When I tell people how I make much of my living—as a psychotherapist hypnotizing people slim—they inevitably ask: Does it work? My answer usually brightens their eyes with something between excitement and incredulity.
Most people, including my colleagues at Harvard Medical School, where I teach hypnosis, don't realize that adding trance to your weight loss efforts can help you lose more weight and keep it off longer.
Hypnosis predates carb and calorie counting by a few centuries, but this age-old attention-focusing technique has yet to be embraced wholeheartedly as an effective weight loss strategy.
Until recently, there has been scant scientific evidence to support the legitimate claims of respected hypnotherapists, and a glut of pie-in-the-sky promises from their problem cousins, stage hypnotists, hasn't helped.
Even after a persuasive mid-nineties reanalysis of 18 hypnotic studies showed that psychotherapy clients who learned self-hypnosis lost twice as much weight as those who didn't (and, in one study, kept it off two years after treatment ended), hypnotherapy has remained a well-kept weight loss secret.
Unless hypnosis has happily compelled you or someone you know to buy a new, smaller wardrobe, it may be hard to believe that this mind-over-body approach could help you get a handle on eating.
Seeing is definitely believing.
So see for yourself. You don't have to be entranced to learn some of the invaluable lessons that hypnosis has to teach about weight loss. The ten mini-concepts that follow contain some of the diet-altering suggestions my weight management clients receive in group and individual hypnotherapy.
1. The answer lies within. Hypnotherapists believe you have everything you need to succeed. You don't really need another crash diet or the latest appetite suppressant. Slimming is about trusting your innate abilities, as you do when you ride a bicycle. You may not remember how scary it was the first time you tried to bike, but you kept practicing until you could ride automatically, without thought or effort. Losing weight may seem similarly beyond you, but it's just a matter of finding your balance.
2. Believing is seeing. People tend to achieve what they think they can achieve. That even applies to hypnosis. Subjects tricked into believing they could be hypnotized (for example, as the hypnotist suggested they'd see red, he flipped the switch on a hidden red bulb) demonstrated increased hypnotic responsiveness. The expectation of being helped is essential. Let me suggest that you expect your weight loss plan to work.
3. Accentuate the positive. Negative, or aversive, suggestions, like "Doughnuts will sicken you," work for a while, but if you want lasting change, you'll want to think positive. The most popular positive hypnotic suggestion was devised by doctors Herbert Spiegel and David Spiegel, a father- son hypnotherapy team: "For my body, too much food is damaging. I need my body to live. I owe my body respect and protection." I encourage clients to write their own upbeat mantras. One 50-year-old mother who lost 50-plus pounds repeats daily: "Unnecessary food is a burden on my body. I'm going to shed what I don't need."