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Hypnosis For Weight Loss: Does It Really Work?

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys, over 2 out of 3 adults in the United States are overweight and/or obese.  Excessive body weight and/or fat is understood to increase risk for numerous morbidities including:  cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and stroke – and that’s just naming a few.  Perhaps troubling is that, according to data collected by the American Diabetes Association, approximately 40% of overweight individuals are unwilling to sacrifice their unhealthy lifestyles for improved health.

Nevertheless, it is understood that among individuals classified as overweight and/or obese, most would like to lose weight.  Unfortunately, many of these individuals also fall prey to purchasing cleverly-marketed dietary and/or fitness products promising fast-track, unrealistic results with minimal effort (i.e. “quick fixes”).  The conventional, straightforward, and relatively boring approach to weight loss [that often works] involves: caloric restriction, dietary modifications, and exercise.

That said, despite tweaking one’s diet, cutting calories, and exercising more – a subset of overweight individuals may not experience a sufficient change in weight.  For this reason, further support is often recommended in the form of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and physician-prescribed weight loss medications.  An intriguing adjunctive intervention to both CBT and medication that’s been subject to some scientific research is hypnosis (or hypnotherapy).

What is hypnosis for weight loss?

When most people think of hypnosis, they think of a pendulum swinging back-and-forth, putting someone into a trance-like state.  The false assumption is that while in this trance, the hypnotized individual is somehow robotically spellbound and will follow any orders given to him/her by the hypnotherapist.  If this were the case, everyone with obesity or attempting to lose weight could subject themselves to hypnosis, follow the command to lose weight, and miraculously – they’d lose it.

Described more accurately, hypnosis is a state of deeply focused-relaxation characterized by openness to suggestion and diminished peripheral awareness.  Hypnosis is typically induced by a licensed hypnotherapist who presents and delivers a series of instructions to be followed by a client with the intention of entering the deep state of focused-relaxation.  If successful, measurable neurophysiological changes such as an upregulation in alpha waves and theta waves will have occurred, and the individual will have entered a “trance-like” state.

Thereafter, assuming a client has successfully entered the trance-like state associated with increased susceptibility to suggestion, a hypnotherapist will deliver verbal “suggestions.”  These suggestions are best described as focused, clear, positive, and present-tense.  Included below is a brief overview describing various aspects of hypnotic suggestions.

  • Focused: If someone were utilizing hypnotherapy as a weight loss adjunct, he/she would receive only weight loss-related suggestions – not suggestions to improve an unrelated area of his/her life (e.g. confidence).  In other words, once in a trance, the suggestions wouldn’t jump from “you are making healthy food choices” and “you enjoy your exercise routine” to something like “you are confident in social situations.”
  • Clear interpretation: The hypnotherapist should only deliver suggestions that can be clearly interpreted by a client. If a client is unable to understand the suggestions delivered by the hypnotherapist, he/she won’t get as much benefit out of the hypnotherapy.  Just like you wouldn’t suddenly become fluent in Icelandic in hypnosis, you aren’t going to interpret suggestions with vocabulary that you’ve never learned.  For this reason, a hypnotherapist will make suggestions simple and easy-to-understand.
  • Positive: The suggestions delivered by the hypnotherapist are usually positive rather than negative. As an example, something like “you enjoy exercise” would be used instead of something like “stop being lazy.”  Using mostly positive suggestions is helpful in that they are unlikely to make the person feel guilty, they generate positive emotion, and help the person focus on what needs to be done – rather than what they shouldn’t do.
  • Present-tense: Since the hypnotherapist wants the client to visualize him/herself acting on the weight loss suggestions as soon as possible, present-tense delivery is used. If past-tense were used, the statements would be inaccurate and wouldn’t work.  Saying “You lost 50 lbs. last month” wouldn’t change the fact that 50 lbs. were not actually lost last month – perhaps resulting in more discouragement.  Future-tense is also problematic in that it tells the person that he/she will experience whatever is wanted at some point in the future, but it doesn’t emphasize present action.  Present-tense emphasizes present action and helps the person stay focused on what can be done today to help him/her lose weight.  Therefore, phrases like “You are making healthier choices” are preferred.

After receiving a series of weight loss suggestions, the hypnotherapist slowly transitions the client out of his/her relaxed, hypnotic state back to normal waking consciousness.  Upon making this transition, it is common for clients to feel refreshed and relaxed with a positive change in mood.  An average session lasts between 45 minutes and 2 hours – depending on the parameters agreed upon by the hypnotherapist and client.

The duration of hypnotherapy sessions, the specific suggestions given to a client, the competency of the practitioner, and number of sessions per week (or month) – may influence the degree to which it is effective for weight loss.  Most professional hypnotherapists tout that hypnotherapy will help obese/overweight individuals lose some weight with enough sessions.  That said, expectations regarding weight loss from hypnosis are often unrealistic and any supernatural “woo woo” should be debunked prior to therapy.

It is important to mention that some individuals may not always visit a hypnotherapist to receive their sessions.  Some people download digital apps and/or audio products with self-hypnosis sessions.  The efficacy of such self-hypnosis products is unclear and hasn’t been studied.  Unless engineered by a well-trained, licensed hypnotherapist – individuals should be skeptical of the efficacy of self-hypnosis sessions for weight loss.

Upon reviewing the literature, it seems as though hypnosis can be considered a complementary approach that may help some individuals stay focused on weight loss efforts.  Catchy buzzwords associated with hypnosis such as magical, effortless, mystical or various marketing catchphrases such as “program your subconscious” or “tap your unconscious potential” – are highly misleading.  Only when used in conjunction with more proven weight loss methods such as: dietary modification, exercise, medication, etc. could hypnosis provide marginal additive benefit.  Don’t expect hypnosis alone to transform you from morbidly obese to instant 6-pack.

How Hypnosis May Promote Weight Loss (Possibilities)

When used as part of a multidisciplinary weight loss approach, there are several mechanisms by which hypnosis may augment weight loss efforts.  Hypnosis helps individuals stay focused on maintaining healthy diets and exercise habits through the power of suggestion.  The suggestions may also enhance motivation to change, as well as reverse maladaptive patterns of cognition regarding caloric intake, healthy foods, and physical activity.

