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Weight Loss - Can Hypnotherapy Help?

by Kate McEwen(more info)

listed in weight loss, originally published in issue 225 - October 2015

Most people associate hypnosis with weight loss and stopping smoking, but can hypnotherapy really help? Well, the answer is ‘yes’, but there a lot of considerations to take on board and one session of hypnosis for a client who may well have been overweight for quite a long time and has a large amount to lose, is unlikely to achieve a great deal.  I am certainly not saying one session won’t help, but the therapeutic approach needs to take account of a plethora of factors.

Firstly, many clients come to hypnosis as a last resort, having often failed to achieve goals which they have set for themselves; this can actually set them up for failure unless they are reassured that they must not try to be hypnotized!  They are so terrified of the results of the hypnosis not working that they unconsciously make it harder for the therapist to do their job.

As is also often the case, clients may come to the first session bringing with them an out of control ‘inner critic’ which is constantly taunting them for not having succeeded in previous efforts to lose weight.  The person is often suffering from very low self esteem and indeed may actually hate themselves and/or their body.


Kate McEwen 225 Hypnosis for Weight Loss


When a client presents with obvious signs of self disgust and low mood, then the first thing the therapist must do is, somehow, bring the client around to dealing with the issue of self acceptance first.  To start straight into a weight loss session, when an individual is feeling such self loathing, is to reduce the efficacy of the approach.

The next consideration should be to help the client come to terms with realistic goals.  If, say, the client has been overweight for the last 10 years and needs to lose 5 stone, they need to be encouraged to see progress in small chunks.  I encourage my clients to regard an average weight loss of approximately 1lb per week as successful weight reduction.

It can be daunting however to think in terms of 70 weeks of ‘dieting’ ahead, so the client should be encouraged to consider shorter term goals such as losing 5% of their overall bodyweight in the next three months.  (That would be about 11lbs - based on someone whose ideal weight is 10st and who is currently 15st).  

Furthermore it can be useful to check what the client perceives as a goal weight.  If it turns out that your client is 5’5” and sets their goal weight at 7st, then they are being more than a little unrealistic, again setting themselves up for failure.

I would also ask them about their previous dieting experiences.  Most people have ‘one good diet’ in them.  However, if having successfully lost, say 3 stone previously and that weight has now piled back on, the success of the initial diet may actually, on a daily basis, be undermining the client’s determination. 

There is a danger that the mind set becomes one of ‘I’ve done this before, so I can do it again’; however ‘doing it again’ is, often, programmed to commence on the following Monday! The intervening days can then be lived guilt free, eating whatever the individual chooses because this time, this time they will be able to achieve what they did previously.  

Unfortunately this rarely happens.  The client has three days, perhaps, of following a diet and then something happens to tempt them, say watching an advert for their favourite ‘treat’.

What happens then is that the person will attempt to impose their ‘will power’.  After all, isn’t that all that is required to lose weight; application of willpower?  

The person may even be strong minded enough to resist the temptation; however with that ‘success’ there is a concomitant increase in physical tension.  As they continue to utilize their will, so the tension increases and increases until, at some point, the tension is so great that the will can no longer resist the temptation and the client is rendered out of control. However instead of giving in and having something small to satisfy them, this poor individual has built up such a head of steam that they go headfirst into a binge.  End of diet - beginning of self-recrimination!

If this is the case (or a similar scenario) the hypnotherapist can also reassure their client that the first and most important step to losing weight is to regain control and  when one is relaxed, one is in control.

….and what happens under hypnosis?   The client experiences deep relaxation and an inner calm.  The therapist’s job is to take the client into as deep a level of hypnosis as is possible (and that will vary from individual to individual) and then ‘anchor’ the sensation.

An anchor can be a movement, such as holding on to a wrist with the opposite hand and gently applying pressure, or rubbing a finger and thumb together, pressing a toe down or even a ‘word’ such as ‘relax’ or ‘peace’ which, it is suggested to the client under hypnosis, when they are in this deeply relaxed altered state of awareness and therefore much more ‘suggestible’ than in the normal waking state, that every time they carry out this movement or say the word quietly into themselves, the subconscious will automatically render the client as deeply relaxed, in whatever moment they require to be in control, as they are in hypnosis at that point.

