I thought hypnosis could help me lose weight. It turned out to be a disaster

·6-min read
‘While I didn’t expect to go straight into a dream state, I also didn’t expect steel drum sounds to start emanating through the room.’  (Getty Images)
‘While I didn’t expect to go straight into a dream state, I also didn’t expect steel drum sounds to start emanating through the room.’ (Getty Images)

Picture a candle flame flickering,” the man on the other side of the room tells me. We’re in a small office just off a busy street. The blinds are drawn and I am relaxed into a therapist-style chair. My eyes are closed. I am desperately trying to picture that flame. As hard as I try to see the flicker, though, it just isn’t happening.

Hypnotherapy was never something I had considered for weight loss. I have been overweight most of my life, and I’ve tried time and again to embrace body positivity. But with my wedding coming up later this year, I wanted to feel like the best version of myself on the day – which for me would be a stone or two lighter than I currently am.

Calorie counting had worked to a point. I was exercising more than ever before. But nothing seemed to be shifting. Panicked, I was willing to try anything. Maybe a change in mindset would help? I found a hypnotherapist on Google who had several five-star reviews and promised results that you could feel immediately. Some previous patients claimed that he had “completely changed their lives”. Others said that the pounds fell off after a single session. Maybe this could be the magic cure-all I had been waiting for?

It isn’t my first rodeo with alternative practices. Last year I spoke to a psychic just after my grandmother had passed away, and the experience gave me and my family the closure we so desperately needed. Hypnotherapy had worked for my father, too. It made him kick a 20-year smoking habit, so I thought: why not? Perhaps it will work for me, too. The several hundred pound price was the thing that stopped me booking it immediately. It was more than my monthly rent, and more than I could feasibly afford. Especially with the wedding on the horizon. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so after re-reading the glowing reviews I went ahead and booked.

It’s a blustery Monday afternoon in March when I arrive at the hypnotherapist’s offices. He greets me with a megawatt smile that wouldn’t look out of place on a toothpaste advert. As the session gets underway, my hopes are high. For the first hour, at least. We speak about my childhood. My relationship with food. My relationship with myself. Hardly surface level stuff. He promises we will tap into these subjects further when we get to the “crux” of the session.

I explain to him that what I’m hoping to get out of this is a shift in mindset. I feel like something isn’t wired properly in my brain (a feeling backed by countless studies that have found that overweight or obese people have hormones that can rewire the part of their brain that regulates appetite). So maybe, I think, he’ll be able to tinker with this in a metaphorical sense and sort it out for me.

My first red flag should be how he speaks to me. He has the tone of a car salesman. It feels like he’s selling me something instead of genuinely caring about my reasons for being here. This feeling of uncertainty is compounded when he finds out that I’m a journalist and wants to know whether I’d review the session. Not exactly the best start for someone who is supposedly about to change my life.

Before the session, the only experience I’d had with hypnotherapy was what I’d seen on TV. I imagined him clicking his fingers and making me drop into a deep sleep. On a call with him prior to meeting in person, he told me this would not happen. Instead, he said that some people close their eyes and “wake up” an hour and a half later, feeling completely transformed. Others, he said, go into a deep state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness.

‘The experience felt like nothing more than the 10 minutes at the end of a yoga class ‘ (Getty Images/Vetta)
‘The experience felt like nothing more than the 10 minutes at the end of a yoga class ‘ (Getty Images/Vetta)

The second red flag came as the hypnotherapy session began. While I didn’t expect to go straight into a dream state, I also didn’t expect steel drum sounds to start emanating through the room. The therapist’s voice drops four octaves. I instantly feel both ridiculous and uncomfortable. He begins to get me to picture everything from flames to a bright white light. I knew hypnotherapy would be a bit “woo-woo”, but perhaps the word “clinical” made me think there would be some sort of certified method attached. Forty minutes in and I realise I am just a woman in a dark room, listening to a man spew nonsense in my general direction.

So I do the only thing I can think of. I open my eyes and ask if I could be excused to go to the loo. I need to get out of this room and take a minute. Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, I have to laugh. Have I just been scammed? Or, more pertinently, am I in the middle of being scammed? I think back on what’s just happened. It felt like nothing more than the end of a yoga class. You know the bit where you lie down and listen to the calming music while your teacher chants over it?

“I don’t think this is working for me,” I say when I return to the room. I entertain the thought of doing a runner, but ghosting my weight loss hypnotherapist isn’t high on my list of life achievements, unfortunately. I explain to him that I’m not feeling anything, and that focusing on the flame or the bright white light is going to do nothing to stop me eating that extra piece of cake.

We try a different approach. He gets me to imagine myself as a child, and think about what I would say to her and what she would say to me. It’s sweet, but again not exactly what I had signed up for.

Ghosting my weight loss hypnotherapist isn’t high on my list of life achievements, unfortunately

Perhaps I’m expecting too much, perhaps I’m expecting a miracle even. After trying to lose weight consistently for two decades – I was first taken to a dietician at eight years old – I just wanted someone that could help make the process easier. It’s a shortcut I was willing to gamble on, but one that, ultimately, didn’t pay off. The session ends abruptly. He promises to send me follow-up notes (that I would later discover were more or less a rip off of The Secret). I try to avoid eye contact, out of fear that daggers (or worse, tears) might come bursting out.

“I think I’ve just been scammed,” I message my partner as I leave the office, eager to tell him about the ridiculous afternoon I’d just experienced. As I rattle off a voice note and walk towards my train, I decide to pick up a chocolate bar from M&S that I’ve been craving. As I eat it, with no guilt at all – hey, it’s delicious – I realise I don’t need a miracle or some man in a dark office to tell me what to do. All I need is more belief in myself, and I was never going to find it there.

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