When dieting stops working…

An increasing phenomena, which I encounter in my hypnotherapy based weight loss practice, is that I meet individuals who appear to have “lost the ability to lose weight” through diets. Previously they could diet, lose weight and even though they put it back on, could diet again and lose weight again. This is often described as the “yo-yo” effect and is a common occurrence amongst individuals who believe dieting will work.

Diets do not broadly work because your taste buds and liking of certain foods will not change by exchanging sugar fuelled foods for a much sweeter chemical alternative. If you need further convincing then you should look at the outcomes of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (Dr Ancel Keys 1944-45), which mirrors the dieting process and its unforeseen outcomes. The experiment comprised of 36 volunteer conscientious objectors from the U.S. military who undertook the following 12 month experiment:

  • 12 weeks when the men received 3200 calories (approx.) and when combined with exercise weight levels were maintained.
  • 24 weeks of starvation i.e. 1600 calories per day. The aim was to lose 25 per cent of their body weight. The number of calories is very important because the number is very close to the number that is advocated when individuals “go on a diet”.
  • 12 weeks when recovery from the weight loss was restricted. The individuals were given different food combinations to discover what combination would bring them back to full health in the most effective and fastest way.
  • Eight weeks without restrictions on rehabilitation i.e. they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted.

The outcomes were:

  • All the men reported serious adverse physical and emotional impacts during the starvation weeks.
  • They all reported continuous hunger, exhaustion, depression, muscle wasting, anger, hair loss, reduced coordination, loss of energy/motivation etc. In the first 12 weeks they lost 21 per cent of their strength.
  • All became psychologically, obsessed with food, meal times and everything to do with eating.
  • Many men ended up believing that military service would have been easier.
  • During the twentieth week of starvation, the men arrived at a plateau where further weight loss could not be achieved and some even reported weight gain during the final weeks.

I have noticed an upsurge in individuals who have “lost the ability to diet” i.e. weight loss is only minor or non-existent. On investigation, I have found a reoccurring theme i.e. the person has had a traumatic experience. In the vast majority of cases the event has not been perceived as traumatic, but it has triggered an anxiety related state, which makes dieting virtually impossible. On further examination, the symptoms often mirror those associated with Chronic Fatigue or M.E. i.e. increased confusion, inappropriate tiredness, anxiety/panic, depression, persistent chronic physical symptoms etc.

Clients I have met have often tried hypnosis but only gained short-term benefit or the therapist has made little progress. In effect the range of standard hypnotic techniques no longer works.

The key, to facilitate client success through hypnosis, is not to focus on weight loss but on the underlying themes such as the trauma, the level of kindness and love with which the individual treats his or herself etc. In my experience, once these areas are addressed, the individual succeeds in losing weight and is more able to enjoy a fulfilling life.

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