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Does hypnosis work for weight loss?

The hypnosis conjures up images of a bearded man with piercing black eyes and a mesmerizing deep voice that swings a pendulum back and forth, singing, “You’re so sleepy.” Hypnosis is terribly misunderstood and the only exposure to hypnosis most people will have is a stage show in Las Vegas. But performance hypnosis for entertainment and hypnotherapy for behavior change are entirely different animals. Could “real” hypnotherapy help you lose weight?

I’ve wondered the same thing for decades, ever since I started bodybuilding.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Judd Biasiotto published numerous books on the mind in sports, including one called “Hypnotize Me And Make Me Great.”

That 70-page book, long out of print (but still holding a sacred place on my shelf), was one of the books that sparked my interest in the power of the mind and hypnosis.

In case you’re not familiar with strength sports, Dr. Judd is the guy who squatted 605 pounds with a 132-pound bodyweight—an amazing feat, as any powerlifter will tell you. When a world-class powerlifter who also has a Ph.D. in sports psychology says there’s something to hypnosis and his mind training regimen was critical to his success, an aspiring teenage bodybuilder desperate for muscle, listen!

After all these years, my interest in hypnosis and the powers of the mind has never waned. I have used self-hypnosis as well as hypnosis CDs, which were aimed at improving performance in the gym, generating maximum intensity during workouts, and breaking through the pain barrier. While I don’t see hypnosis as magical, I do believe it has been helpful. I also believe that a comprehensive mind training program, which may include hypnosis, can make or break your weight loss program and give athletes a competitive edge.

Any experienced trainer can tell you that the diet or training program you follow is irrelevant if you can’t stick to it consistently. Many of the problems like non-compliance, self-sabotage, inconsistency, and lack of motivation are mental problems, not bodily problems.

One misconception about hypnosis is the fear that you will lose control of your faculties during a session or that it is some form of “mind control.” This is not true any more than your family, friends, peers, or culture have “controlled” your mind.

The fact is that the mind is open to suggestion (especially the mind of a very young child), and in that sense everything is hypnosis. Reading the newspaper or watching television is hypnosis or “mind programming” in a sense. You are “programmed” by social norms to become one of the masses, unless you choose to be different and become what you want to be.

Another source of misconceptions about hypnosis comes from performance hypnosis, which has virtually nothing to do with hypnotherapy for personal change. The stage hypnotist intentionally seeks out the most susceptible individuals in his audience, who happen to be willing participants, and then induces some hypnotic phenomenon with entertainment value.

Hypnosis, as used in personal change work, is simply a relaxed state of altered consciousness and heightened focus where the conscious mind is moved out of the way, allowing a message from the hypnotherapist to reach your subconscious more easily. When your subconscious receives the message, it stimulates positive behaviors, so hypnosis is simply a behavior change tool.

Self-hypnosis (by yourself) is as simple as taking long, deep breaths, relaxing (sometimes using progressive muscle relaxation techniques), then doing your visualization or repeating affirmations, or even listening to your own homemade affirmation tape.

Many people report great success with hypnosis, but others do not. Mixed results probably have to do with the practitioner and some with the subject. What kind of results can you expect from hypnosis? Could hypnosis help you lose weight or change your body in other ways?

I believe that there is a mind-body link and that it is quite possible that the brain, central nervous system and subconscious mind can literally “talk” to the various cells in your body and that this may be a factor in healing disease. I believe that the body is a remarkable self-healing machine and its own natural pharmacy.

I think it’s pretty hard to prove, but since there is legitimate science on this topic (it’s called psychoneuroimmunology), the scientific community seems to think enough about the mind-body connection to spend time, money, and resources to formally investigate it. There are many exciting and plausible theories. We also have to consider the placebo effect, where a belief can affect biology in some really amazing ways.

That being said, when it comes to hypnosis, I think you should view it with caution and interest. First, and perhaps exclusively, you should view hypnosis as a behavior change tool. When you see a claim made by hypnosis, you should ask yourself if that claim is a result that can be achieved through a change in your behavior.

For example, if someone promotes hypnosis for muscle growth, is it possible for their behavior to change so that they gain more muscle? The answer is yes. Hypnosis might help you change your eating habits and you might try harder in the gym. Therefore, muscle growth occurs as a result of behavior change (eating better and training harder) rather than the hypnosis itself.

It’s the same with reducing body fat: will hypnosis magically increase your metabolism from a mind-body connection? While I like to keep an open mind, I seriously doubt it and am not very enthusiastic about hypnotherapists who say they will hypnotize you and your metabolism will go into overdrive. If it can happen, I’m not sure it’s ever provable using the scientific method, so it may ultimately depend on your willingness to believe the claims.

So could hypnosis help with breast enlargement? Well maybe. A thought might arise from your subconscious mind that it’s a good idea to save your money, visit the doctor, and shell out the three thousand dollars for the implants (sarcasm intended).

Guys, I could give the same warning about hypnosis to enlarge your… uh… your amount of hair… yes, hair growth, that’s all… beware of those hypnosis claims about hair growth. hair. I’m not so sure I believe them (smile).

What about weight loss?

Although the results are not definitive, there is some clinical psychology research that has been published in peer-reviewed journals showing successful results from weight loss hypnosis. In part 2 of this series, you’ll hear more about what those studies found.

Even more revealing, in my opinion, are some of the documented cases of medical hypnosis, ranging from simple pain relief from dental work to surgery without anesthesia (which is pretty weird when you think about it). The mind affects the body.

In my opinion, hypnosis sessions or hypnosis CDs can be a valuable addition to a comprehensive fitness, nutrition and lifestyle program for some people, if you get them from a reputable and qualified hypnotherapist.

Even better, I think the ideal type of session would include mindful training and education, as well as traditional hypnosis, not just a passive situation where you listen and wait for your mind to be “programmed” positively.

On the other hand, I think this is why weight loss hypnosis CDs are sold like gangbusters, because they are often sold under the guise that you do absolutely nothing. Just listen and slim down – the perfect “quick fix.”

I don’t think it’s that simple or easy. You must accept responsibility for the change, take an active role in creating the change, and have a bias for action if you really want to succeed. You have to work physically and mentally simultaneously, not just “think positive” or rely on self-help CDs of any kind.

So while I DO believe that hypnosis can be a valuable tool, at the end of the day, programming your mind for success comes down to what you say to yourself (and watch/read/listen to), most of the time. You can’t work with a hypnotherapist every day for the rest of your life, but you talk to yourself non-stop every day, and repetition is a proven way to condition the mind.

The way you talk to yourself, most of the time, IS “hypnosis” if you think about it…it’s self-hypnosis.

If you already have a structured training and nutrition plan, but are having challenges with the behavior change side, it may be worth trying hypnosis or positive mind programming CDs as an additional tool in your “brain training” kit.

Just remember that in the long run, you are your best hypnotherapist and when it comes to claims, let the buyer beware.

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