Does Hypnosis Work for Weight Loss? Here’s an RD’s Take

Does hypnosis really work for weight loss? Shavonne Morrison, MS, RD, LD, investigates. Our minds have more power than we realize. Some people believe that through certain practices, we may be able to persuade our minds in a way that physically affects our bodies. One of these practices is hypnosis. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind hypnosis and examine existing evidence regarding its ability to help people lose weight.

First, what is hypnosis?

Hypnosis may not be what you expect from movies and pop culture. In fact, it’s actually a legitimate psychological and therapeutic tool with the ability to heal. Hypnosis is the practice of inducing a state of trance-like consciousness in which a person may be unable to voluntarily control their actions. On top of that, they’re more responsive to directives from others. According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is a useful therapeutic technique to promote behavioral change. In particular, it may help you recall repressed memories and soothe ongoing stress.

How does hypnosis work for weight loss?

Although the practice may be controversial, some believe hypnosis successfully works to promote weight loss. But how? Well, resources specific to hypnosis for weight loss are scarce, but here’s some insight:
  • A professional hypnotist or hypnotherapist guides you into a deeply relaxed, trance-like state using words, phrases, or images.
  • While you’re in this state, you have lower inhibitions, which creates a unique opportunity. Your hypnotist can encourage behavior changes while you’re in this state, which may contribute to weight loss.
It’s important to note that hypnosis may not work for everyone. However, several studies detail its potential benefits. Woman at therapist's office getting hypnotized to help her lose weight

Does hypnosis work for weight loss?

Many of the studies conducted on hypnosis for weight loss combine the practice with other tried and true methods. Here’s a closer look at the findings.

Study #1: Yes, but Only When Paired with Other Methods

One 2018 study shows that self-hypnosis in combination with personal diet recommendations, exercise, and lifestyle changes promotes weight loss. Participants were given three hypnosis sessions, in which they were taught how to induce hypnosis on themselves before eating to increase self-control. And it worked; the hypnosis users greatly reduced their caloric intake. Interestingly, the study’s results show that habitual hypnosis users lose more weight. In contrast, the authors conclude that self-hypnosis isn’t associated with weight loss. This means that hypnosis doesn’t directly lead to weight loss. However, in combination with proven weight loss techniques—such as diet and exercise—it can be a powerful tool. This reinforces the notion that your mindset matters just as much as what’s on your plate or in your fitness routine.

Study #2: Yes, by Promoting Satiety

That said, a 2020 study states that hypnotherapy appears to:
  • support weight loss in those who are significantly overweight
  • reduce levels of the hunger-promoting hormone leptin
Reducing levels of leptin will promote feelings of fullness sooner, which reduces the chances of over-consuming calories. Unlike the others, this study seems to suggest that hypnosis can have a direct effect on weight loss after all.

Older Studies on Hypnosis for Weight Loss

The fascination with hypnosis isn’t new. A handful of older studies from the mid-80s and late-90s show marginal improvements from hypnosis for weight loss. These studies state that participants using hypnosis:
  • experienced greater weight loss
  • managed their results for a longer period of time
Of note, at least one of these studies combined hypnotherapy with dietary advice.

Overhead angled shot on woman chopping vegetables on a cutting board; healthy diet concept

A Dietitian’s Verdict

Overall, it seems that hypnosis is a powerful tool. But when it comes to weight loss, is it a method worthy of your consideration? As a dietitian, I’m apt to go with the science. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be enough data to form a strong consensus. While hypnosis appears to to shift your mindset, it doesn’t directly cause you to lose weight. However, some data suggest it may help you eat less and feel more satisfied at mealtimes. Recent studies seem more promising, but even the researchers say that more studies are required. With so many viable weight loss options out there, it’s hard for me to recommend hypnosis in good faith. Plus, if I’m honest, I’m still skeptical and would like to see much more data and larger studies. However, if you’ve exhausted more rigorously tested weight loss strategies (such as exercise and changing your eating habits), you might want to give it a try.

How to Navigate Hypnosis for Weight Loss

By now, you may have an idea of whether or not hypnosis is something you’d like to try. Before you get started, here are some tips and considerations if you choose to pursue this alternative weight-loss intervention.
  • Do your research. Above all, find a licensed professional. From there, make sure the specialist is trained and has a proven track record of helping people lose weight. There’s a lot we don’t understand about the mind, so use caution when opening yourself up in such a vulnerable way.
  • Don’t settle for quick fixes if you want long-term results. Chances are if you’re trying to lose weight, you want all the hard work, time, and money you put in to last. Be wary of any ads or websites that make outlandish promises. If they promise to help you “think yourself thin” in a few hours, that’s a red flag. Changing your mindset takes time, so proceed with realistic expectations.
  • Hypnosis isn’t a replacement for a healthy diet and exercise. Again, mindset shifts are key to healthy living. However, you’ll still want to focus on eating whole, nutritious foods, enjoying treats in moderation, and exercising regularly.
  • Hypnosis is an investment. According to some sources, prices for hypnosis can range from $100 to $200 a session. Whether it’s worth the money and in your budget will entirely depend on your personal situation. Since hypnosis is similar to psychotherapy, it may be something you’ll have to budget for.
Couple exercising on the beach to help yield weight loss results

Final Thoughts

Hypnosis is a practice that has come in and out of popularity over the past few decades. Despite some misrepresentation in the media and controversy over its effectiveness, studies suggest it may help with weight loss indirectly, as they demonstrate the effect that re-training your brain can have. From reducing caloric intake to improving quality of life, hypnosis has some promising science behind it. If you’re considering hypnosis or hypnotherapy, it’s a good idea to do adequate research before you jump in. Check with your doctor and/or a registered dietitian to see if hypnosis may be a good option for you. Note: Many registered dietitians specialize in helping create behavioral change. Plus, RDs are specially trained to help you shift to a mindset that will support your goals—including weight loss.
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