Lauren Gudritz

Hypnosis and Weight Loss

Hypnosis has many practical uses, and these days it is becoming increasingly popular as a method of behavior modification. The Internet contains many advertisements for self-help programs that use hypnosis to reduce stress, quit smoking, or lose weight. In the area of hypnosis and weight loss, there are many web sites for both products and services for sale that promise to help anyone lose weight. Hypnosis uses suggestions to change a person's behavior and eating habits in order to facilitate weight loss. What are the expected outcomes? There are many different outcomes expected from this type of hypnotic treatment. Most vendors of hypnosis specify that it's purpose is not only lose weight but to also maintain that ideal weight. Some companies also promise that hypnosis will stop cravings for unhealthy foods, such as foods high in salt or fat and also fried foods. http://www.clauser.com/announce3.html Through hypnotic suggestion, the person will learn how to eat healthy and may also become physically fit. Basically, the person becomes subconsciously motivated to eat better food and to become physically active. http://www.biocentrix.com/hypnosis/wghtplan.htm How Does Hypnosis work? There are many different forms of hypnosis used to control weight. A very popular method is the use of hypnotizing tapes. DreamLab, a web site selling these tapes, describes the procedure, and advises customers to start the tape when they go to bed. They claim that the tape contains both music and instructions that "lull you into the right mood." http://www.dream-lab.com/noweight.html While a person is in this mood, they are open to changes in their attitudes about eating habits and exercise through the suggestion of dream ideas. http://www.dream-lab.com/noweight.html Another company that sells these types of tapes, called Altered States http://www.altered-states.co.nz/sub/vid1.htm#141 , offers a few examples of typical suggestions found on their "Perfect Weight, Perfect Body" hypnosis tape. These include "you have the power and ability to attain the perfect weight and body," "you stick to your diet," "you live a healthy lifestyle and exercise daily," and "you attain your weight goals and the body you desire."

There are also many ads for self-hypnosis treatments. Hypnotica http://www.biocentrix.com/hypnosis/wghtplan.htm, a web site dealing with many uses for hypnosis, gives especially detailed explanations as to how to go about self-hypnosis. The process begins with hypnotic induction, which involves the steps of preparation, relaxation, a deepening procedure, suggestion application, termination, and measuring the depth of a trance. Preparation involves developing a schedule of times when hypnosis will be practiced, and it is crucial to stick to this schedule. It should be a time when the person is "reasonably alert." Also, it is important that the time will allow the person to practice hypnosis without interruption. The next step, relaxation, involves deep breaths and muscle relaxation. The deepening procedures allow a person to get further into a hypnotic state. Hypnotica warns about a common mistake that many users make, which is consciously waiting for signs that they are hypnotized. It is not possible to fully enter a hypnotic trance if it is being watched for. The "count-down technique" is used by many people to deepen the hypnotic state. Hypnotica suggests that a person begin with a number like one hundred and count down from there, "imagining that you are drifting deeper with each count." They also inform the public that the counting should be mental, not aloud. Other methods for deepening a trance, suggested by Hypnotica, involve the feeling of descending from a higher place, such as free falling to earth or being in an elevator. When a deep trance has been established, the next step is to apply the suggestions that the person has created and memorized beforehand. Hypnotica reminds its customers to use the pronoun "I" rather than "you" when formulating suggestions. Finally, to end the hypnosis it is suggested that the person make a clean break between the hypnotic and aware states. A suggested termination is "think to yourself that you are going to be fully awake after you count up to, say, three." Hypnotica also suggests ways of "measuring your depth of trance." They claim that the best measurement is simply the success of the person's suggestions. Therefore, they are claiming that failure to see results from suggestions could be attributed to lack of depth in a trance. rationale The rationale offered by the various companies selling hypnosis as a means of weight loss is all pretty much the same. Hypnotica http://www.biocentrix.com/hypnosis/wghtplan.htm states that willpower alone is not enough to change a person's eating habits permanently because there is always subconscious resistance. Hypnotica reasons that "If this were not the case, you would not be overweight. You would simply make up your mind to lose weight and keep it off, and you would do it." Dr. Charles E. Henderson, Ph.D., who contributes to the Hypnotica web site, says that hypnosis works because it "changes the subconscious mind, brings it into agreement with conscious desires." Therefore, what you want to eat and what you need to eat to lose weight can be the same thing. This is the entire basis of the use of hypnosis for weight loss, as summarized by the Hypnosis Counseling Center http://members.aol.com/hypnosisnj/weight.htm. Through suggestions during hypnosis, a person's eating habits can be changed for good. http://members.aol.com/hypnosisnj/weight.htm Bad eating habits that were causing the weight problem can be changed into good habits. A person can be told subconsciously to enjoy eating healthy food, and to enjoy exercising and physical activity. When these good, healthy habits are in not only the conscious but also the subconscious mind, the person will experience a lifestyle change that will lead to the loss of excess weight and the maintenance of an ideal weight. Claims and Evidence on the Internet Surprisingly, there are very few claims about the effectiveness of this treatment, and even less evidence to back up those claims. The claims are very general and broad, for the most part. An example of this is found on the web site for the Hypnosis Counseling Center http://members.aol.com/hypnosisnj/weight.htm which says "hypnosis is safe, medically approved and best of all – it works." There is not one shred of evidence to show how safe it is, who medically approved it, or what statistics say about the effectiveness of hypnosis for weight loss. Positive Changes Hypnosis http://hamptonroads.digitalcity.com/positivechanges/ , a company selling hypnosis programs, claims that the patient will have no cravings, and therefore will not have to diet. This service uses testimonials as its only form of evidence, in which a satisfied customer claims to have "100% control over my eating behavior." Positive Changes Hypnosis offers a money-back guarantee, but only for failure to be hypnotized, not failure to lose weight. DreamLab http://www.dream-lab.com/noweight.html also has a money back guarantee, but this time "it's guaranteed to work or your money cheerfully refunded." DreamLab also claims that hypnosis is "based on traditional, age-old folk medicine methods, recently validated by scientific research." Yet none of this "scientific research" is offered on the DreamLab web site, so therefore this company does not offer evidence either. Another web site advertising seminars by Barbara Clauser, C.M.H. (Certified Master Hypnotist) http://www.clauser.com/announce3.html claims that a person will lose weight after only one session, and that there is potential to lose twenty to sixty pounds in three to six months, or even one hundred and twenty pounds in a year. What evidence is there to back up this claim? There is no evidence at all, other than a few testimonials. Once again, no statistics are provided to back up claims about the effectiveness of hypnosis.

