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Weight Loss Through Hypnosis?

Bianca Hitt

Index - Click on an item to read it

Why weight loss through hypnosis?
Who wants to sell you hypnosis and why?
Hypnosis -- The natural cure?
Some responsible internet advertisers
How does hypnosis work?
The effectiveness of unsupplemented hypnosis for weight loss
Hypnosis plus behavioral weight managenet
How hypnosis aids behavioral weight management programs
The hodgepodge problem in weight loss studies
The time factor
Conclusions and Limitations

Why weight loss through hypnosis?

The escalation of obesity rates in this country has sparked a flurry of activity amongst both serious researchers and charlatans to discover the perfect weight loss method. Hypnosis represents one of the more appealing methods dangled before the eyes of those who are hungry for a seemingly easy solution to a complex problem.

Unfortunately, hypnosis suffers from frequent misrepresentation by those with a penchant for profits who capitalize on the widespread ignorance regarding its mechanisms of action. A careful review of the scientific literatures exposes many of the claims about weight loss through hypnosis on the intemet as overly optimistic at best and openly fraudulent at worst.

Who Wants To Sell You Hypnosis and Why?

The material available on the world wide web about hypnosis as a weight loss method is distributed by people trying to sell videotapes, audiotapes, books, or seminars. Dr. Mchael Beaulieu, for example, asserts that his one hour hypnotherapy cassette which costs a mere $19.95 will "quickly erase old habits and establish new ones--INSTANTLY! (http://web.idirect.conVO/o7EIosefat/). The reader should automatically doubt this overzealous exclamation because intuitively one knows that weight loss cannot be instantaneous. Dr. Beaulieu talks about his appearance on the Sally Jesse Raphael show as if this credit somehow substantiates his claims.

Similarly, the Clauser Hypnosis Clinic provides testimonials as evidence for weight loss, as much as 122 pounds after only one session ( Although many of these apparent quacks claim to have worked at prestigious universities, the consumer must acknowledge that this fact cannot be easily verified and even if true does not guarantee credibility.

A business known as Mind Works states that "you can think yourself thin" with hypnosis for $25.00 per session" ( Mind Works like other advertisers neglects to explain the process by which hypnosis will occur.

Lisa Barnett gives a list of her credentials as a researcher in neurolinguistic progranuning and hypnosis who can reduce weight through her $39.95 hypnosis audiotape ( The old adage let the buyer beware rings true for claims being made that single sessions of hypnosis can bring about weight loss with no effort on the client's part.

Hypnosis--The Natural Cure???

Many of the advertisers on the intemet want you to believe that because hypnosis is natural, it cannot harm you and is a superior method of weight loss. Dr. Mike highlights the natural side of hypnosis since it does not involve drugs and Guarantees his clients will lose weight (http,:// One unidentified hypnosis source claims that hypnosis will reprogram people and that no documented case of anyone being hurt by hypnosis exists ( Hypnosis can be a potentially dangerous thing for people who are not trained in its workings to utilize. Dr. David Spiegel expressed concern on a recent episode of Dateline NBC that a fraudulent hypnotist was supposedly hypnotizing large groups of people without asking them how they felt after bringing them out of the hypnotic state. One should approach any claims that hypnosis can naturally alter the inherent workings of the mind with extreme skepticism.

Some Responsible Internet Advertisers

Two sites on the web search revealed more accurate assertions regarding the use of hypnosis for weight loss and explained the process. One more reliable source for data on this subject is Dr. David Kaplan who explains the evolution of hypnosis from its origins in 1842 ( Dr. Kaplan accurately states that hypnosis composes one part of what should be an integrated program of weight loss. He also acknowledges that one session of hypnosis will probably have very little effect on one's weight. Dr. Bryan Knight describes hypnosis as a deep relaxation during which one is still in control ( He emphasizes the role of psychotherapy as a crucial supplement to hypnotic weight loss. Not everyone on the intemet makes outrageous unsubstantiated claims, Dr. Knight and Dr. Kaplan provide better explanations of the process of hypnosis and its effectiveness.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Considerable controversy swirls around the mechanisms by which hypnosis actually contributes to weight loss. Leon (1976) suggested that hypnosis can help obese people team new healthier eating patterns and retain them. One author remarked that the hypnotic state is characterized by heightened concentration, suggestibility, and relaxation (Mott, 1982). Certain individuals are thought to be capable of achieving this state more readily than others. A so-called hypnotic "induction" whereby a hypnotist using certain procedures to bring an individual into the hypnotic state is not a prerequisite for achieving the state (Mott, 1982). Hypnosis, contrary to the claims of some intemet advertisers cannot magically reprogram people's minds. In short, methods of hypnosis run the gamut from simple relaxation techniques to formal inductions administered by hypnotists, but should not be considered supernatural in its effects.

