Hypnosis is widely used as a weight loss strategy by people who struggle with lifelong eating and lifestyle habits that are difficult to relinquish. However, hypnosis does not appear to be a weight loss magic wand. There are reports of success stories, but because of the lack of clear proof of its success in weight management, the medical community does not universally embrace hypnosis for weight loss.
Hypnosis for Eating Habits and Behavior
The current definition of hypnosis by the Society of Psychological Hypnosis division of the American Psychological Association (APA) is, "a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness, characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion."
How It Works
By mechanisms not yet clear, hypnosis opens the subconscious mind to make changes that the conscious mind usually resists making. When people let go of conscious thinking and external inputs, they release the power of the subconscious to alter behavior and habits.
It is possible that hypnosis can help weight loss through its effect on eating behaviors and habits.
Eating Habits and Emotional Links
Many people gain weight because they eat big portion sizes and choose high calorie foods. Others gain not because they respond to hunger cues, but because of learned emotional cues that they have linked with food, such as sadness, depression, negative thinking, happiness, comfort, or a memory. Some people find it hard to lose weight because it is difficult for them to change those habits and the emotional links to food.
How Hypnosis Helps
Hypnosis can help you harness the power of your subconscious mind to exert control over unhealthy eating habits. You channel psychological energies to remove the behavioral and emotional links to food that make you overeat. It reprograms your brain with new healthy cues and gives you motivation to lose weight.
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis as psychotherapy by specially-trained health professionals in a number of medical situations. Although its effectiveness in weight management is uncertain, there is better evidence for its use in areas such as pain management, irritable bowel syndrome, smoking cessation, and hot flashes.
During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist uses various techniques to help a client achieve hypnosis and to alter behavior.
Imagery and Suggestions
A hypnotherapist uses imagery and visual suggestions to induce relaxation, and a state of hypnosis and focus. He then makes repetitive, positive, verbal suggestions and mental images for the desired changes in eating behavior, or exercise.
Relaxation and Focus
Hypnosis uses elements of passive muscle relaxation, imagery and meditation to achieve the hypnotic state. With hypnosis, the body is in deep relaxation while the mind is in sharp focus. Hypnosis focuses the mind so intently on a single thought, idea, or object, that it disengages from other distractions. In this relaxed and focused state the subconscious mind is said to be more open to suggestions.
Because you are relaxed and focused during a hypnosis session, you can reprogram your brain to let go of old, negative, or unhealthy behavior, and imagine new, positive, healthy ones. You go into your subconscious to lay the foundations of the changes you want to see.
Positive Images and Repetition
Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist, Jean Fain, believes that creating positive suggestions and images is more likely to be effective than negative ones. For example instead of thinking, "Chocolate is bad for me and makes me fat," think instead, "I will eat more fruits and vegetables because they will improve my health."
Both Fain and Harvard Medical School psychologist and researcher, Dierdre Barrett, also note that hypnotherapy sessions usually have to be repeated a few times to be effective. In addition, daily focus and repetition of the new behavior you want to see, or a new mantra, such as, "I will look good in my new clothes," can also be more effective in reaching your goal.
Hypnotherapy Results Vary
Hypnosis cannot motivate everyone to lose weight, so weight loss results will vary from person to person. This is because people have different capacity to be hypnotized, and differ in their response to hypnosis. The more receptive you are to being hypnotized, the greater your chance of reaching a hypnotic state to modify your thinking and eating habits.
Self-Hypnosis for Weight Loss
Despite the popular view created by stage hypnotists, you have control over your own subconscious; the hypnotherapist does not. You can undergo hypnotherapy through a licensed hypnotherapist, or you can create your own behavioral changes through self-hypnosis.
With self-hypnosis, you guide yourself through steps to a deep sense of relaxation, then use the undistracted energy of your mind to focus on the positive change you want to make. You can use online sources of self-hypnosis to guide you through the steps. Learning self-hypnosis can be useful for continuing the weight loss strategies learned through sessions with your trained hypnotherapist.
Hypnosis can alter perception and behavior, but it is unclear whether it is an effective weight loss tool that can be widely applied. It appears from the few studies currently available that hypnosis by itself will not magically make the pounds disappear.
- A study conducted in 1982, reported in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, involved 60 overweight women ages 20-65 who were divided between three study groups: hypnosis, hypnosis plus audiotapes, and a control, no intervention group. The author found that hypnosis, and hypnosis with audiotapes lead to similar weight loss and this two groups lost more weight than the group receiving no intervention.
- In April 1995, an analysis of 18 existing studies comparing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to therapy plus hypnosis (CBT+HYPNO) was reported in the same journal. The authors concluded that 70% of the CBT+HYPNO group lost significantly more weight than the CBT-only group, and women kept the weight off longer.
- The same authors reported a follow-up analysis in the same Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in June 1996, based on data from two studies added to the previous analysis. They reported that the CBT+HYPNO group lost twice the weight as the CBT-only group.
- In the same month's journal, two other authors wrote a review of the two analyses. The authors concluded that, after making transcription and calculation adjustments in the 1995 and 1996 studies, there might be only a slight increase in weight loss as a result of hypnosis.
Conclusions Drawn From Studies
There are no studies to definitively show that hypnosis alone can lead to weight loss. It is possible that, used in conjunction with a lower calorie, healthy diet and increased physical activity, hypnosis might help you lose weight successfully. By changing negative thinking about weight loss and exercise into positive thinking, hypnosis might alter your eating habits.
Because changes in behavior is one of the key challenges in any weight loss strategy, by helping you to focus your goal and changes in your behavior, hypnosis might motivate you more to stick with your plan. Hypnosis is not a weight loss strategy, it is a behavioral strategy.
Selection of Hypnotherapy Programs
The following is a selection of well-known hypnotherapists and their hypnosis programs:
Jean Fain, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W. is a Harvard-affiliated psychotherapist with a practice in Concord, Massachusetts. Her hypnotherapy specialty includes weight management, smoking cessation, overcoming fear and bad habits.
She is an author and teacher who has written articles for Oprah Magazine, the Huffington Post, and the Boston Globe.
Paul McKenna, PhD, of London, England is an internationally-known hypnotherapist and author. His work includes hypnosis for weight management, smoking cessation, stress, anxiety, and depression.
He has appeared on many TV shows including, The Dr. Oz Show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Good Morning America, and Anderson Live.
Easy Will Power
Rena Goldberg of Easy Will Power, is a well-known hypnotherapist in the United States. She specializes in areas such as weight management, self-esteem, fear, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Her work has been featured on ABC, CNN, CBS, NBC and other news networks. Her featured work is on hypnotizing clients to believe they had gastric band surgery so they will eat less.
Darren Marks of Harmony Hypnotherapy of London and Hertfordshire, England, is an internationally recognized hypnotherapist, author and instructor. His practice includes weight management, smoking cessation, phobias and anxiety.
He has been featured in British newspapers, such as the Mirror.
Find a Hypnotherapist
There many qualified clinical physician hypnotherapists and certified hypnotherapists. To find reputable one who will discuss realistic expectations, get a referral from your doctor or friends you trust, or search the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists.
Relax and Focus
If you are considering hypnotherapy to aid your weight loss, it is important that to find a hypnotherapist you can trust; hypnosis puts you in a relaxed, vulnerable state. The more comfortable you are with your hypnotherapist, the more fully you can relax and focus during a session and the greater your chance of successful hypnosis and outcome.