ABSTRACT: The Effectiveness of Unsupplemented Hypnosis for Weight Loss
Studies showing weight loss as a result of hypnosis alone are few in number and suffer from methodological problems. Andersen (1985) reported that following 8 weekly treatment sessions and 12 weeks of practicing self-hypnosis subjects lost an average of 20.2 pounds. Unfortunately, the findingsof this study are questionable as no control group was utilized and the number of subjects (n=45) was small. Cochrane and Friesen (1986) concluded that moderate weight loss was obtained by subjects using hypnosis, but there was no difference between the group using audiotapes as a supplement to hypnosis and the group without audiotapes. Internet claims regarding the effectiveness of audiotapes thus seem to be misleading. Both groups, however, lost more weight than the controls and maintained the weight loss at a six month follow-up. The authors conclusions cannot readily be generalized to men as the subjects were all females.
Mott (1982) stated that “although hypnosis is sometimes referred to as a method of treatment, it is more accurate to regard hypnosis as a facilitator of a number of different treatment methods.” Unsupplemented use of hypnosis for a moderate weight loss may be possible at least for women, but the studies in support of this lack rigorous attention to methodology.
A number of studies indicate that hypnosis combined with a behavioral weight management program contributes significantly to weight loss. Bolocofsky, Spinler, and Coulthard-Morris (1985) revealed that the addition of hypnosis to a behavioral program designed to alter eating patterns increased the amount of weight loss at 8-month and 2year follow-ups. Both the behavioral and hypnosis programs were tailored to each subject individually in the study. Bolocofsky et al. (1984) acknowledged that “the less a person weighed at the start of the program the more likely he was to lose weight and maintain the reduction”. Hypnosis combined with behavioral weight management seems to be more effective for small amounts of weight loss. Another study of 45 females found that supplementing a basic self-management program with hypnosis resulted in a slightly greater amount of weight loss at a 3-month follow-up (Barabasz and Spiegel, 1989). The group for which individualized hypnotic suggestions were developed lost more weight than those exposed only to a group procedure. Kirsch (1996) noted a weight loss of 6.00 pounds without hypnosis and 11.83 pounds with hypnosis based on a meta-analysis of six studies. Allison and Faith (1996), however, disagreed and maintained that hypnosis only enhances cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy slightly if at all. Long-term individualized hypnosis combined with a behavioral weight management program appears to contribute to modest weight loss and helps maintain it.
Hypnosis operates mainly as a way to increase participants’ attention to suggestions of behavioral programs as well as to reinforce their weight loss. Studies using behavioral treatments successfully “typically have developed incentive systems to bridge the gap between the short-term -reinforcers provided during treatment and long-term goal of weight reduction” (Bolocofsky et al., 1985). Hypnosis can fulfill this role by stepping in as a psychological reinforcer. Hypnosis may assist subjects in learning positive eating behaviors and creating healthy long-term patterns of food intake. Subjects are then more likely to incorporate the rules of a particular program into their behavioral regimes (Bolocofsky, 1985). Kroger (1970) points out the similarities between hypnosis and behavioral treatments which share an emphasis on visualization and imagination. The literature suggests that hypnosis is an ideal addition to behavioral weight management programs which tend to need supplementation to achieve long-term results.