When you think of hypnosis, if the first thing that comes to your mind is an image of a guy with a pocket watch, who is going to make you run around and act like a chicken — think again! While that may be wildly entertaining, hypnosis has been used far more seriously, in addiction recovery, to quit smoking – and yes, even for weight loss.
Believe it or not, hypnotherapy, as opposed to the aforementioned “stage hypnosis” is actually now being taught at respected institutions such as Harvard Medical School as part of the psychotherapy curriculum. I say “believe it or not” because “belief” is at the core of using hypnotherapy for weight loss.
Licensed hypnotherapists say that slimming down is all about trusting your innate abilities and your belief in them. People tend to achieve what they think they can achieve, so one of the most common approaches used in hypnotherapy is to plant the suggestion with the patient that their weight loss plan will work. It is important to note that most legitimate practitioners of hypnotherapy do not see it as something that could work by itself but is a good way to support other weight loss efforts.
Steer clear of any hypnotherapists that claim they will provide you with a post-hypnotic aversion to junk food and cravings, and that is all you need. According to Michael J. Emery, M.A., a personal development coach who specializes in hypnosis, successful use of hypnosis for weight loss involves “integrating the psychology of motivation with education and protocols for exercise and nutrition.”
In other words, when used correctly, hypnosis can be used to keep your diet on track, but not as some kind of magical replacement for diet and exercise. If that is what you are looking for, best go back to the nightclub!
Research on Hypnosis and Weight Loss
A few studies have evaluated the use of weight-loss hypnosis alone. Most of them have been somewhat inconclusive or showed only modest weight loss, of about 6-10 pounds on average. However, this would tend to agree with Emery’s evaluation that hypnosis is most effective when it is used adjunctively, or along with a diet plan, exercise and nutritional counseling, rather than by itself. There, in trials where hypnosis was added to other treatments for obesity such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as you might expect, the evidence is much better.
In a meta-analysis, or “study of studies” that looked at half a dozen or more individual studies of hypnotherapy as an adjunct to other weight loss programs, the researchers concluded: “the addition of hypnosis substantially enhanced treatment outcomes.
Participants in the hypnosis groups seemed to perform particularly well at follow-up, in particular, it was found that most participants continued to lose weight after the treatment ended.” The meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology.
How to use Hypnosis for Weight Loss
If you are interested in adding hypnosis to your weight loss plan, ask your coach, trainer, or healthcare provider for a legitimate clinic or practitioner in your area. You can also visit the website of the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists, AAPH.org
Who Should Use It?
According to those who hawk hypnosis as a panacea for weight loss — anybody who is struggling with weight should consider trying hypnotherapy. However, given the evidence, I think only those who are already undergoing a good weight loss plan, and would like to add hypnosis to help them achieve their goals should consider it.
There seems to be good scientific evidence to suggest that legitimate hypnotherapy, when used together with a fitness plan, can help to keep dieters motivated and on track.
There is no “bad” to discuss with hypnosis in the way I usually do in term of side effects, as it is a technique, and not a pill or a drug. So “bad” in this case really means “downside” or where it is less than effective. One of the downsides is the time it actually takes to achieve results with hypnosis, if any. Basically in using hypnosis to lose weight, you are reprogramming your brain or “unlearning” bad habits. By most estimates, it takes 30 days or more of constant reprogramming to achieve long-term change. Beyond that, what the stage hypnotists say is true of legitimate hypnotherapy as well — the subject must believe that they can be hypnotized for it to work. Some people resist the very idea of hypnosis so strongly, that the technique cannot be used on them. And of course, there are physical conditions that lead to weight gain, such as diabetes or insulin resistance that cannot be overcome by any suggestion – no matter how powerful!
The Bottom Line
When looking at hypnosis and weight loss, it is important to separate legitimate hypnotherapists, not only from entertainers but also from some of the more esoteric practitioners of hypnosis. The effective use of hypnotherapy to deal with phobias, addictions, and even weight loss, should not be lumped in with various new age, pseudoscientific practices that use hypnosis, for “past life regressions” and other “mumbo-jumbo”
That having been said, even for weight-loss, hypnosis may help you shed a few extra pounds, but only when it is administered by a proper practitioner, and only as part of a weight-loss plan that includes diet, exercise and nutritional counseling.