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Tiffany Harris

November 13, 2008



       Hypnosis is a “wakeful state of focused attention and heightened susceptibility” ( It allows individuals to feel completely relaxed and center their attention in order that they can overcome and change their thinking (i.e. feelings, beliefs, etc.) about their particular problem. It is often thought of as being in a trance, which is a state of altered consciousness where the subject responds to suggestions made either through hypnotism or self-hypnosis. Its main techniques are induction, passive relaxation, meditation, and imagery methods. It was known as “sleep healing” in ancient Greece and as “mind cure” in the 14th -19th  centuries. It was changed to “hypnosis” in the mid-19th century by physician James Braid. (




        Although many are skeptical of hypnosis in general, let alone for weight loss, many websites have deemed hypnosis as an effective way to help individuals lose weight. Hypnosis helps individuals adhere to their diet by providing motivational techniques to help them modify their current behaviors and attitudes, and teach the concept of staying committed to something that one believes in. Many have the concept of “think thin”, suggesting that if one has a goal of losing weight, has an ideal weight in mind and can visualize achieving that goal, hypnosis can help them reach that state of weight control. One website stated that, “hypnosis is by far the safest, most researched and effective way for you to stick to the eating plan you have chosen” (

        Many weight loss programs have been proposed by certified hypnotherapists claiming that their plan effectively aids in losing weight:


Tom Nicoli’s A Better You Hypnosis Weight Loss Program

          Nicoli’s program is widely accepted by people in the field, and he has appeared on Dateline’s NBC Ultimate Diet Challenge. His plan emphasizes motivation, bad habits and beliefs that cause one to gain weight in the first place. His belief is that if you can modify behaviors then you can lose weight. Nicoli’s plan includes portion control, emotional eating, weight loss goals, and exercise motivations just to name a few. With his program, individuals are guaranteed 3 hypnotherapy sessions, all occurring in 2-3wks as well as an information packet on hypnosis and the program, instructions for self-hypnosis so one can continue at home, and 2 weight loss hypnosis CDs.


Wendi Friesen’s The Zen of Thin


        Wendi Friesen is a clinical hypnotherapist who claims her program is actual therapy that will alter the issues that make individuals gain weight. Those issues, of course, will be specific and unique to each person. Friesen states that weight loss through hypnosis is “not magic…but it feels like it” because effects are indeed seen at the end of her program. She believes that since hypnosis occurs in a “dreamy” state, the more real the experience is in the subconscious mind, the better the effect will be in the conscious state. Hence, if one is going to use hypnosis, they have to belief in it and stay committed to its possibilities for change in order for it to be effective. The Zen of Thin program offers a set of Weight Release audio CDs for $89.90 with a 1 year money back guarantee.


        More experienced and trained individuals with doctoral degrees also have programs for weight loss through the use of hypnosis. Two are highlighted below:


Randy A. Gilchrist, PsyD and The Weight Loss Mindset

        Randy A. Gilchrist claims that diet and exercise alone ignore the psychological forces necessary to lose weight and actually keep it off, but that with the addition of hypnosis the motivation to stay committed to diet and exercise is provided. With his program, Gilchrist provides 8 full length sessions on a total of 4 CDs. He recommends, individuals first listen to one session a day until completing the set in order to become familiar with the terms and techniques used. Then, listen to whichever session fits particular needs at the time once a day. Gilchrist asserts that with his program, individuals will lose 1-2 pounds per week. Though this may not seem like much, it is gradual change. Quick weight loss often means quick weight regain in the long run.


Steven Gurgevich, PhD: author of The Self-Hypnosis Diet


        Steven Gurgevich uses the mind/body approach to healing which refers to the fact that the two must be in-sync in order to achieve true change. He states, hypnosis is “actively using state of mind to achieve what is being suggested by our words, thoughts, and ideas”. His program teaches individuals techniques to reach and maintain their ideal, healthy weight by changing unhealthy behavior and creating new, long-lasting healthy eating habits. The program focuses on motivation (what you want), belief (amount of faith in yourself), and expectation (what you believe will occur). Gurgevich recommends that if individuals choose to do hypnotherapy, it requires 1-5 sessions depending on the extent of the condition/behavior trying to be changed.



Experimental Evidence: Does it really work?

       Although there has been a lot of talk surrounding hypnosis and weight loss, only researched experimental studies can provide the actual statistical proof of whether hypnosis actually works for losing weight and maintaining it. Most studies have used hypnosis as an addition to some other form of therapy like behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dietary management, and self management.

