Source: Jose Manuel Gelpi Diaz | Dreamstime.com

Perhaps the most common New Year’s resolution, not surprisingly, is to lose those extra pounds that may have dogged you for some time – even before the holidays rolled around. And this is for good reason, as about 40% of US adults are overweight, and another 30% are obese (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater).

Most people know that eating healthier and exercising regularly can facilitate weight loss, and that remaining overweight comes at significant costs to health and self-esteem.  Yet, only about 20% of overweight individuals are successful at maintaining weight loss long-term.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that there are a number of physical factors that increase the risk of overweight. Some of these include:

  • Prenatal factors (maternal overweight, gestational diabetes, maternal smoking)
  • Genes
  • Chemical exposure (e.g., phthalates, bisphenol A, the pesticide DDT)
  • Hormonal factors (hypothyroidism, PCOS, Cushing’s disease, etc.)
  • Certain medications (e.g., some antidepressants, corticosteroids, anti seizure medicines)
  • Too little sleep (which affects insulin and other hormones that impact appetite, eating behaviors, and weight gain)
  • Exposure to antibiotics (which alters the quality of one’s gut bacteria)
  •  “Obesogenic” lifestyle factors (eating too much, making unhealthy food choices, and moving too little)

Although we cannot go back in time and change our prenatal environment or undue previous exposure to chemicals, nor can we change our genes, adopting and sticking with healthy lifestyle behaviors can do a lot to help with weight loss and improve well being. This is where hypnosis can be especially helpful.

Emotional and Unconscious Factors that Keep Pounds On: Overweight as a "Tool"

Your unconscious mind may believe very strongly that obesogenic behaviors serve an essential purpose - that they are important “tools” for helping you to function in some way.  And if a part of you believes the overweight or associated behaviors are necessary, you are much less likely to change them for long. Here are some common examples:

  • Using food to increase feelings of comfort.
  • Eating to decrease feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or other emotions.
  • Weight serving as a buffer between yourself and others, especially with regard to intimate relationships.
  • Positive identification with others in your life - past or present - who are overweight.
  • Equating “good times” with calorie-dense, sugary, fatty, or processed foods.
  • Fattening foods or beverages identified as “rewards” for enduring difficulty, suffering through illness, or not having felt loved.
  • Fattening foods are rewards for “good behavior” or achievement.Feeling overly full associated with comfort.
  • Obesogenic behaviors as a defense against the fear you would fail if you tried to lose weight.
  • Weight as a way to rebel against others who are upset about your weight.
  • A way of communicating something without speaking(e.g., eating the leftover cake to express anger at a spouse or parent, etc., rather than discussing the situation that left you feeling angry).

We know from the research that hypnosis pairs well with other weight-loss and stress reduction strategies, such as mindfulness, relaxation training, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Some research has found that adding hypnosis to CBT further increases its effectiveness for weight loss.

How Hypnosis Can Change Your Mind and Body

Hypnosis can help you understand unconscious barriers to weight loss and enhance your chances of success via a variety of types of positive suggestion. Some examples include:

  • Development of an “inner ally” to help support you in making potentially challenging, but necessary changes.
  • Enhancing competence and confidence via encouraging, affirming language.
  • Visualization of already having achieved your goal and feeling good about it.
  • Accessing and partnering with the part of your unconscious that wants to make change.
  • Comforting the part of you that may be afraid of change.
  • Understanding why you have needed to use weight as a tool.
  • Reframing the previous “use” of eating as a tool that can now be safely retired.
  • Visualization of the new, healthier “tools” for coping, navigating personal relationships, and communicating effectively.
  • Mental rehearsal to make using healthy tools more automatic.

To summarize, at present, excess weight affects more people than not, and losing the extra pounds remains a challenging task for most. Hypnosis – either with a qualified professional or via self-hypnosis techniques - can help you address the unconscious reasons for keeping weight on, and help you more easily shed those extra pounds.

Dr. Traci Stein is a licensed psychologist, certified clinical hypnotherapist, and adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the author of several popular self-hypnosis audio programs on sleep, self-esteem, conquering procrastination, and changing habits, including two on Healthy Weight and Body Image, one for use while awake, and one for use while fostering deep, restorative sleep. Both are now available via Amazon.com, iTunes, and HealthJourneys.com.

For more information:

Asmundson, G.J., Fetzner, M.G., Deboer, L.B., Powers, M.B., Otto, M.W., and J.A. Smits (2013). Let’s Get Physical: A Contemporary Review of the Anxiolytic Effects of Exercise for Anxiety and Its Disorders. Depress Anxiety. 30(4):362-73. 

Entwistle, P. A., Webb, R. J., Abayomi, J. C., Johnson, B., Sparkes A. C., & Davies, I. G. (2014) Unconscious Agendas in the Etiology of Refractory Obesity and the Role of Hypnosis in Their Identification and Resolution: A New Paradigm for Weight-Management Programs or a Paradigm Revisited? International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 62:3, 330-359.

Harvard School of Public Health: Obesity Prevention Source – Prenatal and Early Life Influences

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/prenatal-postnatal-obesity/

NIH National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute: What Causes Overweight and Obesity?

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/causes

World Health Organization: Obesity Situation and Trends

http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/risk_factors/obesity_text/en/

 Photo credit: © Gelpi | Dreamstime.com - Pretty Woman On Seeing His New Weight Scale Photo

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