In future, working with this anchor will help the client to stop the tensions rising when they are being tempted.

Furthermore it is important to understand that the imagination is far more powerful than will power alone.  Not only is the ability to relax essential for weight reduction, the ability to be able to picture oneself in the future at the shape and form one wishes to be, to ‘try it on’ and really step into what it would feel like, is also an excellent tool for guiding the subconscious to support the client’s efforts to let the weight go. 

The therapist, in effect, encourages the client to create a ‘future reality’ which provides a blue print for the subconscious to follow.

I also point out to the client that as babies we all have a finely tuned digestive system.  When a baby becomes hungry, tension increases which usually results in the baby crying.  Being fed brings about satisfaction and relaxation followed by sleep until the cycle repeats itself.  (Lack of nurture at this stage can set the scene for eating disorders as the neural pathways don’t develop properly, and a child can be in a situation where they are unable to recognize the hunger signals or cut off points.)

A baby doesn’t have a bad day and decide to overeat but, as children, they are socialized into eating at specific meal times.  We actually encourage children to override the delicate balances of the appetite, the dictat being to eat at meal times, rather than when hungry.  

The good news, however, is that you can suggest to the client, under hypnosis, that they are reconnecting with the internal promptings of the body and that from now on, before eating anything, they will take a deep breath, use the ‘relax’ anchor and check in with their body as to whether or not food is appropriate at that point.

It should also be pointed out that, in future, they should listen to their stomach, not their mouth (or the eye - ‘my eye was bigger than my tummy’) as the mouth regularly relays false information to the individual; it is working on imagining the experience of the eating rather than the feeling which the stomach will have after eating when the individual is not hungry. I call this the ‘tongue-tummy test’.

Many years ago I worked with a lady who was about 5 stone over weight.  I explained to her what I intended to do during the first session and about the importance of realigning one’s eating to the natural internal promptings of the body and appetite.  To assist with this, I also built in the suggestion, during the session, that whenever she was about to reach out to eat something, she would experience a sensation, similar to having a boxing glove on her hand, and that would halt her just long enough for her to relax and run the tongue-tummy test.

At the end of the session, I could tell by her demeanour that she thought I was a charlatan and she left, obviously disappointed.  A few days later she phoned me to make another appointment.  Surprised, I asked her how she was getting on and she admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she thought that nothing had ‘happened’ during the session.  She had however been out a day or two after the session and had decided to have a cup of tea at a garden centre.  The ‘rogue’ part of her suggested she just go on and have a scone and damn the diet; however as she reached out she stopped, checked in with her stomach and realized that she didn’t actually want the scone.  So instead of trying to impose her will on the situation, she remained calm and in tune with her inner workings.

That was a turning point for her and in the next year, she did indeed lose the 5 stone she desired to, without trouble or grief. 

The benefit for me was the number of clients she sent my way!  No better way to advertise than to have a happy client!!

Hypnoanalysis can also help clients to lose weight as some of the inner drives can be connected to early learnt behaviour, but that is a story for another time.


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About Kate McEwen

Kate McEwen BA(Hons) - Director & Principal Trainer has been in practice as a hypnotherapist, in partnership with John McEwen, since 1999 during which time she has been privileged to work with thousands of clients. Firstly as a partner at Corsebar Hypnotherapy Centre, Paisley, Kate currently practises as a partner in B9 Hypnotherapy, Argyll. In 2004, with a back ground in lecturing in further and higher education spanning 22 years, Kate took over the training remit for the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists and is the principal trainer at the Scottish School of Hypnotherapy. She is a Member of the National Society of Professional Hypnotherapists (MNSPH), Senior Qualified Hypnotherapist - General Hypnotherapy Register (SQHP), Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists (MNCP), Member of the Hypnotherapy Association and Member of the Advisory Council of, and Postgraduate trainer for, the NSPH. Kate may be contacted on Tel: 01369-820172;


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