Journalism. Media. Photography.


One man's unorthodox journey to reclaim his life

Andre Anthony Thurairatnam/Staff Reporter

He stands with unmistakeable confidence. An athletic six-foot two, 220 pounds – all muscle. The beads of sweat underneath Rick Knicely’s helmet trickle down to his shoulder pads, dampening the Yellow Jackets logo.

He takes a deep breath.

The smell of freshly-cut grass basking in the sunlight makes him feel at home. The roar of the crowd, the deafening hits, the adrenaline rush on every play: the former all-Ohio, Defiance College Centre lived for football. It was his addiction.

That was ten years ago.

Today, Knicely lives in a small town about 40 minutes south of Detroit, Michigan. Gone are the days of rigorous training, healthy eating, and controlled discipline.

For almost a decade after lacing his cleats for the last time, Knicely has struggled with a new addiction: once an all-State athlete, the Ohio native was now tipping the scales at almost 400 pounds.

Knicely suffered from an emotional eating disorder. He was addicted to food.

“It used to be if I had a whole bag of Oreos – I’d eat the whole bag,” he admitted.

“If I would be at a birthday party, I’d have at least two or three slices of cake. It would be calling me. The anxiety builds, and builds – and you want it more and more until you finally get up and grab it.”

Physically and mentally, Knicely said he had “just given up.”

After years of failed attempts to get his weight under control, the former athlete turned to something more unconventional – hypnotherapy.

In the industry, hypnosis is seen as a heightened state of awareness – contrary to the belief of someone being asleep or dreaming. Hypnotherapy works on the concept that while under hypnosis, we have direct communication with the unconscious mind.

“We have different parts of our minds that serve different functions,” said Giles Bernard – one of London, Ontario’s most sought-after hypnotherapists.

“You’ve probably heard people say we only use five to 10 per cent of our brain – well that’s the logic side. The other side is the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is where you keep track of your heart rate, your blood circulation, when you eat something it digests. When you go to sleep at night, you don’t have to think ‘geez, I hope I remember to breathe: the unconscious mind will do that for you. That part of the mind is also where all of your habits, your beliefs, and your emotions are. When someone puts you in a hypnotic state – that allows us to have a direct conversation with the unconscious mind.” [emphasis added]

Hypnotherapists act as a guide, using positive suggestions to try and reprogram bad habits while the patient is in this hypnotic state.

“If someone has a fear of flying or speaking in public, you can tell them all day-long that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but all the logic in the world is not going to help that person,” Bernard said.”

Six months ago, Knicely attended a conference where he was introduced to Didi Vergados, a weight-loss guru, and hypnotherapist from Toronto.

“I approached her and told her I want to get my life back in order,” he said. “[I told her] the person you’re looking at is not who I am, but it’s who I’ve been for the last 10 years”

Vergados had Knicely commit to three sessions. Six months later – he’s lost 100 pounds.

“He’s a pretty exceptional person,” Vergados said. “I would say he’s more of an exception to the rule, the success is not always that grand. Every person is as unique as a snowflake. What works on one person, which might be life-changing, might put a little tiny dent in another.”

Vergados explains her sessions with Knicely focused on bringing his unconscious mind back to a familiar place.

“He had such a good mindset when he played football back in college,” she said. “His mental strategy was so good; all we did was tap back into that.”

Knicely said he had experimented with self-hypnosis in the past, but never truly experienced what being in a hypnotic state felt like. He says the experience is comparable to being in a dentist’s office and using the nitrous oxide – where you start to feel very relaxed and carefree.

“Everyone expects it to be this big mystical, magical experience – which it can be,” Knicely said.

“But it really isn’t every time. It’s just a more relaxed informative state where you just feel so great about everything.”

Knicely says he felt the effects from his first session with Vergados almost immediately.

“That very night, at about 11:30, I’m walking out of my bed and breakfast – and of course I haven’t eaten dinner as yet – and all that seemed to be open is pizza joints,” he said.

“And I’m like ‘okay, I guess one last day isn’t going to hurt.’ I couldn’t even make myself go in there.”

Knicely said he ended up going to a shawarma shop for dinner, where he bought himself a vegetable plate.

Then came his second challenge.

For the conference Knicely was attending, he forgot to bring with him a pen and pad of paper to keep notes. The only place he would be able purchase them at this time of night was one of the 24-hour convenience stores near his hotel.

“I was immediately dreading that, because one of my biggest weaknesses was every time I’d go into convenience stores, I’d pick up snack cakes and stuff like that,” Knicely said.

“I went into the store, and immediately I passed by the Twinkies – and the first thought in my mind was, ‘You don’t want that. Those aren’t good for you.’ I left the store with just my pen and paper, and from that day forward – the motivation was unstoppable.”

When asked what it was like to have a decade-long approach of thinking, and acting completely change in a matter of hours, Knicely explained that it felt almost like a reflex.

“I’m a non-drinker, so I can compare it to that,” he explained.

“If a non-drinker goes into a bar they don’t even think about getting a beer – you just don’t, it’s just not something you do. Not that I don’t agree with it: there’s no morals to it – you just don’t. So, that’s what it became for me with the foods that weren’t good for me. There’s no willpower, there’s no thought process – I just don’t.”

Beyond Knicely’s success, Dr. Erik Woody, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo who specializes in hypnosis research, explains there is scientific data that proves hypnotherapy can lead to improvements in certain people.

“The scientific credibility of hypnosis has been buttressed in recent years by several brain- imaging studies showing that hypnotic suggestions produce very interesting and meaningful changes in brain function,” Dr. Woody said in an email.

“There are very substantial individual differences in how strongly people respond to hypnotic suggestions, and high responsiveness is probably important for some kinds of therapeutic benefit. However, even people who are relatively low in hypnotic responsiveness can benefit, and Irving Kirsch (a Harvard researcher) has even dubbed hypnosis a ‘non-deceptive placebo.’”

Currently, Knicely is training to become a hypnotherapist himself to help others who have been in the same position he was once in.

He explained that although he understands why most people have doubts about turning to hypnotherapy as treatment, it was the decision that changed his life.

“I really, really want people to understand hypnosis is real, and the power of the mind is real.” Knicely said.

“I know that had I not gone through the hypnosis, I would not be where I’m at right now, and, in fact, I’d be one step closer to death.”