  • Adjunct reinforcement: It is important to highlight that hypnosis as a standalone intervention may be relatively ineffective in terms of weight loss. When hypnosis is used to complement dietary modifications, exercise, medications, and/or CBT – is when it’s considered most effective.  Hypnosis may deliver regular suggestions that synergistically reinforce other weight loss endeavors by keeping them focused on losing weight.  Moreover, since hypnosis is relaxing and positive, it may combat some of the stress and/or discouraging thoughts associated with weight loss.  Without the combatting of the stress and/or discouragement from hypnosis, a person may prematurely cease weight loss efforts.
  • Autosuggestion: For those that are using self-hypnosis, the element of autosuggestion may facilitate some of the weight loss effect. Autosuggestion defined as self-suggestion [often used in self-hypnosis] to modify thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors.  Modification of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is important among those who are overweight and obese for numerous reasons.  Many think that they cannot lose weight, are depressed about it, and won’t shift their behaviors.  If thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are tweaked even slightly – it could have a significant impact on weight loss efforts.
  • Beliefs shift: Regular hypnosis, along with CBT may shift someone from a state of learned helplessness (e.g. weight loss is impossible) to a state of optimism (e.g. weight loss is possible). Receiving positive weight loss-related suggestions while hypnotized may increase the likelihood that certain individuals accept these suggestions as the truth.  Accepting these suggestions as the truth may shift inaccurate or limiting beliefs, thereby resulting in more effort being put forth for weight loss.  If someone believes they can lose weight, they’re more likely to put forth the effort; the opposite is true for someone who believes weight loss is an impossibility.
  • Focused on the goal: Some people may find that writing affirmations each day is useful for weight loss. Why?  Because it keeps them focused on losing weight and putting for the effort necessary to do so.  Without some sort of intervention to keep the person focused on his/her weight loss goal, or to remind the individual to maintain weight loss efforts – he/she may simply revert back to old ways and essentially relapse.  Regular hypnosis stimulates the brain with suggestions that keep the person focused on his/her efforts to lose weight.
  • Food preferences: The suggestions received during hypnosis may make some individuals more aware of healthy food choices vs. unhealthy ones. What’s more, is that the stress reduction associated with hypnosis may also reduce craving, reward sensitivity, and preferences for certain foods.  Those who are very stressed often crave hyperpalatable foods (e.g. high-fat, high-sugar, flavorful, potent foods) – the exact foods that perpetuate obesity.  When you’re less stressed (as may occur following a hypnotherapy session), you may notice that it’s easier to dismiss hyperpalatable food cravings and eat healthier foods.
  • Hormone levels: There’s some evidence to suggest that hypnotherapy may indirectly modulate hormone levels via the autonomic nervous system. Hypnotherapy is understood to increase parasympathetic tone, possibly resulting in altered levels of cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, testosterone, etc.  When individuals are stressed, different hormones are produced than during states of relaxation such as is facilitated by hypnosis.  Shifting concentrations of the aforestated hormones, even slightly, could increase satiety, decrease hunger, and possibly affect food cravings.
  • Locus of control: A goal with hypnosis is to shift a person’s locus of control. Many individuals who are overweight and/or obese have an external locus of control, meaning they blame things other than themselves for their weight problems.  Someone with an external locus of control may blame his/her environment, finances, friends, the government, food companies, etc. – for his/her weight problem rather than taking personal responsibility.  Hypnosis may help shift locus of control from external to internal, thereby helping the individual realize that weight loss is within his/her power with proper work and effort.  In some cases, this shift in locus of control from hypnosis may be the single most important change that’s necessary for weight loss.
  • Motivation increase: Using hypnotherapy may increase motivation to lose weight in numerous ways. Hearing positive suggestions and visualizing certain changes may significantly increase motivation or desire to lose weight.  Getting regular interaction with a hypnotherapist who supports weight loss efforts may also increase motivation.  Moreover, attenuation of stress as a result of hypnotherapy-induced relaxation may modulate motivation circuitry within the brain, thereby increasing a person’s drive to lose weight.
  • Neuromodulation: During hypnosis, many individuals exhibit changes in brain activity such as alterations in brain waves, regional activation, and neurotransmission. While the brain may shift back to a normative pre-hypnotic state following a hypnosis session, it is logical to speculate that after many sessions, the brain may maintain certain changes as a result of neuroplasticity.  New connections and/or neural pathways may form as a result of the deep, focused-relaxation coupled with weight loss suggestions, and the cumulative neuromodulation resulting from regular hypnosis [over a long-term] – may reinforce healthy habits, making it easier to lose weight.
  • Positive reinforcement: Assuming someone is working with a hypnotherapist, the therapist may (prior to the hypnotherapy or after a session) applaud an individual for losing weight and/or weight loss efforts. This may serve as some positive reinforcement for additional weight loss, as well as continued hypnotherapy.  Positive reinforcement from another person (in this case the hypnotherapist) may be an underrated component of hypnotherapy’s efficacy – distinct from the actual hypnotic state and suggestions.
  • Procedural learning: There’s research to suggest that hypnosis shifts cognitive processes while a person is hypnotized, as well as after multiple hypnotherapy sessions. It may be that changes in cognitive processes contribute to a willingness to learn how to lose weight properly.  Specific studies show that hypnosis is capable of reducing frontal-lobe mediated attentional processes, which in turn can enhance striatum-related procedural learning.  Since those attempting to lose weight may implement a procedural approach, it is possible that learning of the procedure may be expedited with hypnosis.  (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22459017).
  • Relaxation (Stress reduction): Perhaps the reason hypnosis is effective for weight loss is that it promotes relaxation. Studies have shown that “stress reduction” hypnotherapy is statistically effective as an adjunct among those attempting to lose weight – compared to other forms of hypnotherapy.  There are numerous links between stress and obesity, some suggesting that chronic stress alters neurobiology to increase likelihood of obesity.  The relaxation attained with hypnosis may reverse stress-induced changes in HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, gut microbiota, hormones, and neuropeptides – perhaps making it easier for some patients to lose weight.
  • Thought patterns: A mechanism by which hypnosis may effectively promote weight loss is by modifying maladaptive thought patterns. While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is helpful for combatting helpless thoughts among individuals who are overweight and/or obese, hypnosis may have a similar effect (especially when used as a complementary intervention).  Hearing positive suggestions associated with weight loss may shift a person’s thought pattern from something like “It’s too hard to lose weight, so I’m unwilling to try” to something like “I am always capable of losing weight, and know that my efforts will pay off.”  Although a person may not immediately accept these suggestions, with time and repetition, the suggestions may eventually reshape helpless ways of thinking.  Altering thought patterns results in new beliefs, behaviors, perspectives that are conducive to weight loss.

Note: In addition to the aforestated hypotheses above, there may be a myriad of additional ways by which hypnosis promotes weight loss.  If you can think of another way, feel free to share it in the comments section.  Keep in mind that the reasons hypnosis may work for one person may be entirely different for those of another.  For example, one person may find hypnosis beneficial for shifting beliefs, whereas another may find that it simply serves as a reminder to stay focused on losing weight.  In summary, do not assume that the means by which hypnosis is effective for you will automatically apply for someone else.

Benefits of Hypnosis for Weight Loss (Possibilities)

Listed below are some potential benefits that may be attained from the usage of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss.  Perhaps the greatest benefit to be derived from hypnosis is the instillation of optimistic thoughts regarding weight loss efforts.  Without convincing a person psychologically that his/her efforts are worthwhile, the individual may be more likely to cease all weight loss efforts prematurely.  Hypnosis should help with psychological convincing to continue existing efforts.

