Read an Excerpt
Introduction The Missing Ingredient
... we are a package of thinking and feelings housed within this body that is called you and me. In order to make any change for the better, all of the parts of ourselves must be addressed for that change to become permanent.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of losing weight? Is it counting calories? Diet centers? Diet pills and plans? Starting an exercise program for the twentieth time (with that new machine you bought for Christmas)? You've probably tried some or all of these methodsand many otherswith little or only temporary success.
Actually, many diet and exercise programs work pretty well. The real problem is not the ineffectiveness of the program, but the dieter's inability to stay with the program once the weight has been lost. The rate of relapse is disturbingly highright around 95 percent according to the weight-loss industry's own figures.
Why do we begin overeating in the first place? And why, even if we lose the weight, is it so hard to keep it off? What's the missing ingredient that keeps all these weight-loss plans and programs from making a real, lasting difference?
To help answer these questions, let me introduce you to a client of mine, Mary.
The Case of Mary
Mary wasn't at all happy with her weight, and she was looking for help. When we first talked in my office, she told me that four years ago, when she was thirty-five, she weighed a comfortable, attractive 125 pounds. Then she explained how she began gradually putting on weight, until now she weighed over 170 pounds.
And she didn't know what to do about it.
She had triedall the popular diets, diet books, diet programs, and diet centers, and nothing had worked for more than a few months. She would lose weight, gain it all back and more, lose weight again, then gain back more, and on and on, caught in a vicious cycle of “yo-yo” dieting. Plus, she was becoming obsessed with losing weightwith food, fat, caloriesand she was ending up with nothing but feelings of failure for her efforts.
How could such an intelligent person, and one seemingly in control in other areas of her life, get so stuck in a rut? As Mary took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and told me more of her story, she started getting to the bottom of things.
Mary's Story“More Sad than Happy”
Mary was successful and satisfied with her job, but a difficult divorce four years earlier. child custody battles, and a stressful remarriage had left her feeling, as she said, “more sad than happy lately.”
And she soon realized that there were other emotions weighing her down. Raised a Catholic, she felt guilty about being divorced; she was still angry at her ex-husband for what she felt were injustices; and she was exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed trying to raise her daughters and keep a career going. She acknowledged, probably for the first time, how empty she felt in her life. And she also admitted that her weight gain had not been gradual (as she first told me), but had occurred in a few short months, right after her separation four years ago.
Why, then, had Mary gained weight? Why had she put the weight on when she did, and why couldn't she keep it off?
The Answers Are Always Inside
The answer is that, in those difficult years, overeating made Mary feel better about her life, if only for a short while.
It was her way of distracting herself form her troubles, her way of stuffing down her unwanted feelings, her way of expressing her biting anger at her selfish ex-husband, her way of quieting negative thinking (even though it was only temporary), her way of filling up the emptiness she felt in her personal life, her way of feeling less lonely at night.
In short, overeating became Mary's most effective way of dealing with her problems, given her coping skills at the time. Considering all the troubles she was faced with, and considering she didn't know of any better way to handle them,. I would say that Mary was wise and resourceful, and did a great job of caring for herself and helping herself through this tough period of her life.
Is There a Part of You Like Mary?
Mary's is a familiar story, and it can help us all understand that, in most cases, gaining weight is not the problem, but the solution to our problems.
Overeating, or eating unhealthy foods, is not usually caused by physical appetite. It's caused by emotional need. For Mary, as for millions (estimated at 70 percent of American adults and 30 percent of American kids), overeating is a coping mechanism, a practical and positive way we have of dealing with the many stresses in our personal, family, and social lives.
Associating food with comfort and protection is a normal response learned in childhood, probably at the breast or the bottle. And so when faced with life's difficulties we often turn to food for help, or as a simple form of self-treatment. We even call our portions “helpings,” “treats,” and we say “help yourself” at the table. In a sense, all food is “comfort” food.
Unfortunately, by comforting or treating ourselves with food, we ignore meaningful signals we're trying to send to ourselvesour real call for helpthat we need to get to the root of the problem.
Shedding the Emotional Weight
It has become clear from my work at Kaiser Permanente's Wellness Center in San Diego, California that the root cause of overeating is almost always repressed feelings. Your body is the natural receptacle for repressed, suppressed, or unresolved feelings, and carrying around this kind of emotional weight often creates a need, an emotional hunger, that puts on physical weight as well.
In other words, when you're miserable inside, when shame and guilt and fear and resentment (and more) are silently “eating” at you, you try to make yourself feel better by indulging yourself with food. And the more feelings you've trapped inside, and the longer you've suffered with them, the more you want and need to eat.
This explains why the diet plan relapse rate is so high. All the popular plans will help you lose unwanted poundsfor a little whilebut unless you deal with your repressed feelings, unless you do something to lighten the emotional weight you're carrying inside, you'll go right back to soothing and satisfying yourself with food.
So this is itthe missing ingredient that goes unrecognized and thus unaddressed in all other weight-loss programs. To make any lasting change in your body weight, you need to dig into your buried feelings and discover what they are, what part they've played in your life, and how they've brought you to where you are now. Only when you're willing to face and to resolve your emotional issues, to finish the unfinished business in your lifepeople, hurts, mistakes, wrongs, and so onwill you be able to get free of your old eating habits and keep the weight off.
