Looking to lose weight? The answer could be in your subconscious.
With 58% of women and 68% of men in the UK overweight or obese according to ONS data, many people are looking for that perfect weight loss solution. While gastric bands and bypasses involve major surgery and are often seen as a last resort, hypnotherapists have developed a virtual solution - convincing your subconscious that you've had a gastric band, when no surgery has taken place.
Whilst this sounds a little bizarre, it has proved to be very effective for some people - with hypnotherapists reporting positive results. So, what is a virtual gastric band, how does it work and could it be the solution to your weight problems?
The virtual procedure
The virtual procedure takes place over several sessions, designed to trick the subconscious into believing you have really had the surgery.
"During the hypnotherapy, the client is taken through the process of preparing themself for surgery. In one of the sessions - for example - we create an environment to enable the client to feel as if they are preparing to have the operation. We talk through the procedure - step by step - under hypnosis, explaining what the surgeon would be doing in layman's terms," explains Malminder Gill, Harley Street hypnotherapist.
How it works
You could be forgiven for wondering how imagining a band being wrapped around your stomach could result in genuine weight loss. The rationale is that the power of the method is the patient's subconscious belief that they have been through such a procedure.
"We appeal to the patient's imagination so that they really dive into that fantasy and believe in it. The theory is, once they believe they've had the procedure, they will automatically eat less, which will result in natural weight loss," explains Gill.
But is having a virtual gastric band the right solution for you? Although the gastric band exists only in the patient's subconscious, many hypnotherapists still believe it should be used with caution.
"I don't believe it's a good idea to make the subconscious believe a client is obese when they're not," reveals Gill.
"If someone comes to me, hoping for a virtual gastric band procedure, I tend to apply the same rules that a surgeon would if someone was seeking the surgery. If someone is just slightly overweight, it's better to address any contributing factors, as well as help the client to learn to make peace with their body weight if necessary."
In addition, the virtual gastric band procedure relies in part on the patient's ability to use their imagination.
"If you struggle to use your imagination, this won't work," explains Gill. "But if you have quite a visual or creative mind, then it can work very well."
Whilst a hypnotic band may not appeal, there are other ways in which hypnotherapists may be able to support your weight loss journey. Geraldine Joaquim, clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, believes a more meaningful solution is to address the client holistically, looking at the factors influencing weight gain.
"Most cases of being overweight have a psychological root, such as eating for comfort due to stress or being overtired, bad habits or lack of education when it comes to food choices," she explains. "When these issues are addressed, the weight often drops off. These are lasting changes and not just a quick fix."
"Once we see positive change in one area of our lives, it often has a knock-on effect in other areas to do with our mental state and the way our attitude changes," she continues.
Gill, too, believes that a holistic approach is sensible, even when using the virtual gastric band procedure. "I have done sessions where I've purely focused on the gastric band, but I think it's important to take into consideration other factors, to effect more of a lifestyle change," she explains.
"Through experience, I try to cover the root of the eating or why that person doesn't exercise. I also like to do a session looking at their history whatever that might be."
Whilst impressive claims have been made about the virtual gastric band procedure, it is important to remember that this treatment is no guarantee of weight loss. A study by Hull York Medical School in 2016 showed no significant difference between the results achieved by relaxation hypnotherapy and the virtual gastric band.
One hypnotherapist, who claimed 'guaranteed results' was forced to remove her claims by the Advertising Standards Authority, who asserted that the idea of a 'guarantee' was misleading.
Dr Julie Coffey, GP and weight loss expert, agrees that - whilst hypnotherapy has its place - it is not a 'magic bullet' or cure-all. "I think hypnotherapy can be brilliant," she says. "But it does have its limits. I think it's important that patients learn about nutrition and exercise too - as well as addressing contributing factors to their weight gain."
"It's important, too, to remember that even physical gastric bands are not guaranteed to work. Patients who don't address their eating sometimes get around the physical limitations of the band by liquidising food, for example."
Checking out your therapist
If you're keen to see if it works for you, take time to select the right therapist for the job. As hypnotherapy is currently unregulated in the UK, it's important to ensure that any practitioner you choose is properly qualified. Whilst it is not compulsory for hypnotherapists to be members of a professional body, such as the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH), membership of such an organisation provides reassurance that your practitioner is a well-qualified professional. Don't be afraid to check out a hypnotherapist's qualifications before signing up and, if in doubt, ask your doctor for advice.
Uncertain about hypnotherapy?
For some, the idea of being under hypnosis conjures fears of being out of control; however, hypnotherapy bears no resemblance to the hypnosis you may have witnessed on TV shows. "Many people believe that hypnotherapy is something that is 'done' to them but in fact it's a collaboration between therapist and client," agrees Joaquim.
"Hypnosis can work by altering the way your mind responds to what your body is telling you, whether that's to exercise more, eating less by using a virtual gastric band or whatever it is you feel you need to do to lose weight. If you're open to the idea and feel it could work for you, it's certainly worth speaking to your doctor about finding an appropriate hypnotherapy specialist," agrees Dr Dan Robertson, medical officer at Push Doctor.
So, while hypnotherapy and the virtual gastric band are by no means a magic solution to weight loss, the treatment can offer some people the opportunity to shift their mindset, remove barriers and achieve lasting results.