Every source of information that I found on the Internet for weight loss through hypnosis was actually some kind of advertisement for a product. The DreamLab web site is selling Dream InductionTM self-help tapes. The Hypnosis Counseling Center is also advertising their services on their web site. They actually provide the service of hypnotism. The Hypnotica web site is presented by a company called Biocentrix Incorporated, which specializes in "personal, professional and communication development programs and publications" http://www.biocentrix.com. This web site does not sell a product or service, but rather provides information and the name of a person, Charles E. Henderson, Ph.D., whom an interested web surfer can contact to attain more information. Another company advertising the service of hypnosis is Positive Changes Hypnosis. This company even offers a "free hypnotic screening" to determine if a person will be easily hypnotized or not. Finally, Barbara Clauser’s web page is selling her seminars, which are priced at $39.99 and are "guaranteed to delight." http://www.clauser.com/announce3.html

The Internet proved to be a great source for shopping around to see which products and services are available for hypnosis and weight loss, but these web sites provide no actually proof and lack in factual information. Scientific Research

    Scientific research, in the form of review papers and research studies, shows that hypnosis is effective in weight reduction when used in conjunction with behavioral therapy.  The factors that cause people to be overweight are often behavioral problems, such as overeating and lack of exercise.  This is where hypnosis can be helpful.  Carol W. Buckingham, a hypnotherapist and psychological counselor, wrote that "hypnosis is a useful adjunct to weight control as it facilitates the necessary reinforcers for changing behavior patterns that are frequently deeply engrained and misunderstood."  In his review of the available literature on hypnosis and weight loss, Cochrane (1992) found that hypnosis was able to help people discover the specific reasons why they are overweight, and this realization in turn helps the therapist prescribe a specific treatment for the weight problem aimed at those specific causes.  Cochrane stated that "hypnosis then, in research, theory, and practice, must be adapted to the problem and perceived not as a treatment but as a potentially valuable aspect of effective treatment."  In a review paper by J. Vanderlinden and W. Vandereycken (1994), the two researchers looked at three controlled, comparative surveys, and stated that "a combination of behavior therapy and hypnotherapy appeared to produce more weight reduction than a mere behavior therapeutic approach."  Vanderlinden and Vandereycken also looked at three follow up studies, and found that "the results were maintained after three months (Barabasz & Spiegel, 1989), six months (Cochrane & Friesen, 1986) and two years (Bolocofsky, Spinler, & Coulthard-Morris, 1985)."

