WEIGHT LOSS Hypnosis inspires hopeful dieters

Medical institutions use it as an alternative treatment in a variety of situations.
Imagine a world where chocolate cake holds no temptation, where celery is an indulgence and food cravings float away in a balloon.
Now open your eyes to the trancelike world of Americans who are turning to hypnosis to drop extra poundage.
In a nation where two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, some dieters are hoping hypnosis will finally break food's spell over them.
It's working for Cynthia Lewis, a San Diego resident who is no longer tempted to polish off a plate of cookies when she smells them baking.
"Now just smelling [the cookies] is enough," she said.
Despite its hokey, magic-show aura, hypnosis is used as an alternative treatment in medical institutions to manage everything from pain to smoking to weight loss.
And as waistlines continue to bulge, hypnotherapists say they're seeing more patients desperate for a way to control their eating.
A last resort
"The country is getting fatter and fatter, so different weight-loss methods are getting more attention," said Jean Fain, a psychologist who uses hypnosis at Harvard Medical School's Cambridge Hospital.
In the past five years, Fain said, the number of patients she treats for weight loss has doubled. For many of them, hypnosis is a last resort.
That was the case for Lewis, who grew tired of dropping and gaining the same 30 pounds on various diets.
Three months ago, she began seeing Brian Alman, who teaches self-hypnosis for Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, Calif.-based health insurer. So far, Lewis said the therapy has helped her change her lifestyle.
Generally, the hypnotic state is defined as a state of focused concentration -- a condition akin to being so absorbed in a good book that the outside world seems to fade away, said Guy Montgomery, president of the Society of Psychological Hypnosis, a division of American Psychological Association.
It's during this state that patients become more open to suggestion.
For a stress eater, Montgomery might tell patients to picture themselves in a relaxing place whenever they feel the impulse to overeat.
Whether hypnosis will bring results varies from person to person as in any other treatment, Montgomery said. "We don't view [hypnosis] as a stand-alone therapy but as an additional technique," he said.

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