  • Adjunctive therapy: When used as an adjunct, hypnosis is thought to enhance existing weight loss efforts.  Some professionals speculate that it reinforces motivation, self-discipline, as well as willpower necessary for weight loss.  Hypnosis serves as a mental reminder to stay the course in regards to dietary modifications (food selection, caloric intake, etc.) as well as exercise habits.  It may also improve body image and promote optimism (as opposed to learned helplessness).
  • Comorbid conditions: Individuals who are overweight and/or obese often suffer from comorbid adverse health conditions. It is reasonable to consider that hypnotherapy may simultaneously improve symptoms of certain medical comorbidities.  For example, someone with obesity may suffer from hypertension, but one component of the hypertension may be chronic stress.  The stress reduction associated with hypnotherapy may alter ANS activity and hormonal output, possibly mitigating the hypertension.
  • Efficacy: Most research suggests that hypnosis as an adjunct for weight loss provides some benefit. Multiple randomized controlled trials have documented additional weight loss between 5 lbs. and 9 lbs. – directly as a result of adjunct hypnotherapy.  While an extra 9 lbs. of weight loss over the course of a year or two may not seem like a big deal, it is better than no additional weight loss.
  • Few side effects: There aren’t any known serious side effects or adverse reactions associated with hypnosis. In other words, you won’t have to worry about heart palpitations, diarrhea, and/or stomach aches – associated with weight loss medications.  Furthermore, hypnosis doesn’t appear to be contraindicated with any medications or medical conditions, meaning it won’t cause some sort of serious interaction.
  • Non-pharmacological: The fact that hypnotherapy is non-pharmacological may appeal significantly to some. Medications are known to cause adverse effects, unwanted side effects, and may eventually “stop working.”  Furthermore, some are associated with a discontinuation syndrome (withdrawal period), during which there may be a rebound effect of weight gain.  Most pharmacological options likely serve as nothing more than a last-resort, temporarily effective weight loss patch.
  • Long-term: Hypnosis can be used safely over a long-term, and some studies suggest that weight loss benefits may be more obvious over an extended duration. In one study, those attempting to lose weight completed a 9-week weight management program.  Some of the participants also received hypnosis, whereas others did not.  While both groups of individuals experienced similar weight loss after 9-weeks, only those that received adjunct hypnosis experienced additional (significant) weight loss at 8-month and 2-year follow-up assessments.  This suggests that the benefits of adjunct hypnosis may become more evident over a long-term.
  • Psychological reinforcement: Receiving regular hypnotherapy sessions may serve as a mental reminder to continue with one’s weight loss efforts. Without adjunct hypnosis for weight loss, certain individuals may be more prone to revert back to old patterns of problematic thinking (e.g. weight loss is impossible due to genetics), resulting in cessation of weight loss efforts.  Hypnotherapy may instill a sense of optimism among those endeavoring to lose weight and reinforce the idea that weight loss is possible regardless of current circumstances.
  • Social accountability: Some individuals may get a lot of benefit from the actual hypnotherapy sessions, but may get even more benefit from social support provided by the hypnotherapist. Those enrolled in hypnotherapy may find that the encouragement from another person (in this case the hypnotherapist) makes them feel good and gets them to take action towards losing weight.  In a subset of cases, patients may feel that their hypnotherapist is holding them accountable for weight loss – perhaps an underrated aspect of the process.
  • Synergistic effect: Hypnosis may serve as a much-needed psychological component of weight loss. While strategically engineered dietary and exercise regimens tend to promote weight loss, it may be difficult for an individual to remain hopeful and/or psychologically motivated to lose weight.  Although CBT enhances dietary and exercise efforts for weight loss, addition of hypnosis on top of CBT provides even greater benefit.  Hypnosis may synergize with CBT to enhance psychological changes conducive to weight loss.

Drawbacks of Hypnosis for Weight Loss (Possibilities)

There are several potential drawbacks associated with using hypnosis for weight loss.  Arguably the most significant drawback is that hypnosis may provide a poor return on time/financial investment.  In other words, you may spend hundreds of dollars and hours of your time to see a hypnotherapist, yet only lose a few additional pounds over the course of a year.  Most would consider this to be a poor ROI compared to other potential adjuncts.

  • Adjunct-only: Those hoping to undergo hypnosis and magically lose weight may end up extremely disappointed. There’s no evidence supporting the efficacy of standalone hypnotherapy for weight loss.  In other words, if you only use hypnosis in effort to lose weight – you probably won’t lose any.  Although you may not want to actually alter your diet and/or go for a walk each day – these changes will be necessary for hypnosis to actually work.  Think of hypnosis as a psychological primer for weight loss: it can help you stay focused and encouraged, but without quantifiable changes in your diet/exercise routine – no weight loss will occur.
  • Financial investment: Depending on the location, experience, and demand of the particular hypnotherapist, sessions for weight loss can cost anywhere between $75 and $200. Unfortunately, these sessions will not be covered by your insurance – hypnotherapy is not a proven intervention.  It may be possible (in some cases) to purchase a set number of sessions upfront (e.g. 10 sessions for $600) for a better deal.  Nonetheless, you should be prepared to make some sort of an investment.
  • Ineffective: There’s certainly a chance that hypnosis may be useless as an adjunct. Although most research suggests it provides benefit, there are some limitations with the research.  A newer study with larger sample size and randomized controlled design may debunk existing evidence suggesting that its effective.  Even if hypnosis is effective as an adjunct, it may be completely ineffective for certain individuals.  Likelihood of inefficacy may be amplified as a result of incompetent hypnotherapists and/or low susceptibility to hypnotism.
  • Modest effect: Another drawback associated with using hypnosis is that the amount of weight you’ll likely lose as a result of hypnosis is unlikely to be anything you’d consider substantial. Studies show that adjunct hypnosis yields an additional weight loss of up to 9 lbs. over the course of 18 months.  Even after using hypnosis for an extended duration (a year and a half), the amount of weight lost attributed to hypnosis will be less than 10 lbs. (on average).  Some may be disappointed in these modest weight loss results and would be better suited with other tactics such as: finding an accountability partner, nutrition coach, and/or personal trainer.
  • Non-immediate: Receiving hypnosis will not contribute to fast-track weight loss results – you probably won’t lose weight overnight, within a week, or even several weeks, as a result of hypnosis. In fact, a study comparing 2 groups of individuals enrolled in a 9-week weight management program discovered that adjunct hypnosis provided zero additional weight loss after the initial 9-week period.  It wasn’t until 8-month follow-up assessments that the researchers noted superior weight loss among those that received adjunct hypnosis – compared to the control group.  Unless you’re okay with investing time and finances in hypnosis over a long-term for marginal weight loss results, you may want to avoid it.
  • Side effects: While there shouldn’t be any adverse reactions nor unwanted side effects associated with hypnosis, it is understood that hypnosis can change a person’s physiology. Most will find that hypnosis is relaxing, soothing, and/or psychologically-empowering.  That said, constantly shifting into a relaxed hypnotic state may alter your neurophysiology in waking consciousness.  For many this alteration will be favorable, but others may experience relaxation-induced anxiety and/possibly severe brain fog from changes in brain waves.  If your cognition is impaired and/or your mood worsens, you may regret trying hypnosis.
  • Time investment: From start to finish, your hypnotherapy sessions may last around an hour. Assuming it takes 20 sessions to reap any sort of adjunct weight loss benefit, you’ll have invested over 20 hours of your time.  While this may not seem like a lot of time, when you consider your time driving to-and-from the hypnotherapist office, time spent waiting before your appointment, time scheduling your appointments, etc. – it may add up to 25-30 hours.  Though there’s certainly nothing wrong with the time investment if you get benefit from hypnosis, this time may be better spent on activities such as jogging, biking, hiking, or working with a trainer.  A total of 6 lbs. lost after 30 hours’ worth of hypnosis (over the course of months) may be a relatively poor return on your time investment.
  • Unproven: Most medical professionals would not recommend using hypnotherapy for weight loss because it is a clinically unproven intervention. The evidence to support the efficacy of adjunct hypnotherapy for weight loss is modest, and not strong enough to warrant clinical recommendation.  Larger-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs) need to be conducted to clarify the degree to which adjunct hypnotherapy is likely to benefit those attempting to lose weight.

Variables that influence the efficacy of Hypnosis for weight loss

There are a multitude of variables to consider whenever contemplating how much weight you’re likely to lose with hypnosis.  Examples of some variables to consider include: hypnotic susceptibility, practitioner competence, specific suggestions delivered, duration/frequency of sessions, and individual factors (e.g. diet, exercise, medication, therapy, etc.).  It is the interplay of these variables that dictates why one individual finds hypnosis beneficial for weight loss, yet another finds it useless.

