Hypnosis significantly improves weight loss efforts

By Brandon May | Medically reviewed by Amanda Zeglis, DO, MBA
Published July 22, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Obesity (body mass index >30 kg/m2) is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease.

  • Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis represent complementary techniques that appear to provide benefit in supporting weight loss efforts in patients with obesity.

  • Recent research suggests clinicians should be aware of and refer patients to hypnotherapy as an adjunct to conventional weight loss efforts.

Research suggests that hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis can lead to significant reductions in caloric intake and weight loss in patients with obesity.[]

Approximately 42% of the US adult population is affected by obesity, a multifactorial condition characterized by excessive accumulation of adipose tissue in the body.[] Obesity is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease.[][]

Disinhibition—defined as a tendency to overeat and eating opportunistically in an obesogenic environment—is a primary driver for obesity.[]

Despite the effectiveness of nutritional modification and physical exercise, many patients with excess adiposity continue to struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

Hypnosis to address obesity

Research studies have found an association between the use of hypnotherapy in patients with obesity and potentially favorable changes in leptin, adiponectin, and irisin levels.[]

While seemingly helpful in supporting weight loss efforts, there remain persisting knowledge gaps among clinicians regarding the utility and efficacy of hypnotherapy in the management of obesity.

Researchers and clinicians involved in weight control and hypnosis discussed the impact of the subconscious mind on food intake and body weight as well as the role of hypnosis in obesity management.

Hypnosis vs nutrition education alone

Research findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis, when combined with standard nutrition education, significantly reduced food impulsivity compared with nutrition education alone in adults with obesity and high levels of disinhibition, as assessed by a score of >8 on the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire.[]

The randomized controlled trial also shows that hypnotherapy appears to be associated with weight loss in this patient population. Researchers from the HYPNODIET trial suggest hypnosis and self-hypnosis “​​significantly improve the deep mechanisms of eating behaviors” in adults with obesity and disinhibition.

Multidimensionality of weight loss/gain

Guillaume Lehericey, the scientific officer of the HYPNODIET study, explained in an MDLinx interview that the act of eating features multiple dimensions that extend beyond the simple satisfaction of a biological need.

"Any inappropriate eating behavior may result from disruptions in this dynamic and be anchored more or less in unconscious automatisms. "

Guillaume Lehericey

He added that in the case of weight gain, overexposure to food stimuli and excess food resources constitute an obesogenic environment.

“Factors that encourage or inhibit food intake alternate,” he noted, explaining that patients with obesity and high disinhibition “are not able to implement health recommendations to stop weight gain and maintain a healthy weight.”

Hypnosis efficacy in weight loss

Lehericey, who serves as a dietician at the Saint-Denis Children's Hospital, explained that hypnosis helps an individual to let go of judgements and limiting beliefs while maintaining free will.

"The individual can access a more objective perception for the benefit of possible non-conscious or automatic solutions."

Guillaume Lehericey

In the therapeutic sense, he added that hypnosis circumvents the usual critical or skeptical nature of the mind to help the patient explore other adapted behaviors or to break through mental blocks.

“The therapist's intervention allows the non-conscious mind to be more suggestible and guides the conscious mind towards a capacity for change through the mobilization of the patient's own resources,” he added.

Cooperation of the patient to implement their practice of self-hypnosis will reinforce deep and lasting changes, Lehericey noted. As such, the HYPNODIET study ensured patients randomized to hypnotherapy also received training in self-hypnosis.

Lehericey stated that hypnosis and self-hypnosis are attractive therapeutic, adjunct tools to conventional weight loss strategies given “their low cost and their adaptability to many clinical situations.”

In an MDLinx interview, Seth-Deborah Roth, CRNA, CCHt, a nurse anesthetist and fellow with the National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists, explained that there are “subconscious triggers” and neural pathways that have been established [in patients] over the years as it pertains to food rewards and related behaviors.

Roth, a hypnotherapist who also serves as a certified instructor and faculty member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, uses hypnotherapy in clinical practice to help manage pain during operations but also uses hypnosis in her own practice to help facilitate weight loss.

She added that while conventional methods for inducing weight loss have their place, there needs to be “an emotional change” that affects the unwanted behavior.

"That's where hypnosis steps in, by helping to get to the things that are driving obesity and release them."

Seth-Deborah Roth, CRNA, CCHt

Incorporating into treatment

While seemingly effective, Lehericey noted that several misconceptions of hypnosis persist in the medical field, which prevent its implementation into clinical practice. “It is by conducting scientific studies with rigorous methods that we will be able to overcome the mistrust of hypnosis,” he said.

He added that with findings from this and other research studies, clinicians should be able to observe “that it is possible to reduce disinhibition in patients with obesity and to implement this type of therapy in addition to nutritional and physical activity therapies.”

Teaching hypnosis skills can be beneficial even beyond the initial therapy session. Roth noted that in her practice, she makes sure to train patients to use self-hypnosis so they can stay consistent after they leave the hypnotherapy session.

"Self-hypnosis is an important skill to teach people, because repetition actually changes the neural pathways."

Seth-Deborah Roth, CRNA, CCHt

What this means for you

In some cases, obesity can be hard to manage with nutritional counseling and physical activity recommendations alone. Recent research suggests clinicians should be aware of and refer patients with obesity to hypnotherapy as an adjunct to conventional weight loss efforts.

Read Next: Asking your patients to lose weight may do more harm than good. Here’s why.

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