Weight Loss Through Hypnosis- The Science

By Susanna Sweeney, MSc, MBACP, CHT

To be straight up from the start- weight loss through hypnosis is a vastly under researched field.

hypnosis through weight lossFind out about the science behind hypnosis through weight loss.

As you will see, there are a few researchers who- over the years have taken an interest and have had the funding to research different aspects of weight loss hypnosis, but by en large, the topic is much like a barren field.


Why is weight loss through Hypnosis under researched?

Good question.

The phenomenon in full detail:

  • Most hypnosis research focuses on the brain state of hypnosis. Here, researchers are interested in finding out what exactly happens in the brain during hypnosis.
  • Another stream of hypnosis research uses the state of hypnosis to examine other issues to do with the mind, such as the nature of consciousness, perception or memory.
  • In contrast, the therapeutic use of hypnosis for any issue such as for depression, anxiety, weight loss or smoking cessation- although thousands of people change their lives with the help of hypnotherapy every year, is vastly under researched.

I have written about some of the background to this in my article on the science behind stop smoking hypnosis- in short, I believe the lack of research in this area is mainly due to economic reasons.

Personally, I believe that hypnosis is hugely under used. If it was more widely spread, a lot of issues that are treated with medical interventions could be resolved the natural way, and at a substantial cost saving.

In the weight loss industry, a myriad of drugs, some medical devices and surgical procedures all add up to a multi-billion dollar market with much internal competition. Each corner of the market wants to increase their profit margins, or at least hold on to their slice.

And these powerful industries have huge funds at their disposal not only for advertising, but also to hold at bay any product or service which could potentially replace medications, medical device products, or surgeries for weight loss.

Universities- the centers of research- are closely tied in with industry these days. Investment in research therefore will focus mostly on areas of benefit to large corporations.

So, for the purpose of this article, we will have to make do with the few studies there are.

Yet, you will see some impressive findings.


weight loss through hypnosisScientific findings on weight loss through hypnosis.

Research on the Efficacy of Weight Loss Through Hypnosis

I found seven studies that attest to the efficacy of weight loss hypnosis.


1) Cochrane and Friesen, 1986

For this study, 60 female participants, all overweight, were divided in three groups:

  • Hypnosis plus audiotapes to listen to at home
  • Hypnosis without audiotapes
  • Control group

All groups were examined for weight loss, first immediately after the end of treatment and again six months post treatment. Subjects in both hypnosis groups lost significantly more weight than subjects in the control group, leading to the conclusion that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for weight loss.


2) Barbasz and Spiegel, 1989

45 obese female subjects were divided into three groups and were treated in different ways:

  • 14 participants in group A were taught a simple CBT self management technique only.
  • 16 subjects in group B were taught the same CBT self management technique but also received hypnosis treatment alongside, but this treatment was not individualized, i.e. not adjusted to their own personal requirements.
  • 15 subjects in group C were also taught the CBT self management technique and alongside received individualized hypnosis treatment.

Results:

  • Group A lost an average of 1.3 kg.
  • Group B lost an average of 3.4 kg.
  • And finally group C lost an average of 6.4 kg.

The results attested to the efficacy of hypnosis as a weight loss treatment over CBT used on its own.


3) Greaves & Christie, 1995

Eight female subjects with clinical obesity issues received a hypnotherapy based weight loss program. All subjects lost significant amounts of weight. At the final follow up two years after the end of treatment, six of the eight subjects had maintained a reduced body weight compared with their weight prior to treatment.


4) Johnson & Karkut, 1996

172 overweight female subjects were treated for obesity in the following ways:

  • 86 received hypnosis treatment for weight loss.
  • 86 received a hypnosis treatment accompanied with aversion treatment.

Both groups achieved significant weight loss, attesting to the efficacy of hypnosis as a treatment for weight loss.


5) Stradling,  Roberts, Wilson and Lovelock, 1998

  • In this U.K based study 60 obese patients were divided into three groups.
  • Two of those groups each received a different hypnosis treatment for weight loss alongside dietary advice, the first brief and directed at energy intake reduction, the other more in-depth and directed at stress reduction. The third group received only dietary advice.
  • Weight loss in subjects was recorded regularly up until 18 months post treatment.
  • While all three groups lost weight initially, at 18 months only the group who received an in-depth hypnotherapy treatment directed at stress reduction alongside dietary advice continued to lose weight.
  • This showed statistically significant results in favor of weight loss through hypnosis.