The Effectiveness of Unsupplemented Hypnosis for Weight Loss

Studies showing weight loss as a result of hypnosis alone are few in number and suffer from methodological problems. Andersen (1985) reported that following 8 weekly treatment sessions and 12 weeks of practicing self-hypnosis subjects lost an average of 20.2 pounds. Unfortunately, the findingsof this study are questionable as no control group was utilized and the number of subjects (n=45) was small. Cochrane and Friesen (1986) concluded that moderate weight loss was obtained by subjects using hypnosis, but there was no difference between the group using audiotapes as a supplement to hypnosis and the group without audiotapes. Internet claims regarding the effectiveness of audiotapes thus seem to be misleading. Both groups, however, lost more weight than the controls and maintained the weight loss at a six month follow-up. The authors conclusions cannot readily be generalized to men as the subjects were all females.

Mott (1982) stated that "although hypnosis is sometimes referred to as a method of treatment, it is more accurate to regard hypnosis as a facilitator of a number of different treatment methods." Unsupplemented use of hypnosis for a moderate weight loss may be possible at least for women, but the studies in support of this lack rigorous attention to methodology.

Hypnosis Plus Behavioral Weight Management

A number of studies indicate that hypnosis combined with a behavioral weight management program contributes significantly to weight loss. Bolocofsky, Spinler, and Coulthard-Morris (1985) revealed that the addition of hypnosis to a behavioral program designed to alter eating patterns increased the amount of weight loss at 8-month and 2year follow-ups. Both the behavioral and hypnosis programs were tailored to each subject individually in the study. Bolocofsky et al. (1984) acknowledged that "the less a person weighed at the start of the program the more likely he was to lose weight and maintain the reduction". Hypnosis combined with behavioral weight management seems to be more effective for small amounts of weight loss. Another study of 45 females found that supplementing a basic self-management program with hypnosis resulted in a slightly greater amount of weight loss at a 3-month follow-up (Barabasz and Spiegel, 1989). The group for which individualized hypnotic suggestions were developed lost more weight than those exposed only to a group procedure. Kirsch (1996) noted a weight loss of 6.00 pounds without hypnosis and 11.83 pounds with hypnosis based on a meta-analysis of six studies. Allison and Faith (1996), however, disagreed and maintained that hypnosis only enhances cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy slightly if at all. Long-term individualized hypnosis combined with a behavioral weight management program appears to contribute to modest weight loss and helps maintain it.

How Hypnosis Aids Behavioral Weight Management Programs

Hypnosis operates mainly as a way to increase participants' attention to suggestions of behavioral programs as well as to reinforce their weight loss. Studies using behavioral treatments successfully "typically have developed incentive systems to bridge the gap between the short-term -reinforcers provided during treatment and long-term goal of weight reduction" (Bolocofsky et al., 1985). Hypnosis can fulfill this role by stepping in as a psychological reinforcer. Hypnosis may assist subjects in learning positive eating behaviors and creating healthy long-term patterns of food intake. Subjects are then more likely to incorporate the rules of a particular program into their behavioral regimes (Bolocofsky, 1985). Kroger (1970) points out the similarities between hypnosis and behavioral treatments which share an emphasis on visualization and imagination. The literature suggests that hypnosis is an ideal addition to behavioral weight management programs which tend to need supplementation to achieve long-term results.

