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When it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, diet and exercise are essential, but so is your mindset. Altering your beliefs about weight loss and your emotional connections with food can help you meet your weight loss goals.
One way to do this is through hypnosis. You might be skeptical, but medical hypnosis is far from the scenes of hypnosis that you might see in a stage act.
Weight loss hypnosis is a complementary technique that has been shown to help increase your chances of reaching a healthy weight when combined with diet and exercise.
What is hypnosis?
Using hypnosis for medical purposes has a long history. The British Medical Association first endorsed the use of hypnosis in medicine in 1955, and the American Medical Association followed suit in 1958 (Häuser, 2016).
The term “hypnosis” means both an altered state of consciousness and the procedure by which this state is induced. During a hypnotic trance, the way that you think, feel, and act can be influenced. You can generate a hypnotic trance by yourself (self-hypnosis) or with the help of another person (a hypnotherapist) (Häuser, 2016).
During the state of deep relaxation induced by hypnosis, you are open to possibilities. That doesn’t mean that the therapist can control you during a session. It just means that your subconscious mind is more open to positive suggestions while in a hypnotic state. That openness makes you more likely to believe and experience what might be possible for you to achieve (Häuser, 2016; Williamson, 2019).
A skilled hypnotherapist can help you get greater access to your mind/body connections and unconscious processing, allowing you to (Williamson, 2019):
- Reduce stress
- Manage the side effects of medications
- Ease pain or unpleasant symptoms
You can also learn self-hypnosis techniques, which can save you time and money, in addition to giving you more control over your weight loss journey (Williamson, 2019).
Does hypnosis work for weight loss?
Psychological factors such as mood and stress can affect your eating habits and contribute to weight gain. You can use hypnosis as a strategy for managing your stress. This can help you correct stress-induced overeating and start building healthy habits (Pellegrini, 2021).
Hypnosis designed for weight loss has been shown to help participants (Pellegrini, 2021):
- Increase motivation
- Limit impulsiveness
- Encourage self-control
- Improve self-acceptance
- Limit food cravings
- Boost self-esteem
You can add self-hypnosis techniques to regular weight loss interventions, like healthy eating and exercise. Combining these techniques has been shown to lead to more dramatic weight loss for participants (Bo, 2018; Pellegrini, 2021).
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A randomized controlled trial was conducted with individuals with a diagnosis of obesity. All participants received education on nutrition, exercise, and behavioral recommendations to help with weight loss. Half of the participants also received three sessions to learn self-hypnosis to increase self-control before meals (Bo, 2018).
The people who learned self-hypnosis reported feeling fuller after meals and having a better quality of life. Those who habitually used self-hypnosis work also reported more significant weight loss and changes in their caloric intake (Bo, 2018).
It is possible that those who used self-hypnosis more than others were more motivated or dedicated to their weight loss plan, which might have contributed to their improved weight loss results. In other words, it may not have been the hypnosis itself that led to weight loss, but the dedication to the overall weight loss program, which happened to involve hypnosis (Bo, 2018).
Can hypnosis help with anything else?
Hypnosis isn’t just for helping you lose weight. Many different conditions have been shown to benefit from the use of hypnosis. Three of the most well-studied are discussed below.
Hypnosis for quitting smoking is one of its most well-known uses, although the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive. It’s thought that hypnosis can potentially weaken your desire to smoke and strengthen your desire to stop smoking (Barnes, 2019).
A look at the medical literature on hypnosis found that while some studies showed benefits, they also showed a high risk of bias, meaning that the research may have been skewed for various reasons. The researchers concluded that there was insufficient evidence that hypnosis was a better tool for quitting smoking than other interventions (Barnes, 2019).
They also noted that there isn’t much research into whether hypnosis can cause adverse side effects or not. They stated that their data didn’t show any evidence that it had a negative impact (Barnes, 2019).
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Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
Functional gastrointestinal disorders include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some types of nausea, vomiting, and constipation. They are among the most commonly diagnosed GI disorders. They are often resistant to many treatments and can cause a poor quality of life (Vasant, 2019).
While we don’t know exactly how it works, multiple studies have shown that hypnosis can successfully reduce symptoms when other treatments have failed. Up to 76% of participants reported significant improvements in their symptoms, with lasting effects (Vasant, 2019).
During hypnosis sessions, the therapist repeatedly reinforces the idea that you have control of your gut rather than it having control of you. They may also introduce suggestions on overcoming anxiety or fear of your illness (Vasant, 2019).