6) Johnson & Brinker, 2001


Subjects were divided into three groups as follows:

  • Treatment I- diet and hypnosis
  • Treatment II- aversion treatment followed by diet and hypnosis
  • Treatment III- aversion treatment, diet, hypnosis, nutritional analysis and supplements

All groups lost significant amounts of weight and reduced their Body Mass Index (BMI), with groups II and III losing more weight than group I, indicating that weight loss through hypnosis is an effective treatment.



7) Gelo, Zips, Ponocny-Seliger, Neumann, Balugani & Gold, 2014


Sixty obese female subjects were treated for weight loss with either:

  • Cognitive behavioral exercises plus hypnosis
  • Cognitive behavioral exercises plus hypnosis plus acupressure

Treatments were delivered as 12 sessions over 8.5 months and lasted 120 minutes each. They started with cognitive behavioral exercises followed by a hypnosis session, reflections and homework directions.

Both groups lost significant amounts of weight, with the acupressure group continuing to lose weight at 18 months post treatment. This study showed that weight loss through hypnosis is an effective treatment.

weight loss through hypnosisUse weight loss through hypnosis to reduce your 'excess baggage'.

The Efficacy of Weight Loss Through Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Cognitive Behavioural Treatment (CBT)

Hypnosis has become popular with clinicians as an adjunct to cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) for weight loss. I found five studies which examined the use of weight loss through hypnosis alongside CBT:


1) Bolocofsky, Spinler & Coulthard-Morris, 1985

109 subjects completed CBT treatment for weight loss- either with or without the addition of hypnosis. At the end of the 9‐week program, both interventions resulted in significant weight reduction.
However, at the 8‐month and 2‐year follow‐ups, the subjects who had experienced weight loss through hypnosis showed significant additional weight loss, while those in the CBT group exhibited little further change.


2) Kirsch, Montgomery, Sapirstein, 1995

This is a meta-analysis of 18 studies focusing on hypnosis as an adjunct to CBT. The findings were quite remarkable- weight loss hypnosis was found to increase the treatment benefits of CBT by some 70%.

Most notably, the clients who were treated with hypnosis alongside CBT continued to gain from the treatment  continued to lose weight long after the treatment was finished, where those who had only been treated with CBT did not.


3) Kirsch, 1996

This meta-analysis examined six different studies that examined the combination of CBT with hypnosis. Participants who had experienced weight loss through hypnosis alongside CBT lost more than double the weight compared to those who were only treated with CBT.


4) Mewes, Stich, Habermüller & Revenstorf, 2003

43 obese women were treated either with CBT and hypnotherapy or CBT on its own. Both groups achieved significant weight loss.

The group treated with hypnotherapy had much enhanced long term weight loss which continued until long after the treatment stopped.


5) Hutchinson-Phillips & Gow, 2005

Hutchinson-Phillips and Gow reviewed the literature around weight loss through hypnosis combined with CBT, such as treatment protocols and other articles on the topic. They concluded that CBT- out of all the available treatment options for obesity had the best empirical record in treating obesity and that weight loss hypnosis was a useful adjunct to CBT in treating obesity.


With Hypnosis, Subjects Continue to Lose Weight Long After the End of Treatment

Four of the studies above had results where weight loss hypnosis stood out for subjects continuing to lose weight long after the end of treatment:


  1. Bolocofsky, Spinler & Coulthard-Morris, 1985. At the 8‐month and 2‐year follow‐ups, those subjects who had experienced weight loss through hypnosis showed significant additional weight loss, while those in the CBT group exhibited little further change.
  2. Kirsch, Montgomery, Sapirstein, 1995. Those subjects who were treated with hypnosis (alongside CBT) continued to lose weight long after the treatment was finished, where those who had only been treated with CBT did not.
  3. Stradling,  Roberts, Wilson and Lovelock, 1998. Here, subjects who had received an in-depth hypnosis treatment aimed at stress reduction, at the 18 months follow up, were found to still be losing weight, where subjects from the other groups were not.
  4. Mewes, Stich, Habermüller & Revenstorf, 2003. The group treated with hypnotherapy had much enhanced long term weight loss which continued until long after the treatment stopped.

