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Hypnotherapy for weight loss: Does it actually work?

Hypnotherapy has become an increasingly popular weight loss strategy in recent years.

Hypnotherapy For Weight Loss: Does It Actually work? | Juniper

Looking to lose weight? You might’ve considered a number of different tactics — from lemon water to weight loss patches. You may have even come across hypnosis for weight loss.

Far from being a passing fad, hypnotherapy has become an increasingly popular weight loss strategy in recent years. But, does it actually work? Is there any science to back it up? And is it even safe?

Here’s the lowdown on hypnotherapy for weight loss and whether it’s got legs as an effective treatment.

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy involves putting a person in a completely relaxed state — almost as if they’re in a trance. You might also see it referred to as hypnosis, but the 2 terms more or less mean the same thing.

Many use hypnotherapy to change their habits or behaviours or to overcome addictions or certain thought patterns. 

Some of its applications include quitting smoking, issues with sleep, beating stress and anxiety, and conquering phobias. Weight loss hypnosis, in particular, is regularly used to alter a patient's eating habits. It’s often combined with other treatments — like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) — to help patients get control of their concerns.

In a healthcare setting, it’s used to treat all kinds of physical and mental disorders and is most often performed by a healthcare professional [1].

During a hypnosis session, the hypnotherapist will get the patient into a state of hypnosis by directing them with breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, visual cues and, eventually, verbal suggestions designed to modify the patient’s thinking. The point is that the patient then becomes more receptive to the therapist’s suggestions.

Contrary to what some films and TV shows would have you believe, the patient is always in control when they’re in a hypnotised state and cannot be instructed to do something against their wishes. This also means that if a patient doesn’t want to be hypnotised, they can opt to refuse [2].

Does hypnotherapy work?

Hypnotherapy has been around for quite a while — at least as far back as ancient times [3][4]. In the late 18th century, though, the practice started to have more scientific applications.

A series of physicians, psychoanalysts (including Sigmund Freud) and psychiatrists have helped the field evolve since, the most notable being American psychiatrist and psychologist, Milton H. Erickson, who specialised in medical hypnosis. 

But it wasn’t until the late 20th century that much more scientific rigour went into examining it. It was then that researchers sought to understand its value as a complementary treatment for different disorders [5].

Since that point, there has been significant anecdotal evidence demonstrating hypnotherapy’s success. 

A 2016 literature review in the Australian Counselling Research Journal, which examined its effectiveness, pointed to numerous trials where patients reported improvements across a number of conditions [6].

These included anxiety induced by conditions like cancer, alopecia, asthma, and psychiatric disorders; phobias; trauma; depression; sexual dysfunction; IBS; and even enhancing academic ability.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite a bunch of research being done on hypnosis, there’s still much that remains unknown about the therapy [7].

Plus, multiple experts remain sceptical about hypnotherapy. Some have gone so far as calling it “pseudoscientific and unsubstantiated”, claiming there’s no scientific backing to hypnotherapy’s value as a treatment [8].

Can hypnotherapy help with weight loss?

Now to the big question: is hypnotherapy effective when it comes to losing weight?

There is some research indicating that weight loss hypnotherapy — sometimes called virtual gastric banding — can produce favourable results.

A 1998 study examined the effects of hypnotherapy on obese patients who also suffered from obstructive sleep apnoea (where you temporarily stop breathing during sleep because your throat is partially or totally blocked) — a condition that is typically more common among people who are overweight or obese [9].

The patients in the trial adopted an approach that incorporated dietary changes and/or 1 of 2 different forms of hypnotherapy (one to curb stress and one to curb eating).

After 3 months, all of the participants successfully lost weight. However, at the end of the 18-month trial, only the group that adopted both dietary advice and hypnotherapy to reduce stress showed significant weight loss [10].

There have been several more studies since that have demonstrated positive results from hypnotherapy. 

One from 2020 examined patients who undertook hypnotherapy sessions to develop a healthier and more balanced diet. At the end of the study, hypnotherapy was found to help reduce overall BMI [11].

A 2018 review looked at CBT that integrated hypnotherapy as a means of treating obesity. It concluded that participants who received CBT and hypnosis lost more weight on average than those receiving CBT treatment alone [12].

