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Is Hypnosis Effective for Weight Loss?

A friend asked, “What’s the verdict on hypnosis? A friend wants me to go with her to try it for weight loss.” What a great question! The mainstream press has touted hypnosis as an effective method for weight loss, smoking cessation, and other addictive behaviors. What answer does science give?

Hypnosis is an altered state of relaxed, focused awareness or attention. It is a normal state of consciousness–have you ever been so involved in a task such as reading a book that you lose awareness of everything around you? Trained professionals use clinical hypnosis to intentionally put people in hypnotic states in order to treat various psychological or physical problems. Although scientists do not completely understand how it works, hypnosis can be effective in helping to treat many maladies such as anxiety, phobias, sexual problems, addictions, compulsive behaviors, and pain control. Despite claims by some, hypnosis is NOT a cure-all.

Weight loss involves many factors, including various body systems, family history and dynamics, age, genetics, as well as psycho-emotional beliefs and physical-mental habits. For this reason, hypnosis alone is unlikely to result in significant weight loss.

In a review by the Mayo Clinic of scientific studies studying hypnosis and weight loss, hypnosis alone resulted in slight but not significant weight loss. Most weight loss professionals suggest that structured diet and exercise are the best means of weight loss. If psycho-emotional factors (e.g., emotional eating or binge eating disorder) are contributing to weight problems, then specific types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavior therapy and/or hypnosis, may prove useful.

Most professionals suggest that weight loss should not be your goal; rather, the goal should be healthy eating and exercise. Weight loss is a side-effect of healthy habits. While hypnosis may play a role in increasing motivation or addressing psycho-emotional factors inhibiting weight loss, I would be careful about any hypnotist who makes guarantees that hypnosis alone is all you need—-the scientific research does not support such a claim.

If you do choose to use hypnosis as part of a weight loss treatment program, make sure that you use a licensed professional practitioner instead of a non-licensed (lay) hypnotist. In many states, people can attend a non-accredited school or take a weekend course in hypnosis and call themselves a hypnotherapist. A licensed professional practitioner will have earned the credentials qualifying them for licensure in their field (e.g., counseling, psychology, or medicine) and received their hypnosis training from an accredited source. The most prestigious of these are the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.