  1. Hypnotic susceptibility

Hypnotic susceptibility refers to how easily an individual can become hypnotized.  It is understood that some individuals can become hypnotized easily, whereas others cannot become hypnotized at all.  Researchers are aware that hypnotic susceptibility varies widely among the general population, and the degree to which you are susceptible to hypnosis may dictate its efficacy as a weight loss intervention.

Assuming you are highly susceptible to hypnosis, you’ll likely have an easier time entering the hypnotic state (focused relaxation), will be open to the weight loss suggestions, and may be more likely to act on the suggestions.  Research has shown that individuals most susceptible to hypnosis include those with dissociative identity disorder, followed by individuals with PTSD.  Those who frequently daydream, fantasize, or are imaginative – tend to be more susceptible to hypnosis than others.

Opposite to those with high hypnotic susceptibility are individuals classified as impervious to hypnotic susceptibility – in other words, they won’t become hypnotized.  If you cannot become hypnotized, you probably won’t reap weight loss benefit from adjunct hypnotherapy.  Individuals less susceptible to hypnosis include those who aren’t prone to daydreaming or fantasizing.

To determine your hypnotic susceptibility, you can consider utilizing a test such as the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale.  Keep in mind that this test was developed in an experimental setting and was engineered to predict the “depth” of a hypnotic trance based on subjective, behavioral, and physiological changes.  No hypnotic suggestibility scale should be considered 100% accurate due to the fact that it is difficult to objectively quantify aspects of hypnosis.

Moreover, it should be clear that if a person doesn’t want to be hypnotized, they won’t be – and zero benefit will be attained.  Someone who shows up to a hypnotherapy session and makes a conscious effort to avert the hypnotic state, won’t be hypnotized.  Therefore, your success with hypnotherapy for weight loss may be contingent upon your willingness to give hypnotherapy a chance and follow instructions (as presented by the hypnotherapist).

In summary, the greater your hypnotic susceptibility and willingness to give hypnosis a fair chance – the more likely you may be able to reap some sort of therapeutic weight loss benefit.  The lesser your hypnotic susceptibility and willingness to give hypnosis a fair chance – the less likely you may be able to reap any sort of weight loss benefit.  These may be worth evaluating before you decide whether to implement hypnosis as a component of your weight loss approach.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4738327
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5535857
  1. Competency of hypnotherapist

The competency of your hypnotherapist may determine whether you have success with hypnosis as a weight loss adjunct.  Someone looking to use hypnotherapy for weight loss may benefit significantly from working with a highly-skilled hypnotherapist, whereas the same individual may derive significantly less benefit from a lower-skilled hypnotherapist.  To properly practice hypnotherapy requires skills such as: establishing rapport with a client, inducing the hypnotic state of relaxation, optimizing suggestions, and transitioning the client out of the hypnotic state.

For this reason, it is important to consult and work with only a professionally licensed hypnotherapist.  Subjecting yourself to hypnotherapy delivered by some self-proclaimed guru may be a recipe for disaster; he she may be unskilled and fail to properly induce a hypnotic state and/or deliver suggestions.  Overall, the more competent your practitioner, as well as the rapport you established with him or her, the more likely you’re going to experience some therapeutic benefit that helps with weight loss.

  1. Type of Hypnosis

There are two general types of hypnosis that individuals lose to help them lose weight including: hypnotherapy (conducted in-person with a professional) and self-hypnosis (a generalized hypnosis session in the form of audio).  Some individuals may find that they get more benefit from in-person hypnotherapy than self-hypnosis, whereas others may derive greater benefit from self-hypnosis than in-person hypnotherapy.  Others may find that a unique blend of hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis are most beneficial for enhancing weight loss efforts.

  • Hypnotherapy: This is a form of hypnosis conducted in an in-person setting by a licensed professional.  A client may derive significant benefit from in-person hypnotherapy due to the fact that the therapist can customize hypnosis sessions to fit the exact needs of the client.  Usually some rapport and/or trust is built between the hypnotherapist and client, and sessions are tailored on an individual basis for optimal weight loss benefit.  Drawbacks associated with standard hypnotherapy are that it can be costly and generally is received less frequently.  This is the type of hypnosis that’s actually been researched.
  • Self-hypnosis: This is a form of hypnosis that is received in an outpatient type setting in the form of an audio file. Some drawbacks associated with self-hypnosis include: vague suggestions and/or that they may have been created by an unlicensed practitioner.  That said, self-hypnosis may be advantageous for some in that sessions may be recorded by a licensed professional, can be customized (and sold individually), and can be listened to regularly (e.g. daily).  A problem with self-hypnosis is that it hasn’t been subject to as much research as standard hypnotherapy.
  • Combination: Certain individuals may work with a licensed professional hypnotherapist and attain benefit from in-person hypnotherapy. They may also purchase self-hypnosis sessions from that professional for at-home listening.  Perhaps a combination of in-person hypnotherapy along with outpatient self-hypnosis would enhance weight loss efforts more than either as an intervention.
  1. Hypnosis parameters

The parameters associated with hypnosis may influence the degree to which a person derives therapeutic weight loss benefit.  Specific parameters to consider include: the frequency of sessions, duration of each session, and specifics of hypnotic suggestions (within each session).  Consider that the optimal parameters for one individual attempting to lose weight may be suboptimal for another.  It may take some trial and error to determine the optimal frequency, duration, and suggestions associated with hypnosis for weight loss – especially since research hasn’t agreed on any.

  • Duration: The duration of each hypnotherapy session may influence the degree to which you benefit. In most cases, hypnotherapy sessions are around a 1 hour, but may include some talking (perhaps talk therapy) before and after the actual hypnotism.  For some individuals, 1 hour may be ideal whereas for another (depending on how experienced they are with hypnosis), 1 hour may be too short for any benefit.  Some may find that hypnosis of just 20 minutes isn’t long enough to provoke a psychological change necessary for weight loss.
  • Frequency: How often you receive hypnotherapy may dictate whether it contributes to weight loss. Someone who receives hypnotherapy once per month may find that the benefit from hypnotherapy is relatively minimal or nonexistent.  On the other hand, an individual who receives hypnotherapy more regularly (e.g. once per week) may experience significant benefit.  Research has yet to pinpoint an optimal frequency of hypnotic sessions, but we could speculate that greater frequency would yield better results.
  • Suggestion details: The total number of suggestions, order of delivery, and interpretation of these suggestions by the individual – may make a huge difference in terms of the efficacy of hypnosis for weight loss.  Someone who cannot lose weight due to a particular belief (e.g. I must always finish the food on my plate) may benefit from delivery of suggestions with the intent of uprooting that specific belief.  Another individual may benefit more from a greater number of suggestions promoting physical activity (e.g. exercise).  In any case, the degree to which the suggestions resonate with the individual and/or are related to his/her weight loss efforts – may dictate the efficacy of hypnosis for weight loss.
  1. Individual factors

Let’s hypothetically assume that two individuals are highly susceptible to hypnosis, that each individual works with the same highly-competent hypnotherapist, and the hypnosis parameters (frequency, duration, and suggestion details) are equal.  Based on this information, we may predict that both individuals would derive equal weight loss benefit from hypnotherapy.  However, it is possible that one of the hypothetical individuals may lose a significant amount more weight than the other.

What could explain the differences in weight loss among these individuals?  Individual factors.  Hypnosis is certainly not a panacea intervention for weight loss, and individual factors will play a bigger role in determining weight loss than others.  Examples of these individual factors include: body composition, co-administered substances, dietary intake, exercise, medical conditions, sleep, and stress.