    Bolocofsky, Spinler, and Coulthard-Morris (1985) conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of hypnotherapy as a component of behavioral therapy for weight control.  The subjects were chosen from a group of one hundred and fifty-six people who responded to an advertisement for a weight-management program.  In order to be eligible, the each person had to go through a screening process to determine whether or not they were in good health and without mental illness.  All one hundred and fifty-six made it through the screening, and the group was made up of one hundred and fifty-four women and two men, ranging in age from seventeen to sixty-seven years old.  The subjects were randomly assigned to two different treatment groups, behavioral therapy and hypnosis therapy.  Within the two groups the subjects were again randomly assigned to specific therapists.  The purpose of the behavior treatments was "to familiarize the participants with their present inappropriate eating habits and to enable them to learn behaviors more conducive to weight loss and maintenance" (Bolocofsky, Spinler, & Coulthard-Morris, 1985).  Each subject began a personalized treatment program aimed at their specific needs, but the main program was the same for every participant.  Nine meetings took place, one meeting every week.  At the first meeting, each person received weight goals and was asked to keep a "weight diary" for a week.  At the next meeting, specific rules were set.  First, there was to be no participation in any diet or exercise programs.  Additional rules dealt with paying more attention to eating habits.  Bolocofsky, Spinler, and Coulthard-Morris (1985) state that "the emphasis was on slowing down food consumption, recognizing and modifying responses to stimuli the preceded maladaptive eating behaviors, charting weight changes, and developing enduring methods of self-reinforcement for successful weight loss."  The hypnosis group of this study followed the same program, except that the rules were given to the subjects in the form of hypnotic suggestions, given to themselves in self-hypnosis or given by the therapist during a meeting.  Sixteen subjects dropped out of the hypnosis program, while twenty-one dropped out of the behavioral program.  The final results, after follow ups at eight months and two years, showed that "although both interventions resulted in a significant weight change from the initial to final sessions, only the group that utilized hypnosis continued to lose a significant amount of weight" (Bolocofsky, Spinler, & Coulthard-Morris, 1985).  This study showed that hypnosis was a very important part of behavioral therapy for weight loss. 
 
      Eldredege, Agras, Arnow, Telch, Bell, Casonguay, and Marnell (1997) conducted a study that looked at the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on people suffering from binge eating disorder.  The subjects of this study were obese people with a body mass index of twenty-seven or higher.  Every subject had been diagnosed with bulimia.  The subjects were divided into two groups, treatment (n=36) and control (n=10).  Then the treated subjects were divided into three groups, with each group having a team of two clinical psychologists with P.h.D's and experience in eating disorders.  For the first twelve weeks, all three treatment groups went through cognitive behavioral training that was aimed at eliminating binge eating.  Afterwards, the subjects who met a clinical criteria for success went on to twelve more weeks of weight loss treatment, and the subjects who did not meet the criteria went on the twelve more weeks of CBT.  The clinical criteria for success was defined as no binge eating for at least the last two weeks of the treatment, a minimal exercise program, and either no change in weight or a weight loss for at least the last four weeks of the treatment.  The measurements of binge eating relied on self-monitoring, and a binge was labeled as "experience of loss of control over eating."  The secondary outcome measure was weight.  The results of this study showed that the subjects who were in the treatment groups reduced their occasions of binge eating by 68.2% after twelve weeks.  In the control group the frequency of binge eating decreased 19.8% over twelve weeks.  After the initial twelve weeks of CBT, 50% of the subjects met the clinical criteria for success.  This study also showed that the additional twelve weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy for those subjects who did not meet the criteria for success benefited greatly from a second twelve weeks of CBT.

    Hypnosis has been shown to help reduce stress and to make people feel better about themselves, and these two things are important components of weight loss.  Cochrane (1992) says "Self worth, self esteem, and self confidence are learned (Mahoney, 1988) and therefore hypnosis may have a central role to play in helping overweight people strengthen their beliefs in their ability to control events (Bandura, 1989; Cochrane, 1987; Schwartz & Inbar-Saban, 1988)."
 
        There seems to be some strong scientific evidence to support claims that hypnosis can help a person lose weight.  Several studies have shown positive results when hypnosis is used as a part of behavioral therapy. References

Bolocofsky, D.N., D. Spinler, and L. Coulthard-Morris.  "Effectiveness of Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Behavioral Weight
        Management."  Journal of Clinical Psychology  41.1  (1985): 35-41.

Buckingham, Carol W.  "Hypnotherapy and the Behavioral Aspects of Obesity."  Occupational Health Nursing  April 1980:
        20-22.

Cochrane, G.  "Hypnosis and Weight Reduction:  Which is the Cart and Which is the Horse?"  American Journal of Clinical
        Hypnosis  35.2  (1992): 109-118.

Eldredge, K.L., et al.  "The Effects of Extending Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Binge Eating Disorder Among Initial
        Treatment Nonresponders."  International Journal of Eating Disorders  21.4  (1997): 347-352.

Vanderlinden, J. and W. Vandereycken.  "The (Limited) Possibilities of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Obesity."
        American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis  36.4  (1994): 248-257.
 

 

Psychology Department

The Health Psychology Home Page is produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.
  


Vanderbilt Homepage | Introduction to Vanderbilt | Admissions | Colleges & Schools | Research Centers | News & Media Information | People at Vanderbilt | Libraries | Administrative Departments | Medical 

  Return to the Health Psychology Home Page
  Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt

Search

Search: Vanderbilt University
the Internet

  Help  Advanced

Tip: You can refine your last query by searching only the results by clicking on the tab above the search box

Having Trouble Reading this Page?  Download Microsoft Internet Explorer.