The Hodgepodge Problem in Weight lass Studies

The use of subjects of varying ages and backgrounds represents one problem that plagues studies of hypnosis as a useful treatment for weight loss. Andersen (1985) utilized subjects ranging in age from 21-56 years, a considerable spread. Subjects in another study ranged in age from 17 to 67 resulting in considerable potential differences between the control group and the hypnosis group (Bolocofsky et al., 1985). The fact that subjects were not matched with regard to age could exaggerate results of weight loss as a result of hypnosis that may more accurately be attributed to age differences. McCabe, Jupp, and Collins (I985) suggested a tendency for younger women to drop out of weight loss programs relative to older women leading to a possible masking of potential effects of age. Bolocofsky et al. (1984) indicated that successful hypnotic weight loss participants were higher in self-control, weighed less at the start of the study, married, and more expressive. A wide variety of factors influence whether a given subject will lose weight through a hypnotic weight loss program. Anderson (1985) cites the absence of matched subjects as a weakness in her experiment. More studies with subjects closely matched on various characteristics should be conducted to substantiate claims about the effectiveness of hypnosis for weight loss when combined with a behavioral program.

The Time Factor

Most studies require weekly consultation with a hypnotist for 8 weeks or more in addition to self-hypnosis (Bolocofsky et al., 1984; Bolocofsky et al., 1985, Andersen, 1985; Cochrane & Friesen, 1986; McCabe et al., 1985). Internet advertisers who claim weight loss will occur following a single hypnotic session, especially a group hypnotic session, are frauds selling dreams to desperate customers. Allison and Faith (1996) underscore that "there is currently no panacea for the treatment of obesity and hypnosis is no exception". Treatment using hypnosis then is not a quick and easy way out of weight troubles. In order to achieve any benefits from its use, hypnosis must be practiced on a regular basis for a significant period of time.

Conclusions and Limitations

When combined with a behavioral weight management program, hypnosis has been shown to be an effective treatment for low to moderate amounts of weight loss. One qualification of this statement is that the hypnotic program should be tailored to each individual. Hypnosis is a process by which an individual enters a state of relaxation and heightened suggestibility, Transformation of the brain through some mysterious process defines only the hypnosis of pseudoscientists. Hypnosis should be considered a time intensive program requiring considerable effort. The only people who claim hypnosis is easy, simple, and quick are those trying to sell people on their program. The dearth of findings for men and studies with subjects matched on relevant characteristics limits the generalizability of the positive findings. The largest obstacle in weight loss is its long-term retention, but follow-ups of hypnosis as a weight loss treatment have been conducted at the longest after two years. Weight loss tapes lack scientific evidence to support their success and should be purchased with this knowledge in mind. Weight loss through hypnosis has been largely ignored by scientists and more studies with control groups and
large subject pools are required to understand its action and import. Hypnosis should be considered beneficial for limited weight loss only when combined with another form of treatment,


Allison, D. B., & Faith, M. S. (1996). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: A meta-analytic reappraisal. Joumal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 513 -516.

Andersen, M. S. (1985). Hypnotizability as a factor in the hypnotic treatment of obesity. Ihe International Journal of Clinical andexperimental Hypnosis, 33, 150-159.

Barabasz, M., & Spiegel, D. (1989). Hypnotizability and weight loss in obese subjects. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 8, 3 3 5 - 3 4 1.

Bolocofsky, D. N., Coulthard-Morris, L., & Spinier, D. (1984). Prediction of successful weight management from personality and demographic data. Psychological Reports, 55, 795-802.

Bolocofsky, D. N., Spinler, D., & Coulthard-Morris, L. (1985). Effectiveness of hypnosis as an adjunct to behavioral weight management. Joumal of Clinical Psychology, 41, 35-40.

Cochrane, G., & Friesen, J. (1986). Hypnotherapy in weight loss treatment. Joumal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 489-492.

Kirsch, 1. (1996). Hypnotic enhancement of cognitive-behavioral weight loss treatmentsAnother meta-reanalysis. Jourml of Consulting @ Clinical Psychology, 64, 517-519.

Kroger, W. (I 970). Comprehensive management of obesity. American Joumal of Clinical Hypnosis, 12,165-176.

Leon, G. R. (I 976). Current directions in the treatment of obesity. Psychological Bulletin, 83, 557-578.

McCabe, M. P., Jupp, J. J., & Collins, J. K. (1985). Influence of age and body proportions on weight loss of obese women after treatment. Psychological Reports, 56, 707-710.

Mott, T. (I 982). The role of hypnosis in psychotherapy. Ihe American Joumal of Clinical Hypnosis, 24, 241-247.

Wadden, T. A., & Anderton, C. H. (1982). The clinical use of hypnosis. Psychological Bulletin, 91, 215-243.


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