  • Adjunctive support: All the additional support that you have for losing weight may be significantly more important than the actual hypnosis. Hypnosis is nothing more than a mental primer to get you focused on losing weight and following through with healthier habits.  Someone who’s working with a medical professional, psychotherapist, nutritionist/dietician, and personal trainer – should lose more weight than someone without this adjunctive support.
  • Dietary intake: While hypnosis may encourage you to make healthy dietary choices, it will not program your brain to only eat certain foods. If you want, you’ll still be able to shovel down processed foods, bags of chips, and candy bars.  The hypnosis will guide you in the right direction, but ultimately it will be up to you to optimize your diet.  Someone eating foods recommended by a nutritionist may be get more benefit out of hypnosis than someone with zero nutritional guidance.
  • Exercise programming: It is known that a strategic exercise program can enhance dietary alterations for weight loss. Someone who is receiving hypnotherapy may find that the hypnotherapy increases motivation and/or desire to exercise, but this additional motivation is meaningless unless the person actually commits to exercising.  For this reason, it should be expected that someone working with a fitness instructor or personal trainer along with hypnosis will lose more weight than someone who doesn’t receive proper exercise guidance.
  • Genetics: There’s some evidence suggesting that hypnotic susceptibility is heritable. Assuming this is true, there may be a specific genet or gene complex that predicts who is susceptible to hypnosis vs. those who aren’t.  What’s more, certain genes may also dictate how quickly you are able to lose weight with specific dietary and/or exercise interventions.  Everything considered, your genes may influence the degree to which you respond to hypnosis and lose weight.
  • Medical conditions: Someone with a medical condition (e.g. hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, etc.) can put forth all the effort in the world to lose weight, but the weight may not budge. In other words, the hypnosis may be helpful in reshaping a person’s thoughts associated with losing weight, but they may end up discouraged because the untreated medical condition is interfering with weight loss.  An individual that has been evaluated by a medical professional and is actively treating his/her medical conditions will have a better chance of losing excess weight (with hypnosis) than someone who isn’t.
  • Sleep / Stress: Self-care in terms of getting enough quality sleep and stress reduction can enhance weight loss efforts and the efficacy of hypnotherapy. Someone who is constantly sleep deprived and/or overstressed will have an entire neurobiological signature than if that same individual got enough sleep.  Lack of sleep and/or excess stress affects hormones, neurotransmitters, brain activity – and can increase cravings for unhealthy foods.  Poor sleep and too much stress may also interfere with the ability to enter a hypnotic state and receptiveness to hypnotic suggestions.  Better results [using hypnosis for weight loss] should be expected among those who get adhere to a strict sleep schedule and keep stress low.
  • Substance use: If you’re regularly consuming alcohol or using illicit drugs, it is necessary to consider that these may negatively impact your psychological outlook, as well as may promote weight gain. Various supplements and pharmaceutical medications may also affect your outlook and promote weight gain, or enhance weight loss.  Someone taking a weight loss drug like Contrave may lose more weight than a person who isn’t.  Be careful to avoid assuming that the hypnosis is playing a role in your weight loss if you are using more scientifically-credible strategies; it may be the other strategies that are working – not the hypnosis.
  • Weight details: The degree to which you are overweight prior to hypnotherapy may make a difference in terms of how easy or difficult it is for you to lose weight. Someone who’s 100 lbs. overweight may have more limiting beliefs and/or may have a tougher time reshaping his/her thoughts to promote weight loss than someone who’s just 30 lbs. overweight.  Therefore, we may find that the person who’s 30 lbs. overweight could respond quicker to the hypnotic suggestions.

Hypnosis for Weight Loss (Review of Research)

Included below are brief summaries of published trials (1980s to 2010s) documenting the efficacy of hypnosis as a complementary weight loss intervention.  When examining each trial and the respective findings, always account for critical details such as: study design, number of participants, study length, hypnosis parameters, and potential biases of the researchers.  In brief, while limitations associated with research of hypnosis for weight loss remain, the bulk of currently-available evidence suggests facilitation of modest therapeutic benefit.

2014: Unconscious agendas in the etiology of refractory obesity and the role of hypnosis in their identification and resolution: a new paradigm for weight-management programs or a paradigm revisited?

A cleverly-titled publication by Entwistle et al. (2014) discussed research of hypnosis as a potential intervention for the management of obesity.  Authors reflected upon the fact that hypnosis appears useful among individuals with anorexia and bulimia and noted that it may be useful for those with obesity.  As highlighted in this report, there remains a shortage of formal trials evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of hypnotherapy for weight reduction.

In this report, authors examine the history of early trials testing the effect of hypnotherapy for weight loss.  Furthermore, they discuss the usefulness of hypnotherapy when received with explicit instructions geared towards weight loss.  Intriguingly, authors reflect upon the fact that hypnotherapy may promote weight loss by modulating peptides implicated in appetite and/or satiety, as well as hormones.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24837063

2013: Hypnosis–there’s an app for that: a systematic review of hypnosis apps.

Though not a study of hypnosis specifically for weight loss, researchers Sucala et al. (2013) investigated hypnosis apps available in the iTunes store.  They first identified a total of 1455 apps, but only 407 fit inclusion criteria for the study.  Thereafter, researchers pinpointed the most popular targets for these apps, and they were as follows: weight loss (23%), self-esteem (20%), relaxation/stress reduction (19%).

The authors documented some potential problems with these apps such as lacking: a disclaimer and scientific support.  Since no studies have been conducted with these apps, the respective efficacies of each for purposes such as weight loss – remain unknown.  Authors note that while these apps are a novel, efficient means by which hypnotherapy can be delivered, the app developers should follow recommendations from clinical researchers to avoid misleading and/or potentially deleterious outcomes among users.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23957263

2009: Complementary and alternative therapies for weight loss.

A report by Steyer and Ables (2009) noted that a myriad of complementary approaches is marketed for the management of obesity and weight loss.  Despite the abundance of marketed weight loss tactics, most are therapeutically ineffective.  They note that hypnotherapy is one of a select few complementary interventions (along with acupuncture and diacylglycerol oil) that may yield modest benefit when utilized as an adjunct to standard interventions such as caloric restriction and/or exercise.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19501250

2007: Efficacy of hypnotherapy in the treatment of eating disorders.

A report by Barabasz (2007) discussed research of hypnosis for the treatment of eating disorders, highlighting that its efficacy was unclear due to mixed data.  Barabasz speculated that unclear efficacy of hypnotherapy for eating disorders may be a result of differences in individual characteristics among those with eating disorders.  One major limitation as outlined by the author is that many studies provide vague details regarding the procedures of hypnotherapy.

Without specific procedural information regarding the hypnotherapy, it is impossible to determine how one protocol compares to that of another in regards to efficacy.  In addition to analyzing hypnotherapy as a potential intervention for obesity, it also discusses its clinical potential for anorexia and bulimia.  Although this report provides no conclusive data regarding the efficacy of hypnotherapy for weight loss (such as in the case of obesity), it implies that certain protocols may be useful.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17558721

2005: Complementary therapies for reducing body weight: a systematic review.

A systematic review conducted by Pittler and Ernst (2005) published in the International Journal of Obesity (London) examined complementary therapies for weight loss.  Authors of the review implied that obesity is a proliferating health crisis and that complementary therapies may offer some benefit for its management.  To collect data for the review, researchers scoured databases Cochrane Library, Medline, Embase, and Amed – for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews published through January 2004.

Thereafter, the trials were assessed for quality and data were interpreted independently by multiple researchers.  A total of 6 systematic reviews and 25 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) met inclusion criteria for this review.  Results indicated that with the exception of hypnotherapy, all other interventions lacked sufficient data to be considered effective.

