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Hypnosis and Weight Loss, What Dr. Oz and Others Say

Weight loss and hypnosis

If you want to lose weight and have not been successful, you may be ready to try anything. Hypnosis for weight loss may fall into that "anything" category, but according to hypnotist Paul McKenna, who appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, he has found that 7 in 10 people lose weight and keep it off, although watching him in action may make you wonder how true this statement is.


McKenna has a unique approach to hypnosis and weight

Paul McKenna, a former stage hypnotist turned self-help book author (I Can Make You Thin, I Can Make You Sleep), lecturer, and TV personality, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and tried to convince the audience that a new method of hypnosis called gastric hypnotic band could help people eat less and lose weight.

McKenna uses hypnosis to reprogram the mind so an individual thinks he or she has undergone a type of weight loss surgery called gastric banding, a surgical procedure that makes the stomach smaller. Because hypnotized individuals think they have had the surgery, they will (hopefully) eat less.

Three women who had tried the hypnotic suggestion for about five days were on the show and reported on how the new approach had worked for them so far. McKenna had instructed all three women to chew their food thoroughly (20 times) and to listen to his Gastric Hypnotic Band audio recordings.

One of the women (Angela) said she ate less because she didn't crave food. Brigid noted she had felt some stomach pain and tightness, which are symptoms that can occur with gastric banding surgery. She also reported eating less.

Desiree said she actually experienced nausea after eating only about 25% of her food. The women had lost between "a few" and seven pounds thus far. Obviously the women had not participated in this experiment long enough to know whether it would be successful.

McKenna also did a short segment where he demonstrated how hypnosis can be used to speed up or "jumpstart" a person's metabolism to help with weight loss. He told the audience members to join their thumb and middle finger while thinking about a pleasurable experience and to link that feeling with exercise. While the presentation was unconvincing, that's not to say the concept is not valid.

Research on hypnosis and weight loss
Although you may hear claims about how effective hypnosis can be in the fight to lose weight, finding any scientific studies to back them up is not easy. It appears most of the so-called research is actually anecdotal reports, although that's not to say there is not some validity to any number of the claims.

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A report from Vanderbilt University entitled "Weight Loss through Hypnosis?" states that "unfortunately, hypnosis suffers from frequent misrepresentation by those with a penchant for profit 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 internet as overly optimistic at best and openly fraudulent at worse."

The report does go on to describe several studies on the subject of weight loss and hypnosis, pointing out that when hypnosis is combined with behavioral weight management programs, it can contribute significantly to weight loss. For example, one meta-analysis of six studies reported a weight loss of 6 pounds without hypnosis and 11.83 pounds with hypnosis.

However, these findings were called to the carpet by a research team who said that "if 1 questionable study is removed from the analysis, the effect sizes become more homogeneous and the mean is no longer statistically significant." In other words, the addition of hypnosis to cognitive behavioral therapy for weight loss did not yield significant loss of weight.

Some interesting results came out of a controlled trial of hypnosis for weight loss in 60 patients with obstructive sleep apnea. The participants were divided into three groups: one received hypnosis directed at stress reduction, one received hypnosis that focused on calorie intake reduction, and the third group received diet advice only.

The research team tracked the weight lost at 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18 months after the participants underwent hypnotherapy. At the three-month mark, participants in all three groups had lost 2 to 3% of their body weight. However, at 18 months, only the individuals in the stress reduction hypnosis group still showed a small but significant average weight loss (8 lb, 6 oz) compared with their starting weight.

The authors concluded that when hypnosis was used along with dietary advice, "the benefits were small and clinically insignificant." They did note, however, that "more intensive hypnotherapy might of course have been more successful, and perhaps the results of the trial are sufficiently encouraging to pursue this approach further."

Is hypnosis an effective tool for weight loss? Neither McKenna on The Dr. Oz Show nor the scientific research is very convincing. Perhaps there is a placebo effect: if people truly believe hypnosis will work, then perhaps it will, and that may be sufficien for some people.

It may all boil down to what Paul McKenna said when asked by Dr. Oz if hypnosis works to help people lose weight: it depends on the person. And that's the same answer that can be given for a countless number of other approaches to weight loss as well.

Allison DB, Faith MS. Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: a meta-analytic reappraisal. J Consult Clin Psychol 1996 Jun; 64(3): 513-16
The Dr. Oz Show
Kirsch I. Hypnotic enhancement of cognitive-behavioral weight loss treatments--another meta-reanalysis. J Consult Clin Psychol 1996 Jun; 64(3): 517-19
Stradling J et al. Controlled trial of hypnotherapy for weight loss in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1998 Mar; 22(3): 278-81

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