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Think you can't lose weight? Maybe you don't know your own strength, says hypnotherapist Jean Fain, whose blend of attitude adjustment and practical advice works wonders for her clients (and will for you, too).
As if reading from a script, dieters who settle onto my couch start their story virtually the same way: "I've tried everything. Nothing works. I can't lose weight—keep it off—get off this plateau—." With each failed diet, each pound lost and regained, they've grown more desperate. Baggy clothes and crossed arms can't hide their shame. Defeated dieters live with the delusion that no matter what they do, they can't lose weight.

If all goes well, after a number of sessions clients change their tune. "I can't" becomes "Maybe I can," which finally shifts to "I can." En route to their desired weight, determined dieters develop a firm belief in their abilities. I've witnessed this shifting-to-I-can phenomenon many times among long-term weight loss successes.

How do you make that vital change?

New clients often expect me to transform their attitude and figure instantly and effortlessly with hypnotic suggestions. That's fantasy. A good hypnotherapist can help bring about that transformation-by first focusing the client's attention, then offering tailor-made suggestions and images to the receptive unconscious mind-but not without time and effort on the dieter's part. Whether the shift happens in a momentary aha or a gradual dawning, it's unmistakable. Clients at my Concord, Massachusetts, practice and the Harvard Medical School hospital where I teach have literally exclaimed, "I can do this!"

To get clients started, I take a detailed diet history, listening particularly for what has helped and what has hindered their weight loss in the past. Most people who come to me see themselves as total failures; they don't realize they've done some things right. I tell them stories of the dieters I know who are winning the battle of the bulge and describe their individual strategies-which methods they've made use of, which they've tossed. Hearing others' stories gives people an idea of how they might succeed. I watch for the glimmer of hope in their eyes, the momentary identification that could inspire a shifting process in them. The shape-up strategy that arouses the most genuine hope has the best chance.

Learning to get to "I can" is not unlike learning to have an orgasm. You hear your friends' experiences, ask about technique, and explore your own body. Through trial and error, you figure out what turns you on, what turns you off, what satisfies you when you've got ample time or next to none.

Sometimes getting started requires nothing more than sitting back and listening to someone else's story. Here are four different weight loss successes, four women who took their own routes to "I can." So take a deep breath and a leap of faith, and give yourself permission to feel out whether any one of their paths resonates for you.

Next: Putting yourself first

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