Controversial weight loss method gets mind on board to help drop pounds

When Tom Wood first joined his wife at a hypnosis weight loss class, he was a skeptic.

Linda Allred’s mixture of weight loss instruction and hypnosis did not make sense to the regional sales manager for DuPont.

“I was going to go to the classes and be this woman’s worst nightmare,” he said.

But four weeks later he had lost 15 pounds.

“It worked for me, better and faster than my wife,” said Wood, now a 69-year-old retiree.

A sometimes controversial tool, hypnosis is about making your conscious and subconscious mind work for you, said Allred, a 73-year-old counselor certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists.

“What a hypnotist does is find out what the client’s goals are and relaxes them,” Allred said. “It doesn’t take long. The conscious mind that judges sort of gets out of the way. At that moment in time you’re in the most highly suggestible state of your entire life.”

Allred, who runs Living Well With Linda, a coaching and training company, said she was skeptical of hypnosis when she first tried it.

An emotional eater, Allred said she gained 40 pounds after having children. About 20 years ago, after a doctor told her she needed to relax, some friends recommended she try hypnosis.

“I said, ‘My husband’s a banker. We don’t do woo-woo stuff like that,’” she said.

Hypnosis is not a commonly accepted tool for scientists studying weight loss and obesity, said Phillip Brantley, a professor and senior scientist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. There is little reliable data or scientific literature on the topic, he said.

Brantley considers hypnosis a “motivational tool” similar to a counseling session or a support group that should be used along with a weight loss program.

“That should not be your main tool in your toolbox,” said Brantley, who is trained as a clinical psychologist. “But if you’ve got a good program that you’re involved in, hypnosis can be helpful to some people.”

Not all people respond to hypnotism, Brantley said. Committing to a diet and exercise program is the most important factor in weight loss.

“To lose weight you’ve got to change your behavior,” he said. “You’ve got to eat less. You’ve got to exercise more. You’ve got to create an energy imbalance such that you’ve got more calories being burned than you’ve got coming in. That’s the bottom line.”

Regularly in her classes and lectures, Allred said, she lists the steps to healthy weight loss: Exercise, drink plenty of water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, cut sugars and carbohydrates and eat slowly. Most students say they already know that, but they are not able to lose weight.

“Could the problem not be in your conscious mind?” Allred said. “You consciously know what you need to be doing, so why aren’t you doing it? The problem is in the subconscious.”

Allred believes that doubtful ideas she calls “limiting thoughts” prevent people from accomplishing their goals.

“Beliefs lead to thoughts, then thoughts lead to actions and those add up to your results,” she said.

Hypnosis replaces those limiting thoughts, she said.

To hypnotize someone, Allred does not swing a pocket watch. She tries to get a patient to relax into a state of reverie or daydreaming.

“Somebody may be talking to you but you’re in that dreamy state or staring at a candle or fireplace flame,” she said. “Somebody says something and you really don’t notice what they’re saying.”

That is when people are most prone to suggestion, she said. After a few sessions, Allred teaches clients to self-hypnotize. About 5 percent of the population cannot be hypnotized, Allred said.

Fifteen years after he lost 50 pounds attending 22 of Allred’s classes, Wood still uses the self-hypnosis techniques when he can’t sleep at night.

“For me it worked,” he said. “I’m not sure it would work on everybody, but it worked well.”