Different Types of Hypnosis Treatments Will Produce Different Results

The findings of three studies (Barbasz and Spiegel, 1989; Stradling, Roberts, Wilson and Lovelock, 1998; and Gelo, Zips, Ponocny-Seliger, Neumann, Balugani & Gold, 2014) indicate that the exact nature of the hypnotherapy treatment is important and will have an impact on the results of weight loss:

  • Individualized hypnotherapy treatments (Barbasz and Spiegel, 1989) can be expected to produce better result than generic ones.
  • More in-depth hypnotherapy treatments can be expected to produce better results than generic or shallow ones (Stradling, Roberts, Wilson and Lovelock, 1998).
  • The results of hypnosis for weight loss treatments can be enhanced by including techniques from other therapies (Gelo, Zips, Ponocny-Seliger, Neumann, Balugani & Gold, 2014)


So, in Practice, What Does all This Mean for You?

Good question.

First off, if you are interested in taking a program of weight loss hypnosis, you can rest assured that there is some scientific evidence that attests to its efficacy.

Secondly, the findings on different types of hypnosis treatments producing different results mean that if you are considering weight loss through hypnosis, it is really worth your while doing your research about the types of programs offered by different weight loss hypnotists. For example, you will want to know what these programs include, whether or not programs are individualized. I recommend that you research potential hypnotherapists and their offerings thoroughly before you book.

For more tips on this research have a look at my article 'Quit Smoking Hypnotist- 9 Things to Consider Before You Book'. Even though directed at a different type of hypnotherapy treatment, many of the questions you will want to ask will be the same, or similar.


So, What Does Science Say- Overall?

I introduced you to the studies I was able to find in my research. 

I found 13 studies that were conducted over a period of 30 years- not exactly a significant body of research.

However, all 13 do support weight loss through hypnosis as an effective treatment.

Are you going to give it a go?


Regards,

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References:

Anbar & Savedoff, 2005. Treatment of Binge Eating with Automatic Word Processing and Self Hypnosis: A Case Report, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 48:2-3, 191-198

Barbasz & Spiegel, 1989. Hypnotizability and Weight Loss in Obese Subjects. Journal of Eating Disorders, May 1989.

Bolocofsky, Spinler & Coulthard-Morris, 1985. Effectiveness of Hypnosis as an Adjunct to Behavioral Weight Management Journal of Clinical Psychology.  January, 1985, Vol. 41, No. 1.

Cochrane & Friesen, 1986. Hypnotherapy in Weight Loss Treatment.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1986, Vol. 54, No. 4.

Gelo, Zips, Ponocny-Seliger, Neumann, Balugani & Gold, 2014. Hypnobehavioral and Hypnoenergetic Therapy in the Treatment of Obese Women: A Pragmatic Randomized Clinical Trial, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 62:3

Greaves, Tidy & Christie, 1995. Hypnotherapy as an adjunct to the dietetic management of obese patients. Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 95 Issue: 6, pp.15-18.

Hutchinson-Phillips & Gow, 2005. Hypnosis as an Adjunct to CBT: Treating Self-defeating Eaters. Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, Vol. 5/2, 113-138.

Johnson & Brinker, 2001. A Comparative Study of Multi-component Weight Loss Treatments: A Replication and Exploratory Look at Female Smokers, Non-smokers, and Participant BMIs. North American Journal of Psychology. 2001, Vol. 3 Issue 1, p13. 18p.

Johnson & Karkut, 1996. Participation in Multicomponent Hypnosis Treatment Programs for Women's Weight Loss with and without Overt Aversion.  Psychological Reports, 1996, Vol.79/2, pp.659-668

Kirsch, 1996. Hypnotic Enhancement of Cognitive-Behavioral Weight Loss Treatments—Another Meta-Reanalysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1996, Vol.64, No. 3, 517-519.

Kirsch, Montgomery, Sapirstein, 1995. Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 63/2, Apr 1995, 214-220

Mewes, Stich, Habermüller & Revenstorf, 2003. Weight reduction by hypnosis and behaviour therapy. Verhaltenstherapie und Verhaltensmedizin, 24, 499–512.

Stradling,  Roberts, Wilson & Lovelock, 1998. Controlled trial of hypnotherapy for weight loss in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. International Journal of Obesity, 1998/28.