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Weight loss without willpower? - The science of willpower

So is losing weight and keeping it off simply a case of willpower?

It's that time of year isn't it? New year new you, new regimes, new goals, lose some weight, get in shape etc etc! If this is where you're at, read on.

Weight Loss is a 'big' issue for many people, and it drives lots of people to look for solutions from experts after years of limited or short lived success.

Here is a summary of the bigger picture when it comes to really working successfully with clients who want to lose weight, and keep it off. It may help you to understand how enlisting the help of a hypnotherapist can be the difference that really makes the difference.

There are also some useful tips for you if you decide to approach your weight loss goals without a therapist.

It's likely that some of the below will be familiar:

  • A sense of ongoing struggle to lose weight and keep it off.
  • Food cravings, constant thoughts of food, diet, figure.
  • Overeating, not controlling portions, not knowing when you are full, or eating when you know you are full.
  • Eating to feel better in times of stress or emotional strain, using food as a treat or reward.
  • No energy or motivation to exercise.
  • Poor body image – feeling unattractive, withdrawn, depressed about your weight.
  • Feeling stressed and managing a stressful life, juggling and keeping people happy.

The effect of stress

Firstly let's look at stress. The talk of stress has become part of everyday life for many of us. There are many ways to work on managing stress, but it is particularly important in relation to clients who struggle to lose weight and keep it off, as stress also effects the physiology of our whole body and plays havoc with our metabolism and appetite. The effect of stress on our systems creates all the wrong conditions for weight loss and emotional well-being. In fact instead it leads us to hold on to calories or gain weight.

The stress hormone cortisol causes fatigue in the adrenal glands, which is like to lead to

  • Cravings.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Irregular appetite.
  • Fatigue and poor sleep.
  • Slow metabolism.
  • Weight gain around the middle and abdomen.

Working with clients to reduce and change the way they 'respond' to external stressors is usually integral to work on weight loss, as well as many other issues.

The science of weight loss therapy

Neural-plasticity is the term we use to explain the brain’s natural ability to change and make new connections and pathways. It explains how people are able to make extraordinary changes in the way they think, feel and behave after therapy.

If we allow the brain to be in a different, specific state, it learns that state, and finds it much easier to get back to it again through the pathways which have already been created.

Hypnosis and NLP collapse any old neural pathways in the brain which are behind the old thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns towards food, eating and health. In turn through specific techniques and skilful language patterns, the skilled therapist will guide you to form new pathways and patterns in your brain which are in line with all the changes you want, the changes that are going to make a sustainable difference to your weight, health and emotional comfort.

The neuroscience of willpower

During client sessions therapists might focus on three components of willpower, which correspond with three different areas of the brain within the pre-frontal cortex, which is found just behind your forehead.

Right side – “I won’t” – This area is responsible for our ability to stop doing something, which is not useful or in line with our goals. You can fill in the gaps here with your own story!

Left side – “I will” – This area is responsible for our ability to find motivation to do something, stick at it, stay on track even when it gets a bit tough, boring or inconvenient. I will leave these examples to your imagination...( who mentioned 'treadmill'?)

Underneath – “I want” – This area is responsible for our ability to have a really clear idea of what we want, what the point is, the bigger picture, why our goals are so important to us. This area keeps us in touch with remembering what we care about most...Health. Comfort. Vitality. Longevity. Wardrobe options. Feeling great about yourself! This is a very important area to work on.

With all of these lines of communication in the brain strengthened both inside and between each specific area, can you already see how that old idea of needing strong willpower becomes less of an issue.

With these brain changes in place, it naturally becomes easier to make good intentional choices.

Willpower makes it sound hard. Self control sounds like crowd control......Is this what it's all about? Thankfully not!

It's just a matter of re-wiring your unconscious patterns and neural pathways in a new and more useful way. A way that is aligned with the "I want". A skilled therapist will be used to doing this.

And if you decide to tackle your goals without a therapist, here are some great tips for you:

Before you begin taking action to lose weight, apply yourself to this exercise in full in preparation to do it more easily

  • Really identify what you want in detail, get in touch with it – The “I want”
  • Express that in positives, so it really is about what you want e.g., health, freedom to make healthy choices, fitness, comfort in my clothes, wardrobe and style choices, energy, focus…negative language, even if it is internal chatter, is activating the most unhelpful neural pathways in your brain for the job in hand. The power of words and language is immense, so choose it wisely to activate helpful neurology!
  • What will achieving that give youin positives.
  • How will it feel – How will you look – What will people say to you – What will you be saying to yourself?
  • Have reminders of your goal around if that helps – photos, outfits, holidays, wedding dates – whatever makes it real and keeps it in your awareness
  • Buddy up and have support from others  - but keep the talk positive!
  • Plan and organize – shopping, schedules, recipes, Tupperware…think ahead so you create healthy choices for yourself and avoid getting hungry – that’s when the internal saboteur kicks in.
  • How do you need to be feeling, what states are most useful? Confident, focussed, motivated, calm, positive?
  • Choose a couple and get into those states by remembering times when you were in those states before. Immerse yourself in them fully – see, hear, feel – get fully in touch with them and allow your brain to just naturally make these connections – the brain doesn’t know the difference, it just knows it is going into a great state and firing off useful neurology ready for you to use when you want it! Clever eh?


  • Practice simple paced breathing before eating (or any time you want to relax) , during cravings – If you focus your attention on taking deep slow breaths, and allow your out-breath to be longer than your in-breath ( in for the count of 5/6 out for the count of 7/8 ) The vagus nerve responds by putting the body into the 'relaxation response' which allows you better digestion, faster metabolic rate, better decision making to have your actions around food fully aligned with your goals.
  • Mindful eating  - Enjoy the sight and the smell of your food. Enjoy each mouthful slowly, savouring the taste and texture. Eat slowly, taking breaks to put your cutlery down, stay in touch with the signals from your gut which tell your brain you are full and satisfied.

Good luck and well done for already taking the steps you have taken to make these changes for your future health and happiness. You deserve it!

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Lisa Bardell BSc (Hons) Psychology, Diploma NLP Coaching Clin Hyp, NLP Master

Lisa Bardell BSc ( Hons ) Psychology, Dip NLP Coach Clin Hyp, MNLP, MBIH ( Lic. ), CNHC Registered2 Clinic Locations, FREE 30 min consultations:

London Liverpool St EC2M 4NS
Cheshire Congleton CW12 4BT

Welcome. As a professionally trained and accredited Clinical Hypnotherapist, Life Coach, NLP Master Practitioner, Advanced EFT Therapist and Energy Healer, with … Read more

Written by Lisa Bardell BSc (Hons) Psychology, Diploma NLP Coaching Clin Hyp, NLP Master

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