Can hypnosis be effective for long term weight loss?
Question: I'm considering buying a hypnosis CD program for weight loss. What is the success rate for hypnosis?
Answer: "There's no definite proof that it works," says hypnotherapist Benjamin Kligler, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine at Albert Einstein College of medicine in New York City. "Most studies are short-term, and there is a wide variety of hypnosis techniques used, so it's hard to say. The literature does suggest that hypnosis works better for smoking than for weight loss.
That said, hypnosis has helped some of Kligler's patients lose weight, though results depend largely on the patient's motivation. "Hypnosis is not magic. It's not like someone can hypnotize you and then you don't want to eat anymore. It's a tool that can help you change your eating behavior so that certain patterns become easier to undo or resist," he explains.
During an individual hypnosis session, a therapist typically leads the patient into a deep relaxation state by directing her to practice breathing exercises and by asking her to imagine a peaceful location, such as the beach or a lush meadow. After 10-15 minutes, the therapist makes suggestions about how the patient might consider food differently, which are stored in her subconscious. For instance, the therapist may say, "When you're feeling lonely, it might seem that the only thing that will make you feel better is something to eat, but in fact you might be able to feel just as satisfied by taking a few deep breaths."
If the hypnosis is successful, the next time the patient runs to the fridge when she's feeling lonely rather than hungry, she should be able to stop herself by remembering to take a deep breath. Some patients carry around visual cues, such as a postcard of a beautiful scene, and can stop themselves from eating excessively just by looking at the scene and experiencing a moment of relaxation that satisfies their emotional hunger.
The same imagery and behavior suggestions don't work fore everyone, however. "The problem with a CD is that it's not individualized. If it happens to use the tone and language that works for you, that's good, but that won't always be the case," Kligler says.
If you choose to visit a hypnotherapist, Kligler suggests three or four weekly sessions, followed by another one month later. Be sure your therapist is a medical doctor or other licensed health-care practitioner who has completed an extensive professional-level hypnotherapy program rather than a weekend workshop. A reputable credential is a certification from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, which features a referral service on its website, asch.net.
Suzanne Schlosberg is the co-author of the Fat-Free Truth: Real Answers to the Fitness and Weight Loss Questions You Wonder About Most (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).