Weight Loss Hypnosis: Diet Dream Come True?

Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 11:47pm

By Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD, CDN and Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, CDN

The word hypnosis often evokes images of a be-spectacled man holding a swinging pocket watch or unknowing volunteers clucking like chickens on a stage, but hypnosis involves neither swinging watches nor chickens.  Hypnosis as a tool for weight loss is not a new concept, however it has received more attention of late.  In 2004, Dateline chronicled the progress of six people trying six different methods for losing weight.  One subject followed a program of dietary changes along with regular hypnotherapy sessions and lost 35 pounds in ten months.  Googling “weight loss hypnosis” will result in two million listings that define the topic or sell products designed to facilitate weight loss through hypnosis.  But one man’s success and a multitude of websites touting easy weight loss hardly provide you the ground upon which to make an educated decision about hypnosis for weight loss. Here are the facts.  

How hypnosis works

Hypnosis dates back to the 1700s and is defined by most reliable sources as an induced trance state, characterized by intense relaxation and increased susceptibility to suggestion. This means that the hypnotherapist will guide you into a deeply relaxed, open state and then introduce you to concepts that will aid in your weight loss process.  For example, someone who has an affinity for sweets might undergo hypnosis in which the hypnotherapist suggests that the person now has a strong desire to eat fruits and vegetables.  Hypnosis sessions can also involve suggestions to the patient that cause certain environmental cues (i.e., colors, sounds, smells, etc.) to trigger an intense focus on exercise and diet goals.  Studies on the effect of hypnosis (though some of the methodology is questionable) indicate that it can help people lose weight when combined with diet and exercise. 

Safety and hypnosis

While hypnosis is generally safe, the purpose is to create a highly impressionable state.  It is important to choose someone with whom you feel comfortable and who is a credentialed health care provider with experience in hypnosis.  The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis are just a few professional organizations that offer training in hypnosis for health professionals.  Although there are plenty of weight loss hypnosis CDs available on the Internet, it might be best to stick with a real person – at least at first.  One of the benefits that both studies and personal stories have suggested is the benefit of follow-up and maintenance sessions.

Is weigth loss hypnosis for you?

If you are willing to eat right, exercise, and commit to multiple sessions (that may continue even after your goal weight is achieved), then weight loss hypnosis may be something worth trying.  Choosing a provider carefully and entering with an open mind improves the likelihood of having a positive experience.  According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, about 70% of the population is able to be hypnotized and those who believe that it will work are usually more susceptible.

Best diet is still a healthy diet and exercise plan, but hypnosis may help too

There is no replacement for watching calories, exercising, and making healthful food choices when working towards weight loss goals.  However, although hypnosis is not a replacement for these things, it might enhance their positive effects. 

Allison, D. B., & Faith, M. S. (1996). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: A meta-analytic reappraisal. Joumal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 513 -516.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.