The 'gastric band of the brain': Does hypnotherapy for weight loss really work?

I've never been someone who believed much in hypnosis. Even as a child I had a certain amount of cynicism watching people quack like a duck and pretend to jump off invisible diving boards, as so often happened on What Now in the mid-'90s. 

But like many people who packed on a few extra kilograms during the COVID-19 lockdown, upon hearing about a hypnotherapy 'gastric band' that requires no surgery or recovery time, my interest was piqued. 

Auckland clinical hypnotherapist Richard Kellow promises four sessions is all it takes to fit a 'mental' gastric band - introducing habits of eating smaller portions, snacking less and potentially stopping dwelling on food altogether. 

He says his services became particularly popular during lockdown. 

"I'm seeing people who have never experienced anxiety before now suffering symptoms and as a consequence, more people are eating for comfort," he says.

"Approximately 90 percent of our daily activities are controlled by the subconscious, the place where our habits and automatic behaviours live. Hypnotherapy offers the opportunity to get the subconscious mind onboard with the conscious mind to change our behaviour." 

The author and therapist says the gastric band therapy is not so much what you're putting in your mouth, but instead about what you're "putting in your mind". And great news - he's heavily anti the word 'diet'. 

"The virtual gastric band allows you to form new habits that you can maintain; there is no deprivation, so you're free from having to think about food all the time and can instead simply listen to what your body is telling you."

The experience: 

I have to admit, I was nervous heading along to my first session with Kellow. Was I going to be put to sleep in some sort of clinical space, and wake up an hour later with no memory of what had transpired?

No, as it turns out.

Instead, Kellow welcomed me into a room in his Ponsonby villa, where I kicked back on a giant Lay-Z-Boy recliner - I could even put the feet up. We discussed my weight loss goals: for me, the issues lay not so much in my weight, but a general habit of gazing and terrible understanding of portion control that often leads to going back for seconds and thirds after dinner. 

I also expressed my worry over not being able to be hypnotised. 

But Kellow says, in fact, we can all be hypnotised, something proven by the "natural states of hypnosis" we all go into every day, often driving to work or scrolling Instagram.

He then instructed me to settle back and close my eyes while he took me through the hypnosis. If you've ever done a meditation class or gotten lost in a particularly long Shavasana at the end of yoga, you'll know exactly the vibe.

I was never 'unconscious', but instead got lost in a meditative trance which I suspect had as much to do as being allowed kip in a comfy chair during a busy day as Kellow's words themselves. At the end of the session, I drove back to the office and looked forward to waking up the next day a size 6. 

But of course, one shouldn't expect an overnight result. I had three sessions with Kellow all up and at each one I was able to slip more effortlessly into a mediative state than the last. 

There are also tasks to complete outside of sessions, but none of them particularly taxing: listening to guided meditation mp3s, hanging an 'aspirational' piece of clothing up, focusing on drinking more water, taking five deep breaths before eating. It's a fair bit to remember, but all easy enough to work into the everyday.

Having said that - I was fairly slack with listening to the mp3s. I 'binged' them near the end of my treatment, which is probably not as effective as regularly listening throughout. 

The result:

Did I lose 6kg in a week like many of the other testimonials from Kellow? In short, no, although I like to think I don't have masses to lose (emails informing me otherwise are not required). But instead, I've noticed changes to my eating habits that crept in so subtly I almost didn't even notice.

I no longer go back for seconds after dinner and instead pack it up for next day's lunch without a second thought. Nighttime grazing while cooking dinner has been replaced with a drink of water, or sometimes wine. The real test was when a coworker offered me a bag of mini Squiggles and I took two and couldn't even eat the second. And they were mini!

Even confronted with a cheese board I've been somewhat disinterested - a result that seems to go against my very biology. 

Is it possibly a placebo? Perhaps. But that's the great thing about hypnotherapy - if it all operates in the realm of your subconscious, who cares what 'works' and what doesn't when the result is the same?

If you have habits to change or break, I would recommend heading along and seeing if hypnotherapy is for you. If you just need an hour out of your day to lie back and listen to a soothing voice, that's highly recommended as well.