Weight loss might seem like a purely physical pursuit—eat healthier foods, adjust your calorie intake, move more and the pounds come off, right? But the brain can also be a powerful tool for weight loss. Having the right mindset can help you achieve the kind of long-term, sustainable success you've been working so hard to achieve. If you have trouble summoning the willpower and mental focus to stick to a diet and exercise plan, you might have considered trying hypnosis—but does it really work?
The Skinny on Hypnosis
Also known as hypnotherapy, hypnosis is the practice of using guided relaxation and meditation to achieve a trance-like state, with the goal of making the subject more open to suggestions. Some people prefer to visit a therapist for an in-person session, while others seek out "remote" hypnosis using online videos or CDs.
Common goals of hypnosis clients include quitting smoking or drinking alcohol, getting better sleep, improving relationships and banishing fears and phobias. In weight-loss hypnosis, the guidance would be geared toward resisting certain foods and staying active. Although the research is lacking as to its effectiveness, many people claim that hypnosis has helped them to curb cravings and adhere to healthier lifestyles.
No two hypnotherapists are alike, which means every session will be different. SparkPeople member SAPHRAEL shares her experience with weight- loss hypnosis here. During the three-hour session, the hypnotist guided SAPHRAEL through several visualization exercises. For one of them, she imagined entering a cabin with buttons and levers that controlled her cholesterol, blood pressure, metabolism and fat storage, then adjusted them to the desired levels. For another, SAPHRAEL was instructed to take a mental snapshot of what she thinks success would look like, and then to add colors, sounds and smells before "delivering" the picture to her future self.
SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand says that if hypnosis is used to aid weight loss, it should be combined with other strategies. "Hypnosis is more effective when used along with a weight-loss program focusing on food intake, exercise and environmental control," she says. Hand also points out that this type of therapy is usually more effective for things like quitting smoking, as the cues are given to stop the behavior. "With eating, you can't give a cue to stop altogether," she points out. "There is no way to use hypnosis to only eat 1,400 calories daily, for example."
Weight loss therapist Dr. Candice Seti agrees that hypnotherapy should be a supplementary activity, not the primary approach to weight loss. "While it can certainly help, it doesn’t address the elements that are needed for true and lasting change—namely, nutrition, exercise and behavioral adaptations," she says. "If someone is considering hypnosis for weight loss, I would urge them to make sure it is a means of supporting their other efforts and not their sole focus."
Sparkers Share Their Hypnosis Stories
"In short, [hypnosis was a] huge waste of time and money.The effects wear off […] bottom line, it was education around what goes on the plate that got my weight off." REDSHOES2011
"I was hypnotized in 2006 and lost over 100 pounds. I went to a seminar, never expecting it to work, and through the first year, I kept waiting for it to wear off. It still hasn't. I did buy the CD and listened to it every night when I went to bed—I think that was a big help, and I will still listen to it when I need some reinforcement. I think it is the best kept secret to weight loss—and I never expected it to work. I had a friend who went with me [and] it did not work for her, but she did not keep up with the CDs. It really depends on the individual." PEDALPUSHER
"I have found that using a hypnosis DVD is slightly helpful for me. Using it regularly helps with portion control a bit. It doesn't tell me to eat (a certain) amount of calories, [but rather] it tells me to eat until I am just satisfied and to stop before I feel stuffed. It also tells me that I enjoy exercise and like the way it makes me feel. Listening to the short refresher sessions regularly helps me maintain a positive attitude about making the good choices I intellectually know I should make, but sometimes don't have the willpower to make consistently. No miracles, but a little mental lift." ONLINEASLLOU
"I have a weight-loss hypnosis app on my phone and I listen to it most nights as I go to sleep. The whole thing lasts about 50 minutes, but within 10 minutes I'm asleep. As with most hypnosis, the messages get through to your subconscious even when you're asleep. I can definitely tell the difference when I listen to it for several nights in a row. I snack less and don't think about food as much." EMSR2D2
"More than 20 years ago, I used a self-hypnosis tape to lose weight. It wasn't magic. It just changed my internal monologue about food and exercise and health. Then one day, I was walking down the street, I saw a guy chomping on a doughnut and thought to myself, 'That's disgusting! How can he do that??' To me, it was like he was eating worms or something. But I loved doughnuts, so what had I been thinking in that moment? I stopped using the tape at that point, because the thoughts were not truly mine. I have now managed to change my internal monologue about health on my own, and I feel better about that." EABHA70
"I had regular weekly sessions for almost two months. It worked for about one day (after each session), then it wore off. If I could have afforded (and had the time) to do it every day, maybe it would have worked, but it was expensive. Wish I had that money back. I did find that it was very helpful for quitting smoking, however." OUTDOORGAL1
"I am currently doing hypnosis and have lost 20 pounds in two months. It is a nine-month program and I am going twice a week. I also listen to the CDs twice a day. After the first week, I noticed I was walking away from desserts, drinking less and eating more fruits and vegetables. If I do have something sweet, I struggle with just having a "taste" and still want to eat the whole thing—but if I don't start, I don't crave it. I haven't had a soda, drinking only water. I cook more and eat out less. I have better focus, sleep better and am calmer. I find it very relaxing and am able to focus on what I need to do." K10WOLF
4 Tips for Choosing a Hypnotist
If you're thinking about hopping on the hypnotherapy train, keep these tips in mind: