Hypnotherapy for weight loss? Turns out, it’s not all in the mind

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Using hypnotherapy to lose weight: a sceptic gets thinner

Ruth O’Connor,  First published: Tue, Apr 23, 2013

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“Positive suggestions become a new reality”: hypnotherapist Fiona Brennan (left) with Ruth O’Connor.

Photograph: Eric Luke

I’m definitely getting out of my comfort zone. Working from home in close proximity to the fridge with two kids under my proverbial and, erm, physical belt and, if truth be told, looking for a quick fix. This brings me to call on the services of Fiona Brennan, registered hypnotherapist, to help me get a grip on my love handles.

It may not be the quick fix I envisioned. Firstly there’s the hypnosis thing. It’s the same scepticism with which I approach ghosts – I don’t believe in them because I’m damn sure I never want to meet one. Similarly, I’m not sure I believe in hypnosis because I don’t like the idea of someone messing with my mind, making me think I’m a chicken. I ask her if it’s reversible. Her simple response is “Why would you want it to be?”

Brennan is at pains to reassure me that cringe-worthy memories of Rag Week onstage hypnotism are at odds with what hypnotherapy is about. She tells me that even under hypnosis that she cannot make me do anything I do not want to do.

She reassures me that the “trance” of hypnosis is more akin to being very relaxed, in an almost meditative state, than any eye-spinning reverie I know from the movies.
She tells me that “hypnosis operates only when there is full consent and all fear has been removed” and tells me that “the trance state bypasses the critical factor in our conscious mind allowing positive suggestions to become a new reality”.

Fears abated
My fears are further abated when I encounter another of Brennan’s clients who is positively glowing since we last met.
She tells me that she finds the experience relaxing and that, as well as losing weight, the most impressive results so far have been greater impetus to exercise and increased body confidence.
In the initial consultation, one of the first questions on Brennan’s questionnaire is not about weight but about stress or depression. She explains that many of her clients have issues with emotional eating – eating when sad, bored or stressed.

When I am weighed, I am half a stone lighter than I thought I was. While we agree that I set an attainable weight-loss target for the coming weeks, Brennan also advises that there is perhaps an issue with self-perception as well as any issue with food per se.

While my problems are not as weighty as some of Brennan’s clients, and while I think I do not feel an emotional attachment to food, we agree to target issues such as portion size, food as reward and my cravings, which have lingered well past the breastfeeding stage and result in far too many carbohydrates such as white bread, biscuits and pasta becoming my frequent go-to foods.

I’m intrigued when she asks if there are any particular biscuit types I love and tells me that she can make me think that Hob Nobs are disgusting if they are my major bugbear.

In the initial consultation, Brennan asks me when I was last happiest with my weight. I have flashes of various moments when weight was a “thing” – a throwaway comment when I was 13 or 14, the first time I wore a short skirt to a party and being on a beach with thinner friends.

They are things I haven’t thought about for years, yet they’ve come to the fore in the consultation and I’m not even under Brennan’s spinny-eyed spell yet.

My meal that evening is salad and I avoid my usual night-shift chocolate bar in work – could I already be on the way to reaching my target weight?

Journey of relaxation
The next week I have my initial hypnotherapy session. Brennan plays some soothing music and I relax into a big leather chair. She takes me on a journey of relaxation and begins to make positive suggestions, all of which we have agreed on beforehand.

When I come-to after the hypnosis, I’m not even sure I’ve been hypnotised but the first thing I go looking for is my long-lost bicycle.
Dinner that evening and every subsequent evening is chicken or fish and salad. That weekend I go to a party where I eschew the pizza and sticky chicken and pop to the shops for some fruit. Next morning, I decline the offer of sausages and bacon, opting for a healthier option. And the weird thing is that it’s no effort at all.

Week two and I feel strangely more hesitant. Even though it seems to have worked all week, or perhaps because it has, I am nervous. Brennan tells me she will employ a technique that she uses on people of a particularly rational, questioning frame of mind.

I feel more disorientated when I come-to but again, my trips to the shops result in all low-fat purchases, fresh fruit, vegetables and zero white bread, pasta, biscuits, crisps or any of the other guilty pleasures that normally make their way into my basket.

That weekend, I find myself inexplicably going to the sports shop to buy workout gear, I check my TV for workout programs and dance around my sitting room while my toddler tries to knock me down on his tricycle.

I check the dates of the next local yoga course and sign up. It might seem like nothing, but to someone who has done no exercise for the past 15 years, it’s a major change of attitude.
Week three and I’m admonished – I’m supposed to listen to Brennan’s CD for 21 days, a reinforcing mixture of relaxation therapy and weight-loss hypnosis – and I haven’t been doing it.

Yet the clothes that were destined for the charity shop are fitting again. I’ve been exercising more; a Snickers has sat uneaten at the top of my fridge for five days; the nightly trips to the shops for goodies has stopped completely; I haven’t eaten a piece of white bread for weeks and I have stopped returning to the pot for seconds when I’m already full. It’s like having a gym buddy, but the gym buddy’s in my own head.

All in the mind
A month ago, if you’d told me hypnotherapy worked, I’d have had my doubts. Sure, I know people who have stopped smoking with the help of hypnotherapy, and Brennan herself has successfully treated clients not just for weight-loss but for smoking, chronic blushing, stress and erectile dysfunction.

A month ago the sceptic in me would have said that there is no way hypnotherapy works. That it’s all in the mind. A month later and a dress size smaller I’d say that’s exactly the point.

Fiona Brennan is part of the hypnotherapy service Irish Hypnosis, which has 14 clinics nationwide. The consultation costs €75 and the sessions, which last between 60 and 90 minutes, cost €100.