the little details that make a moment what it is. I’m going to be starting a photography course in the New Year to improve my skills, and I’d love to eventually go semi-professional with it, perhaps setting up a side business alongside the Cognitive Hypnotherapy. I think it would give a great balance of the two things I’m passionate about.
Aside from overcoming Anorexia which is an amazing achievement on its own, what the biggest personal challenge you’ve faced in your life since?
Personally – having children has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. Being responsible for three small people, knowing that they absorb far more from me than I am aware of and realising that I am one of the people who will help shape who they turn out to be…it’s scary! It’s also an incredible privilege to be able to watch them grow and change and learn and create and become more of who they are, and I am very, very lucky to have them.
How would you like to see your work with Eating Disorders evolve in the future?
At the moment eating disorders are treated primarily by focusing on increasing weight first, and offering therapy second. In my experience, and in the experience of every single one of my clients, this doesn’t work particularly well. Either they put on weight and then lose it again as soon as they are discharged, or they simply don’t gain weight. Obviously I agree that getting someone physically well is of the utmost importance. I just think it would be much easier for that person to put on weight and/or change their behaviours, thoughts and feelings around food if the client was offered help to figure out the reasons behind why they are doing those problems in the first place. That’s my goal – for Cognitive Hypnotherapy to become an accepted form of therapy offered to clients within the NHS system, to be able to work alongside the eating disorder clinics & GPs to offer a combined approach to help people overcome eating disorders. They help with the medical/physical side – blood tests, health monitoring, nutritionists, dieticians etc, and Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help with the emotional/unconscious side. There is so much other stuff I want to do as well. It’s vital that eating disorder awareness becomes more widespread – the more quickly someone gets help, the more likely it is that they’ll recover. Schools, colleges and universities can play a big role in helping spot the signs. I think that teachers need to be educated in what to look out for, how to access help and how to support students who are struggling.
Parents are a major influence too – positive parenting from as early an age as possible could have a big impact on helping young people develop a stronger sense of self esteem and belief in themselves that they are ok being exactly who they are.
I’d like to create some kind of workshop or training course that could be rolled out nationally, using Cognitive Hypnotherapy as a basis of course. It would also be great to get some kind of research project up and running that focuses on how Cognitive Hypnotherapy helps people recover from eating disorders – being able to collect evidence to prove how effective it can be would be fantastic.