        Cochrane & Friesen (1986), however, investigated the effects of hypnotherapy alone. The only supplemental materials were whether participants also got audiotapes or not. This study sampled 60 women between the ages of 20-65 who were at least 20% overweight. They could not participate in the program if they were in any other treatment group at the time. They were randomly assigned into either one of the two experimental groups (hypnosis + audiotapes or hypnosis alone) or the control group. Prior to starting the treatment, participants were weighed in order to use comparison weights for post treatment weighing. Participants in both experimental groups met with a hypnotherapist a total of 24hrs over a period of 4 weeks. The control group did not receive hypnotherapy. Those in the hypnosis+ audiotapes group were told to listen to the tapes daily if possible. There was no contact with the three groups until the 6month follow-up. The results showed that hypnosis was an effective treatment for weight loss, though the addition of audiotapes did not make difference. Participants in the hypnosis+ audiotapes lost an average of 17.82lbs; hypnosis alone group lost an average of 17.12; and the control group only lost an average of half a pound. This study, hence, provides support for the use of hypnotherapy as a treatment for weight loss.


Hypnosis in addition to CBT

        Allison & Faith (1996) did a meta-analytic review of six studies on the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy +hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy alone for the treatment of weight loss. The average dropout rate within these 6 studies was 18.2 which makes effect sizes seem larger than they many really be because of the fact that the sample size has been decreased. The effect size for this meta-analysis was d=.28 which based on rules for effect sizes of Cohen’s d, is a small effect size. If hypnosis produced a large effect, then the hypnosis+ CBT groups would have had significantly higher weight losses on average than the CBT alone groups. Based on these results, Allison & Faith (1996) conclude that “the addition of hypnosis to cognitive behavioral therapy for weight loss is, at most, a small enhancement”.       


Hypnosis in addition to BT

        Bolocofsky, Spinler & Coulthard-Morris (1985) tested the effectiveness of hypnosis as an adjunct to behavioral therapy. Their participants were 109 17-67 year olds who were randomly assigned to the behavioral therapy +hypnosis group or the behavioral therapy alone group and studied for 9 weeks. At the end of the treatment process, both groups showed a reduction in weight. Follow-ups were conducted at 8 months and 2 years. The group with behavioral therapy +hypnosis showed significant additional weight loss; however, the behavioral therapy only group showed little change. Therefore, hypnosis did have an affect on weight loss coupled with BT. The authors state that, “hypnosis may have been an effective motivator to continue practicing the more adaptive eating behaviors acquired during treatment”.


Hypnosis in addition to dietary management

        Greaves, Tidy & Christie (1995) studied hypnotherapy as an addition to dietary management to see if it had any real effect. This was a relatively small study with only 8 participants. All were female and ages 24-60; they were clinically obese. Each woman was put on a diet before treatment began. Hypnotherapy lasted a maximum of 20 sessions and mainly used the typical trance technique. The following is a piece of the hypnotherapy stated to participants: “Your desire to lose weight is far stronger than any desire you had in the past, so that should you be faced with high calorie foods, you will decide without hesitation that you have no heed or desire to eat those high-calorie foods. These new eating habits will make weight loss possible”. The results immediately after treatment were that there was a 3-17% reduction in body mass index (BMI). The follow up was conducted 2yrs after the study ended, and 6 of the 8 participants had maintained their reduced weight.


Where Do We Go From Here?

        Based on the studies, hypnosis does seem to have an affect on weight loss, though that effect doesn’t appear to be greatly significant. It would best be used in conjunction with some other form of therapy as a motivation tool to stick with the therapy, diet, and/or exercise. Individuals who want to seek hypnosis as the sole means of reducing weight should be wary of programs that say hypnosis alone reduces weight loss because as the experimental studies showed, even the addition of hypnosis to other forms of therapy does not produce a great effect from simply engaging in therapy alone.

        Hypnosis obviously is a great tool for motivation, setting up expectations for weight loss, and getting in the right mindset to achieve those specified goals of losing weight. If individuals feel they need that extra push to lose weight and arrive at their ideal size, by all means use hypnosis in conjunction with a diet and exercise plan. Just don’t rely on hypnosis to do the work for you! You can’t think yourself thin…your behavior and body have to play a role somehow!






Allison, David B., & Faith, Myles S. (1996). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-

     behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: a meta-analytic reappraisal. Journal of

     Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 64, No.3, 513-516.


Bolocofsky, David N., Spinler, Dwayne, & Coulthard-Morris, Linda. (1985).

     Effectiveness of hypnosis as an adjunct to behavioral weight management. Journal of

     Clinical Psychology, Vol 4. (1), 35-41.


Cochrane, Gordon & Friesen, John. (1986). Hypnotherapy in weight loss treatments.

     Journal of Consulting an Clinical Psychology, Vol. 54, No. 4, 489-492.


Greaves, Evelyn, Tidy, G., & Christie, R.A.S. (1995). Hypnotherapy as an adjunct to the

     dietetic management of obese patients. Nutrition and Food Science, Vol. 95 (6), 15.





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