Can you think yourself thin? Megan Wood goes under in an attempt to kick unhealthy food cravings.
Under hypnosis we are said to be more suggestible. By introducing positive messages and associations while hypnotised we can break unhealthy habits: we know we shouldn't bite our nails, smoke, drink too much or overeat but for many the struggle to control these urges is a losing battle. But why is this? Ian Blaine of the Auckland Hypnotherapy Clinic has been a hypnotherapist for 12 years and he believes our bad habits lie in our subconscious all the time. So while our conscious mind is telling us to say no to dessert, our subconscious is yelling "eat the pudding!" Hypnosis is said to work by targeting our pesky subconscious directly to give it a stern talking to. Sounds great, but what if your subconscious doesn't listen?
When most of us think of hypnosis we think of illusionists on stage. They entertain by getting the audience to do bizarre things (cluck, cluck). While the use of hypnosis for entertainment is modern, the medical applications date back to the 18th century. In the late 1700s a German physician by the name of Franz Mesmer used hypnosis to treat his patients but he was a bit lacking in scientific facts. He believed the process involved occult forces he termed "animal magnetism". While his methods of hypnosis were widely discredited it wasn't all bad news: his name gave birth to the term "mesmerism".
Despite scepticism around Mesmer's practices, hypnosis was explored in the next century too. In particular by a Scottish surgeon, James Braid, who coined the term "hypnotism" and was considered the first real hypnotherapist.
Sigmund Freud famously experimented with hypnosis in the early 20th century and hypnotherapy was used during World War I to treat shell shock victims. It is still commonly used in the treatment of PTSD and turned to as a way to overcome myriad bad habits.
Approximately 90 per cent of our daily activities are controlled by the subconscious, the place where our habits and automatic behaviours live - not all of them positive.
Ian Blaine points to "theta brainwaves", a part of our subconscious that allows us to be influenced and absorb information and ideas. These "brainwaves" are said to be active when we are dreaming, or hypnotised.
When it comes to the effect of hypnosis on weight loss, according to Mayo Clinic professor of medicine, Brent A. Bauer, several studies have been conducted. Of these, the dominant finding is that it only has a minimal effect - on average people lost 2.7kg over 18 months. However, Bauer deems the standard of these studies questionable, concludes it is still difficult to determine just how effective hypnosis might be and points to diet and exercise as the preferred option for weight loss.
Lying on a couch with my eyes closed in Ian's hypnotherapy clinic, he led me into a very relaxed state using a method very similar to a guided meditation. I felt awake but only just. Ian says this is the most common way to put someone under, but you can also use fixation of attention and eye fatigue, which is where the classic idea of the swinging watch comes from (yes, it really works). Ian asked me about my thoughts around diet and food and I found myself answering without consciously intending to. He asked me to imagine putting the unhealthy foods I crave when stressed or unhappy into a room and shut the door. Then he asked me to visualise a table full of healthy, fresh food and suggested the sight of this nutritious smorgasboard made me happy. There was a lot more covered, including some questions that delved into my childhood, but that is a story for another time.
For about a week after my hypnosis session I found I wasn't thinking about food as much. Whenever I did think about eating something unhealthy a loud voice would shout "no!" in my head. It was working. But unfortunately the effect faded. Ian says this is common and usually recommends ongoing sessions either in person or via audio recording to reinforce the positive messaging. I plan to look into the audio options further, but if I end up clucking like a chicken I am going to be very upset.