Healthy weight loss isn’t a magic trick. For most people, losing weight requires regular exercise, coupled with conscious choices about what, when, and how much to eat.
Hormones and health conditions may influence your progress. Your mind and emotions may also play important roles in the process. That’s where hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis may be helpful.
Hypnotherapy alone probably won’t deliver dramatic weight loss results, but there’s evidence it can help alter the beliefs and emotional connections that interfere with your ability to modify your diet and exercise routines effectively.
Some studies suggest that self-hypnosis can help you lose some weight.
At the end of the trial, the self-hypnosis group had consumed fewer calories and lost more weight. They also said their quality of life was improved after the hypnosis intervention.
It’s important to recognize that the participants in this study worked with therapists to learn effective hypnotherapy techniques before practicing them on their own.
Guided hypnotherapy, conducted by trained and certified therapists, is a good place to learn techniques that work.
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After 10 weeks of guided hypnotherapy, the study participants had a lower body mass index (BMI) and reduced levels of leptin, a hormone associated with obesity, in their blood.
In addition, levels of adiponectin, a hormone your body needs to protect you against obesity and type II diabetes, had increased.
Many health professionals think hypnotherapy is most effective when it’s combined with other effective weight loss measures.
More research is needed to understand exactly how the mind-body connection works in hypnotherapy for weight loss.
Although researchers have studied the effects of hypnotherapy on weight loss for decades, little is known about exactly how hypnosis may change your weight. Here’s what the experts say about it:
It can help resolve subconscious emotional conflicts
Kathy Barringer, LPCC, a licensed professional clinical counselor at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, conducts the clinic’s Eating Well program.
Hypnotherapy, Barringer says, can target unresolved emotional issues that keep people from being able to lose weight.
“If I have all the information I need to be able to release weight, but I still eat for emotion rather than hunger, I need to look at the underlying emotions driving it,” she explains.
People who may have experienced trauma, abuse, or chaos in the past may be unaware that their personal histories are affecting their current attempts to maintain a healthy weight.
“Hypnotherapy can help heal the trauma so the person can go on and release the weight,” Barringer says.
It can help correct thinking errors and detrimental beliefs
Hypnosis can also help correct cultural misconceptions and faulty beliefs that limit people’s ability to find a healthy weight. Barringer points to the thin body ideals embedded in American culture as a prime example.
“One of the ways hypnotherapy can help is by challenging people’s perceptions about how the human body should look,” she says. “We have this belief in our culture that the only healthy body is the thin body.”
Learning to appreciate changes in the body — say, after childbirth or as a result of aging — can help people let go of some of the stress and perfectionism around weight loss goals. “Our bodies carry us through life,” Barringer notes.
She says hypnosis, whether individual or in groups, can help people revise other unhelpful beliefs, such as associating food with self-reward.
Instead of using food as a way to treat yourself after a difficult day, for example, hypnosis can help you select a reward that doesn’t undermine your healthy eating plans.
“We can learn to eat from a place of deserving good health,” she says. “Treats should provide good health, which is actually what I deserve.”
It may help you reduce cravings
You can use hypnotherapy to decrease your desire for unhealthy foods. In the Eating Well program, for example, therapists use guided imagery and shared hypnotherapy sessions to reduce dietary choices that could thwart your weight loss progress.
Studies have shown that guided imagery can be used to cut down on problematic food cravings. Experts say that once you’re trained, you can use guided imagery and hypnotherapy to help yourself when you need to.
Hypnotherapy sessions usually last between 50 minutes and 2 hours. Specific techniques vary from therapist to therapist, but many sessions begin with you finding a comfortable position, either seated or lying down.
Next, you may be asked to close your eyes or to focus on a particular object. Your therapist may then lead you through a series of deep breathing exercises.
When you’ve begun to relax, your therapist may guide you to envision a safe and calming place, such as a body of water you enjoy visiting.
Once you’ve entered a deeply relaxed state, sometimes called a trance, your therapist may suggest healthy thought patterns or beliefs to replace the ones that aren’t working for you.
Self-affirming words and phrases might also be part of your focus. Eventually, your therapist will gently invite you to refocus your attention on the “here and now.”
Once you’ve learned the process, you can use these meditative techniques on your own as you need them. In fact, some therapists include a suggestion in your hypnosis session that enables you to induce your own hypnotic state at a later time.
One of the most common benefits of hypnotherapy, whether self-induced or guided, is a sense of relaxation and calm.
Barringer says that hypnotherapy lowers the amount of cortisol (a hormone related to your stress response) in the body. It has also been effective in lowering blood pressure.
“It can translate into better health markers across the board,” she says.
What about side effects?
Hypnotherapy is usually inexpensive, and for most people, there aren’t any negative side effects. However, If you have a health condition that affects your weight, it’s important to work with a physician or a healthcare professional to treat that underlying condition.
Hypnotherapy is recommended for everyone, and self-hypnosis and hypnotherapy may be helpful for people trying to lose weight.
Barringer recommends that people work with a counselor or therapist who’s state-licensed in a mental health field, and who has also been specially trained in hypnotherapy.
An experienced hypnotherapist who has undergone hypnotherapy personally is a big bonus, but Barringer stresses the importance of finding a therapist who’s trained through a respected hypnotherapy program.
You can find a certified hypnotherapist in your area using The Wellness Institute’s provider tool.
Self-hypnosis can be an effective way to lose some weight, especially when it’s combined with diet and exercise modifications.
The best way to begin is to work with a licensed therapist specially trained in hypnotherapy, so that the techniques you learn are more likely to benefit you. You can use hypnotherapy to help heal memories and emotions that sabotage your weight loss progress.
You can also use hypnotherapy to reinforce healthy attitudes, correct cultural and personal beliefs that hold you back, and reduce your desire for foods you want to limit or eliminate from your diet.
Healthy weight loss is a highly individual process. What works for one person might not work for someone else — and what works in one period of your life might not work in another.
A supportive therapist who can help you relax and relearn through hypnotherapy may improve your odds of success.