Authors concluded that at the time of their review, there is insufficient evidence to recommend complementary weight loss interventions.  Only implementation of hypnotherapy, as well as certain ephedrine-based supplements stimulated small reductions in body weight.  Moreover, of all interventions, only hypnotherapy didn’t pose significant risk of adverse effects.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15925954

1998: Controlled trial of hypnotherapy for weight loss in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

In 1998, researchers Stradling et al. published results from a controlled trial investigating hypnotherapy for weight loss.  Rather than testing the effect of hypnotherapy on standard obese patients, researchers focused more specifically on obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea.  Their objective was to determine whether hypnotherapy would assist in weight loss efforts.

A total of 60 obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea were recruited to participate in this randomized, controlled, parallel study.  Multiple forms of hypnotherapy (stress reduction vs. energy intake reduction) plus dietary recommendations were tested against standalone dietary recommendations among the 60 obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea.  To gauge efficacy of each intervention on weight, researchers assessed weight loss at 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 months – compared to pre-intervention baseline.

It was discovered that all three groups (each hypnotherapy group plus the standalone dietary recommendations group) lost between 2% and 3% of their body weight at 3 months.  After 18 months, only the “stress reduction” hypnotherapy group exhibited statistically significant weight loss compared to baseline.  Though the weight loss was statistically significant, it was considered modest at an average of ~8.38 lbs.

Over the entire duration of the 18 months, only the “stress reduction” hypnotherapy technique yielded significant weight loss.  Researchers noted that despite the modest weight loss from “stress reduction” hypnotherapy, the benefits were modest and lacked clinical significance.  Authors speculated that more intensive hypnotherapy may have facilitated more significant results and concluded by suggesting further investigation.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9539198

1997: Weight loss for women: studies of smokers and nonsmokers using hypnosis and multicomponent treatments with and without overt aversion.

Johnson (1997) reported results from 2 studies investigating the efficacy of hypnosis for weight loss among women.  The first study included 50 adult female smokers, as well as 50 adult female non-smokers.  All 100 participants were enrolled in a hypnosis-based weight loss protocol and changes in body weight were recorded.

Results indicated that the hypnosis-based weight loss protocol facilitated significant weight loss, as well as reductions in BMI (body mass index).  In the second study, 100 women were divided into 2 groups of 50 women and assigned to receive: standalone hypnosis OR overt aversion plus hypnosis.  Each of the interventions in the second study facilitated significant weight loss and decreases in BMI (body mass index).

What’s more, the overt aversion plus hypnotherapy yielded greater reductions in body weight than standalone hypnotherapy.  While hypnotherapy appears efficacious for weight loss among adult females (smokers and non-smokers), this was not a randomized controlled trial and results may be subject to inaccuracy.  Moreover, hypnotherapy appears more efficacious when utilized as part of a multi-faceted weight loss approach rather than a standalone intervention.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9198396

1996: Hypnotic enhancement of cognitive-behavioral weight loss treatments–another meta-reanalysis.

Kirsch published an initial meta-analysis regarding the efficacy of hypnotherapy when utilized as an adjunct to CBT for weight loss.  This was the third publication in a series (second to reexamining a meta-analysis) due to the fact that additional data were attained from 2 studies.  Furthermore, erroneous computations in prior meta-analyses were corrected to reflect more accurate results.

This meta-reanalysis indicated that average weight loss was approximately 6 lbs. without hypnotherapy, whereas average weight loss associated with CBT plus hypnotherapy was 11.83 lbs.   Interestingly, the benefit of hypnotherapy increased with time, implying that the longer it’s utilized, the greater the weight loss.  Subtracting the 6 lb. weight loss from the 11.83 lb. weight loss from the combination of CBT plus hypnotherapy, it may be that hypnotherapy yields an additional weight loss of ~5.83 lbs.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8698945/

1996: Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: a meta-analytic reappraisal.

Prior to the third part of the reexamination (posted above), Allison and Faith (1996) published a reappraisal of the initial meta-analysis by Kirsch et al. (1995).  Kirsch et al. concluded that CBT plus hypnotherapy lead to more significant weight loss than standalone CBT.  In other words, the addition of hypnotherapy enhanced clinical outcomes and was stated to be effective as an adjuvant weight loss intervention.

This reappraisal corrected errors within the initial meta-analysis and noted that the effect size was much smaller (.26) than previously reported (1.96).  Researchers also documented that one study included in the meta-analysis is regarded as “questionable” and if discounted, the effect size would be even smaller (.21).  Authors of the reappraisal concluded that adjuvant hypnotherapy to CBT results in a small (perhaps negligible) enhancement of CBT for weight loss.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8698944

1996: Participation in multicomponent hypnosis treatment programs for women’s weight loss with and without overt aversion.

Johnson and Karkut (1996) documented the efficacy of a multicomponent hypnosis treatment program for weight loss among women.  Prior to their trial, researchers noted that hypnotherapy, as well as covert (hidden) and overt (obvious) aversive tactics had been studied for weight loss, but respective efficacies of each technique remained unclear.  It was recommended by other researchers to test a combination of hypnosis plus aversive tactics for weight loss.

For this reason, Johnson and Karkut recruited total of 172 overweight adult women to evaluate the combination of hypnosis plus aversion.  They assigned 86 women to receive a multicomponent hypnosis treatment involving: imagery, diet, tape, and behavioral support.  The remaining 86 women received aversion therapy (electric shock, disgusting tastes/smells) plus a hypnosis program.  Weights of the women were collected prior to the trial (at baseline) and compared after the full duration of each intervention.

Results indicated that all women lost a significant amount of weight – regardless of whether they were in the hypnosis-only OR the aversion therapy plus hypnosis group.  Furthermore, there were no significant differences between each of the groups – implying that aversion therapy may have been useless as a weight loss adjunct.  Nonetheless, it may be necessary to reevaluate these results in a future study due to the fact that there was a strong trend of greater weight loss and weight loss-related goal achievement among the combination (aversion plus hypnosis) group.

It is important to note that this study wasn’t a randomized controlled trial (RCT).  Since there was no control, it is relatively difficult to know whether the hypnosis and/or aversion therapy contributed to weight loss.  Moreover, the fact that behavioral and dietary support were considered part of the “hypnosis” is problematic in that these may have contributed to a greater weight loss effect than the hypnotic state plus suggestions.

Keep in mind that this was also a study incorporating only women – rather than a combination of women plus men.  It is possible that hypnosis may be more effective among females than among males (or vice-versa).  Despite the numerous limitations, this was a relatively early study with a moderate sample size and provided some preliminary evidence indicating that hypnosis may be useful for weight loss among overweight women.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8909095

1995: Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: a meta-analysis.

This was the first meta-analysis conducted by Kirsch, Montgomery, and Sapirstein (1995) comparing the efficacy of CBT to that of CBT plus hypnosis for weight loss.  This initial meta-analysis collected data from 18 studies and results indicated that CBT plus hypnotherapy was more effective than standalone CBT for weight loss.  Specifically, those in the CBT-only group lost an average of 6.03 lbs., whereas those in the CBT plus hypnosis group lost 14.88 lbs.

Individuals receiving CBT plus hypnosis exhibited more substantial weight reduction than 70% of those receiving CBT-only.  Furthermore, the effect of adjunct hypnotherapy was unexpectedly strong for obesity, even after long-term follow-ups.  Researchers described these results as “striking” due to few differences in procedures between the CBT-only and CBT plus hypnosis groups.