Hypnosis has a long history of use for managing pain, long before anesthesia was used during surgeries. Since then, it has been found to be effective for reducing both acute and chronic pain (Moss, 2019).
Hypnosis can improve your medical experience when used along with standard treatments during (Moss, 2019):
- Dental procedures (including for children)
- Before surgery
Multiple randomized controlled trials have found that hypnosis can reduce pain and anxiety at least as effectively as other supportive treatments such as biofeedback, some medications, and relaxation techniques (Moss, 2019).
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Other strategies for weight loss
Since the health consequences of obesity are so severe, a multi-prong approach to managing it is often needed. Your healthcare provider will need to individualize your treatment plan. This will most likely include a combination of diet changes, behavior changes, medications, and even possibly surgery (Panuganti, 2021).
Most dietary approaches involve restricting one or more macronutrients, namely carbohydrates, fat, or protein. There’s no consensus on which approach is suitable for each person. Each type of diet has different likely outcomes and benefits (Parmar, 2021). The most important factor is finding the most tolerable and sustainable approach for you.
Common diets for weight loss include (Parmar, 2021):
- Low-fat diet
- Low-carbohydrate diet
- Mediterranean diet
- The Ornish diet
- The Atkins diet
- The paleolithic (paleo) diet
- The vegetarian diet
- Intermittent fasting
- Low-calorie diet and very low-calorie diet
- Meal replacements
While different diets work for different people, it’s important to avoid extreme weight loss diets, as these are rarely sustainable, can lead to yo-yo dieting, and can cause you to have a negative relationship with food.
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How to find a weight loss hypnotist?
If you feel like weight loss hypnosis might be helpful for your condition, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you address any medical issues that may be causing your weight gain and provide you with a referral to a clinical hypnotherapist in your area.
Self-management hypnosis strategies for weight loss are increasingly popular, leading to hundreds of websites, apps, and videos dedicated to hypnosis. A scientific review of a number of these resources found that methods and quality varied widely. Not all of them could be considered safe or effective (Pellegrini, 2021).
So if you’re looking to incorporate weight loss hypnosis into your routine, you might be better off trying to find a certified hypnotherapist locally (Pellegrini, 2021).
- Barnes, J., McRobbie, H., Dong, C. Y., Walker, N., & Hartmann-Boyce, J. (2019). Hypnotherapy for smoking cessation. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 6(6), CD001008. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001008.pub3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6568235/
- Bo, S., Rahimi, F., Goitre, I., Properzi, B., Ponzo, V., Regaldo, G., et al. (2018). Effects of self-conditioning techniques (self-hypnosis) in promoting weight loss in patients with severe obesity: a randomized controlled trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 26(9), 1422–1429. doi: 10.1002/oby.22262. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30226009/
- Häuser, W., Hagl, M., Schmierer, A., & Hansen, E. (2016). The efficacy, safety and applications of medical hypnosis. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 113(17), 289–296. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0289. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4873672/
- Moss, D. & Willmarth, E. (2019). Hypnosis, anesthesia, pain management, and preparation for medical procedures. Annals of Palliative Medicine, 8(4), 498–503. doi: 10.21037/apm.2019.07.01. Retrieved from https://apm.amegroups.com/article/view/27360/25678
- Panuganti, K. K., Nguyen, M., & Kshirsagar, R. K. (2021). Obesity. [Updated 2021, Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 25, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459357/
- Parmar, R. M. & Can, AS. (2021). Dietary approaches to obesity treatment. [Updated 2021, Oct 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 25, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK574576/
- Pellegrini, M., Carletto, S., Scumaci, E., Ponzo, V., Ostacoli, L., & Bo, S. (2021). The use of self-help strategies in obesity treatment. a narrative review focused on hypnosis and mindfulness. Current Obesity Reports, 10(3), 351–364. doi: 10.1007/s13679-021-00443-z. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8408071/
- Vasant, D. H. & Whorwell, P. J. (2019). Gut-focused hypnotherapy for functional gastrointestinal disorders: Evidence-base, practical aspects, and the Manchester Protocol. Neurogastroenterology and Motility: The Official Journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society, 31(8), e13573. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13573. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6850508/
- Williamson, A. (2019). What is hypnosis and how might it work? Palliative Care: Research and Treatment, 12. doi: 10.1177/1178224219826581. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1178224219826581
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.