Having said all this, a comprehensive review from 2020 said there are several flaws in many of the studies used to examine the impact of hypnotherapy on weight loss.

The authors mentioned numerous weaknesses in methodology — like small sample sizes and variations in hypnotherapy techniques — that meant they couldn’t definitively conclude its effectiveness. They suggested that “further well-designed trials” are needed [13].

Can hypnotherapy help with binge eating?

Binge eating (also known as compulsive eating) happens when someone eats large amounts of food on a frequent basis and is unable to stop. It’s often connected to weight gain and obesity [14].

Many hypnotherapy clinics and practitioners use hypnosis to beat compulsive eating. But is there any scientific backing to their approach?

One 2007 review looked at the effects of hypnotherapy on different eating disorders (including obesity) and found that results were pretty mixed, partly because it’s difficult to evaluate the power of hypnotherapy treatment for eating disorders [15].

A later review from 2021 showed more promising results, referring to a number of studies that have demonstrated hypnotherapy’s usefulness (in conjunction with other weight loss treatments) when it came to reducing food intake and certain food purchases, and helping people eat at particular times [16].

However, despite its prevalence as an eating disorder treatment, the research around hypnotherapy and binge eating is still fairly limited. 

How safe is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is generally considered to be a safe treatment with rare adverse side effects. But, some patients report symptoms such as [1][7]:

  • Feeling dizzy
  • Headache
  • Feeling anxious
  • Upset tummy or nausea
  • False memories
  • Trouble sleeping

Some experts also warn certain people to heed caution with hypnotherapy. This includes those with a diagnosed form of psychosis, such as schizophrenia [17].

Taking an effective approach to weight loss

From the studies that have been done so far, it’s obvious that if you do want to give hypnotherapy a go, it’s best used alongside other weight loss tactics — like adjusting your food intake (what and how much you eat).

If you're trying to lose weight and are looking for a multipronged strategy, here are a few approaches to consider.

Modify your diet

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is one of the pillars of sustainable weight loss. 

First, cut out foods that are processed or high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats — these are more likely to make you gain weight, plus they’re linked to an increased risk of a host of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity [18].

Then, replace these foods with more nourishing ones — think fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, raw nuts) and lean protein sources (eggs, fish, tofu).

Protein is a particularly good macronutrient to focus on, as it helps build muscle — a necessary building block for losing pounds and maintaining a healthy weight.

Move your body

Next up is exercise. Moving your body not only helps you lose weight but is also linked to better overall health, reduced risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as an improved mood and more restful sleep [19][20].

You don’t need to hit the gym for several hours a day. Start with a fast-paced walk for 30 minutes on most days, then move up to more moderate to high-intensity exercises like jogging, cycling or swimming — research shows these forms of exercise produce the best results when it comes to weight loss [21].

Look at any underlying causes

This applies to both physical and emotional factors.

Weight gain and obesity are often linked to underlying physical conditions including hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), Cushing’s syndrome (prolonged excess cortisol production) and even arthritis (which can result in doing less exercise) [22].

The same goes for emotional and psychological ones such as stress, poor body image, negative self-talk, and emotional eating.

As far as physical conditions go, chat with your GP about treating or managing the issue. Not only will this help you address the condition itself, but you may just find it helps with losing weight, too.

And when it comes to emotional and psychological factors, hypnotherapy may just help you work through them. But you might also want to explore other treatment options that can help, such as counselling.

Avoid crash diets and other quick fixes

Many programs and diets that promise you’ll lose weight fast often backfire. This is because crash diets (where you cut out a particular food or macronutrient such as carbs, or drastically reduce your calorie intake) are tricky to stick to and tend to be unsustainable.

Plus, if you drop the weight too quickly, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’ and you effectively alter your metabolism — simply because it doesn’t require as much energy to run.

Then, when you resume a normal level of food intake, your body regains the weight (and sometimes even more) because it’s trying to protect itself from starving again in the future [23]. This effectively undoes all of your weight loss efforts.

Try a weight loss program

A holistic weight loss program — like Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme — that combines diet, exercise, weight loss medication, and expert support might just be the solution you’re looking for.

The program offers health coaching from qualified experts who can help with everything from diet and exercise to stress and sleep, as well as a supportive community of others on a similar weight loss journey, and clinically proven medication.