Later, other researchers Allison and Faith (1996) would critically examine this meta-analysis and discover several flaws – their findings can be read above.  Thereafter, the lead researcher of this initial meta-analysis (Kirsch) would correct these flaws and still discover that the hypnosis provided statistically significant benefit as an adjunct with a smaller effect size.  Nonetheless, assuming these updated results are accurate, individuals with obesity lose more weight with CBT and hypnosis compared to just CBT.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7751482

1992: Hypnosis and weight reduction: which is the cart and which is the horse?

A report by Cochrane (1992) discussed hypnosis as an adjunctive weight loss intervention.  Prior to the publishing of this report, Cochrane noted that there were few controlled studies assessing the efficacy of hypnosis as a weight loss adjunct.  More problematic was the fact that none of the already-published studies had incorporated the critical variables of hypnosis components OR weight reduction components.

In other words, there was zero credible data to support the recommendation of hypnosis as a weight loss adjunct.  This report provided a review of the available trials that tested hypnosis for weight reduction, as well as made some recommendations regarding variables of hypnosis and weight loss to be included in future trials.  The author also suggests that hypnosis be used as part of a multidisciplinary weight loss approach – rather than as a standalone intervention.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1442642

1986: Hypnotherapy in weight loss treatment.

Early researchers Cochrane and Friesen (1986) investigated the effect of hypnosis as a weight loss intervention among women.  For their study, a total of 60 adult women (between 20 and 65 years of age) were recruited – each of whom was considered at least 20% overweight.  At the time of the study, it was noted that none of the overweight women were participating in other weight loss programs nor utilizing other weight loss interventions.

Researchers documented a total of 6 client-specific variables (age of obesity onset, education level, quality of family origin, self-concept, socioeconomic status, suggestibility), as well as 1 process variable (multimodal imagery).  All of the aforestated variables were assessed in relationship to weight loss.  The 60 participants were assigned to either: experimental groups (involving hypnosis with audiotapes or hypnosis without audiotapes) OR a non-hypnosis control group.  Weight loss assessments were conducted immediately after treatment, as well as after a 6-month follow-up period.

Results indicated that individuals in both experimental groups (hypnosis without audiotapes / hypnosis with audiotapes) lost significantly more weight than those in the non-hypnosis control group.  Interestingly, researchers discovered that the 7 client-specific variables had no impact on weight loss.  Moreover, the addition of audiotapes to hypnosis didn’t facilitate any additional weight loss benefit.

This was among the first controlled studies to investigate hypnosis for weight loss.  It demonstrated that hypnosis contributed significantly to weight reduction.  Additionally, it appears efficacious regardless of characteristics such as socioeconomic status, suggestibility, and education level.  A follow-up to this study with a larger sample size and with a single experimental group (hypnosis sans audiotapes) is warranted.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3745601

1985: Effectiveness of hypnosis as an adjunct to behavioral weight management.

Some of the initial research investigating the efficacy of hypnosis for weight reduction was conducted by Bolocofsky, Spinler, and Coulthard-Morris (1985).  In their study, researchers sought to determine whether adjunctive hypnosis to a behavioral weight-management protocol would significantly alter weight changes over the short-term, as well as the long-term.  A total of 109 individuals (between the ages of 17 and 67) were recruited to participate in the study.

All 109 participants received a 9-week behavioral weight-management program, but only some received adjunctive hypnosis.  Results indicated that all participants lost a significant amount of weight by the end of the 9-week program – irrespective of whether they received adjunct hypnosis.  That said, only the individuals that received the adjunctive hypnosis experienced significant additional weight loss at longer-term 8-month and 2-year follow-up assessments.

Comparatively, those that received standalone behavioral weight-management program did not experience much of any weight change at the 8-month and 2-year follow-up assessments.  Moreover, the participants that received adjunct hypnosis were more likely to achieve, as well as maintain personal weight goals.  Researchers concluded that hypnosis appears useful as an adjunct to behavioral weight-management therapy.

Based on the fact that weight loss failed to differ between the hypnosis vs. non-hypnosis groups after 9 weeks, but differed significantly at 8-months and 2-years, implies that adjunctive hypnosis bolsters long-term psychological change to support weight loss.  That said, it would be interesting to know how the efficacy of hypnosis would’ve compared to another non-pharmacological adjunct (e.g. nutritional coaching).  Knowing how other possible adjuncts compare [to hypnosis] could help individuals determine which are most effective, efficient, and least costly – for the therapeutic returns.

In this study it was stated that those who received hypnosis were still losing weight after 2 years, but most would speculate that weight loss would eventually plateau.   Further research should attempt to confirm these findings, as well as investigate the term at which additional weight loss ceases.  Since this was an early study, additional investigation was necessary before hypnosis could be recommended as a convincing weight loss adjunct.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3973038

Limitations associated with research of hypnosis for weight loss

It is important to consider some of the limitations associated with the research of hypnosis as an adjunct intervention for weight loss.  Perhaps the biggest limitation is that there’s an overall paucity of research investigating the efficacy of adjunctive hypnosis for weight loss.  Unless more studies are conducted, the degree to which individuals [attempting to lose weight] are likely to benefit from adjunctive hypnosis will remain unclear.

  • Designs: To attain accurate results regarding the efficacy of adjunct hypnosis in weight management, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are necessary. Without randomized controlled trials, it is difficult to know whether adjunct hypnosis is legitimately responsible for enhancing weight reduction.  Although some randomized controlled trials have noted that hypnosis is an effective weight loss adjunct, much of the research is non-controlled and/or non-randomized.
  • Comparative efficacy: While adjunctive hypnosis seems to enhance weight loss efforts, it is unclear as to whether other adjuncts would be more effective and/or feasible in terms of efficiency and/or finances. It may be useful to compare the adjunct efficacy of hypnosis to that of another intervention (e.g. nutritional coaching).  Furthermore, it may be useful to determine whether a dual-modal intervention (e.g. CBT plus nutritional coaching) would be less effective than a tri-modal intervention of CBT, nutritional coaching, and hypnosis; this has yet to be investigated.
  • Competence of hypnotherapist: Most research has been interpreted under the assumption that hypnosis is conducted by a licensed, professional hypnotherapist. It may be necessary to consider that the skill level and/or experience of the hypnotherapist could influence the outcome of the results.  Patient rapport with the particular hypnotherapist may also be a confounding factor that necessitates evaluation.
  • Hypnosis parameters: Some research outlines parameters associated with adjunct hypnosis for weight loss, while parameters in other research remain vague and/or unspecified. To determine the efficacy of hypnosis as a weight loss adjunct, researchers should be required to report: cumulative term over which hypnosis is received (e.g. 3 months), frequency of sessions (e.g. 3 times per week), specific type of hypnosis (e.g. weight loss-focused), and total number of sessions necessary for weight loss.  Without knowing the specific parameters, we are left speculating the parameters necessary for an optimal outcome.  Moreover, some studies are problematic in that adjunct hypnosis involved more than scientifically-defined hypnosis (e.g. dietary recommendations), but was classified as “hypnosis.”  This is a clever way of making hypnosis appear more efficacious than it otherwise may have been.
  • Hypnotic susceptibility: Some research has considered that hypnotic susceptibility may influence the efficacy of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss. It may be useful to determine whether more favorable outcomes are attained among those who exhibit higher susceptibility scores (e.g. on the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale) compared to those with lower susceptibility scores.  This may help determine whether someone is a good vs. poor candidate for adjunct hypnosis.
  • Lack of studies: As was already mentioned, to determine whether hypnosis is effective as a weight loss adjunct, more research is necessary. Although there are certainly a few well-designed studies showing its efficacy, more are required before hypnosis can be clinically recommended as a weight loss adjunct.  More studies, specifically large-scale, randomized controlled trials would allow researches to get a more accurate understanding of its efficacy.
  • Mechanisms of effect: Clearly it is difficult to understand exactly how hypnosis facilitates adjunctive benefit as a weight loss intervention. Some hypothesize that it modulates ANS activity, cognition, hormones, and/or neuropeptides to promote weight loss.  Perhaps further research utilizing neuroimaging technology would be useful to determine how the brain may change in response to adjunct hypnosis for weight loss – compared to a control group.
  • Number of participants: Of the large-scale investigations, not all are randomized controlled trials. A large number of participants may not yield accurate results regarding the efficacy of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss – due to suboptimal trial designs.  That said, some of the research that is randomized and controlled may benefit from more participants.  It is possible that some results are underpowered as a result of few participants.
  • Researcher bias: It may be necessary to investigate any ties between researchers and affiliations with hypnosis (or competing organizations). Consider that some of the published works investigating the efficacy of hypnotherapy may be biased, which may affect results.  A researcher who hopes to find hypnosis effective may publish results radically different from a researcher hoping to disprove the efficacy of hypnosis.  Bias assessment tools should be utilized for all further systematic reviews.
  • Self-hypnosis: It may be of interest to investigate the efficacy of self-hypnosis such as from pre-recorded and/or custom-recorded audio. The effect of a generic self-hypnosis recording [for weight loss] may be useful to assess compared to a custom-recorded hypnosis recording, as well as in-person hypnotherapy.  Results may indicate that self-hypnosis is of greater/lesser or equivalent efficacy compared to in-person hypnotherapy.  Since many people use self-hypnosis due to low costs and availability (as opposed to in-person hypnotherapy) it would be useful to compare the two as adjuncts.
  • Session parameters: Most research fails to define clear parameters associated with each session of hypnotherapy for weight loss. Session parameters such as: the specific suggestions delivered, whether suggestions were generic or customized (client-specific), induction specifics, number of total suggestions, and length of hypnosis sessions – may influence the efficacy of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss.  It may be that sessions need to be at least an hour and/or implement a specific number of weight loss suggestions for individuals to derive benefit.
  • Underfunded: There’s relatively little incentive to elucidate the efficacy of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss. While more research may increase the customer-base of hypnotherapists (assuming hypnosis is an effective weight loss adjunct), it takes time and financial resources to conduct large-scale randomized controlled trials.  Since hypnosis as an adjunct facilitates only modest weight loss, funds for research may be better allocated to novel and/or more promising weight reduction modalities.

Verdict: Adjunct hypnosis may promote modest weight loss

Upon assessment of the available literature, evidence suggests that adjunct hypnosis may promote modest additional weight loss [as compared to weight loss interventions without hypnosis].  To conclusively determine the degree of benefit attained from adjunct hypnosis among those attempting to lose weight, limitations must be addressed and further large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs) should be conducted.  Nonetheless, nearly all of the published trials noted statistically significant benefit of adjunct hypnosis for weight loss.

Since there isn’t any conflicting data regarding its statistical efficacy, the case for using hypnosis as a weight loss adjunct is strengthened.  That said, the amount of additional weight lost among those using adjunct hypnosis appears modest.  A meta-analysis reported that CBT plus adjunctive hypnosis lead to an additional 5.83 lb. loss (on average), compared to standalone CBT.

Despite the statistical significance of the additional ~5.83 lb. loss, those hoping to lose weight may not consider it to be a substantial amount of weight.  Furthermore, it is necessary to consider that hypnosis may take up a significant amount of time and/or prove financially costly – each of which (time and finances) may not be worth the sacrifice.  Alternative adjunctive weight loss interventions may be more efficient and/or practical than hypnosis.

Nonetheless, among those looking for any additional weight loss benefit (regardless of time and financial sacrifices), hypnosis may be a worthy pursuit.  Patients should avoid having unrealistic expectations in regards to the amount of weight they expect to lose from adjunct hypnosis.  Hypnosis is not some sort of magical, quick-fix, shortcut (as many often hope), but it may promote slightly greater weight loss than a person would’ve experienced without it.

Will everyone lose weight by using hypnosis for weight loss?

No.  Firstly, it should be addressed that hypnosis should not be considered clinically efficacious when used as a standalone weight loss intervention.  It is only considered effective when used as an adjunct to a multi-faceted weight loss approach with things like: dietary modifications, exercise, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Using hypnosis without making any other changes is unlikely to facilitate significant weight reduction.

Secondly, individuals should consider that there are numerous variables that will influence the degree of benefit someone derives from hypnosis for weight loss.  Someone who scores low on a hypnotic susceptibility test may find the technique to be useless, whereas someone with a high susceptibility to hypnosis may find that it’s highly effective for losing weight.  Even among those who appear to be ideal candidates for adjunct hypnosis may not lose much weight – there are many factors that can affect treatment outcomes.

How much weight can you lose with hypnosis?

The amount of weight that you can lose with hypnosis for weight loss is contingent upon numerous already-discussed variables.  A randomized controlled trial (RCT) published in 1998 documented that obese patients with sleep apnea lost an average of 8.38 lbs. over 18-months that could be attributed to adjunct hypnosis.  A meta-analysis from 1996 reported that adjunct hypnosis facilitated an additional weight reduction of around 5.83 lbs. – compared to interventions without hypnosis.

Keep in mind that hypnosis is not the direct cause of the weight loss, rather, it complements existing weight loss interventions.  Whether you are able to lose over 8 lbs. over 18 months with adjunct hypnosis may depend on hypnotic susceptibility, frequency/duration of hypnosis, as well as other scientifically-proven weight loss interventions.  Don’t expect hypnosis to facilitate most of your weight loss – other interventions such as diet, exercise, caloric reduction – will have a greater impact on your weight.

Have you tried hypnosis for weight loss?

If you’ve tried hypnosis as an intervention for weight loss, be sure to share your experience in the comments section below.  In your [subjective] experience, do you believe that hypnosis actually helped you lose weight?  Or do you think that you would’ve likely lost weight regardless of utilizing adjunct hypnosis for weight loss?

Prior to actually undergoing hypnosis for weight loss, did you have any unrealistic expectations?  In other words, did you expect that hypnotherapy would turn you into some sort of mentally preprogrammed robot that would consume only healthy foods and get exercise on some sort of subconscious autopilot?  Were you disappointed to realize that your magical expectations associated with using hypnosis for weight loss were inaccurate?

For those that believe hypnosis played a critical role in weight loss efforts, in what ways did it provide the greatest therapeutic benefit?  Examples of hypothetical answers: I felt as if my hypnotherapist was keeping me accountable to lose weight; hypnotherapy instilled a sense of optimism that I could lose weight (preventing discouragement and relapse of unhealthy habits); hypnosis kept me more focused on my weight loss efforts than I otherwise would’ve been; hypnotherapy reprogrammed my thinking to make better dietary choices, etc.  How long did it take for you to derive significant benefit from hypnosis?

To help others get a better understanding of your situation, provide some additional details such as: the specific type of hypnosis you received (e.g. in-person hypnotherapy specifically for weight loss), the most effective suggestions you received during each session, number of total sessions you received, and the average length of your sessions.  Also mention the total timeframe over which you received hypnosis (e.g. 6 months) and frequency of sessions (e.g. weekly).  Would you recommend hypnosis to someone else that’s looking to lose weight?  (Explain why or why not).

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