The formula is simple but powerful: If you'll allow yourself to shed your old emotional and psychological baggage, the physical weight will naturally follow. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, to win the battle once and for all, you need to start at the beginning, with the emotional healing that must take place before you can start to eat, exercise, and care for yourself healthily. If you'll look deeply into the underlying emotional causes of your overeating, you can actually turn your weight problem into a doorway, or a bridge, to becoming healthier and happierpermanently.
What's the Secret?
The secret to losing weight and keeping it off is quite simply to start respecting yourself, caring for yourself, even loving yourself, without conditions, restrictions, or requirements. Once you start to love yourself truly as you are, with all your strengths and weaknessespounds and allyou'll naturally start to take better care of yourself, mind and body, heart and soul. And you'll find yourself feeling healthy, happy, peaceful, positive, light, calm, and energetic. It's nothing short of miraculous.
But the miracle of unconditional self-love can be almost impossible to achieve for most of us, weighed down as we are with a lifetime of stifled feelings, negative messages, and self-criticism. So to start you on the road to self-love, self-care, and permanent weight loss, I've devised the Keep It Off Weight-Loss Program, a four-phase plan that uses the power of self-hypnosis to help you access your inner resources to make these amazing and lasting changes in your life.
Step by step, you'll learn to:
1. Become Aware of your body, mind, feelings, and true self. Become relaxed and honest about your relationship with food; begin listening to the inner signals you've been ignoring or avoiding for years; recognize the emotional issues that are sabotaging your happiness and self-confidence; and discover how to stop your past from controlling your present.
2. Begin to Accept yourself (and your body) as you are, a vital step in freeing yourself from the triggers of overeating, and in coming to understand, and to embrace, the true, authentic you. Begin connecting with your inner wisdom; stop judging yourself with critical thoughts and feelings; and discover how to turn negative thinking into positive thinking.
3. Let yourself Express your true self safely, simply, comfortably, easily, and positively. Start releasing your pent-up thoughts and feelings; give a voice to all the conflicting messages in your head; let go of some conscious control to gain a natural freedom and balance; and discover yourself feeling alive and rejuvenated in the present.
4. Find ways to Resolve your unfinished personal issues once and for all, and learn how to carry these new tools and techniques with you forever. Reorganize the way you interact with yourself and others; and discover how to use the stresses swirling through your life to help you develop more positive and creative eating habits.
My experience with helping thousands of overweight people, both in my private practice Permanente, has proven to me that the learning you will experience in the Keep It Off Weight-Loss Program is genuine, lasting, and can result in inner and outer transformation something often dreamed about, but seldom realized.
A word of warning: Prepare yourself for something entirely new and remarkably effective. Unlike all the diet pills, plans, and products you've heard of, or maybe tried, the Keep It Off Weight-Loss Program will show you how to find within yourself the power to lose weight and keep it off. It will give you the tools you need to open some new doors in your life, perhaps to reopen some old ones, all to open your heart, mind, body, and soul to positive changes.
Part I of this book will teach you the fundamentals of self-hypnosis, because self-hypnosis is the best way to open the lines of communication with your inner emotional world. Read the eight short chapters in Part I completely and give yourself time to digest and practice the methods and techniques they describe.
Once you've learned the basics of self-hypnosis, you'll have all the skills you need to make the most of my Keep It Off Weight-Loss Program presented in Part II.
Being seriously overweight is a nightmare for so many of us. But the good news is that, with the help of self-hypnosis, you have the ability to solve your weight problems safely, effectively, and permanently. The natural instinct for health and happiness you were born with is waiting to be freed and empowered.
Mary's New Life
As for Mary, she has lost her unwanted weight and has succeeded in keeping it off for over a year. By working with self-hypnosis through the four essential phases of self-changeheightened Awareness, unconditional Acceptance, free Expression, and creative ResolutionMary took the very issues that had driven her to overeat and used them to build a bridge to new feelings, ideas, behaviors, opportunities, and answers. She learned how to stop the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting, how to transcend her “stuck” places, and how to move on with self-love and self-confidence. She took what I like to call a breath of “fresh AAER” and learned how to lose weight and keep it off.
Mary is a real person, one of the many I've worked with at Kaiser Permanente, and here is what she wrote me recently:
Dear Dr. Alman,
I just wanted to thank you on my birthday. What I have learned from you during this last year makes me feel like this is my first birthday of a happy life that can continue for the rest of my life!
Thank you so much!
CHAPTER 1 What is Self- Hypnosis?
Welcome to the start of a journey to permanent weight loss using the power of self-hypnosis.
If you're investigating self-hypnosis for the first time, you should know that you're about to learn how to make dramatic and positive changes in your life. In the matter of a few weeks working with self-hypnosis, you're going to discover how to take care of yourself, how to break old habits and learn new ones, and how to feel the joy again of being you.
And in the process of becoming healthier and happier, you're going to learn the secret missing in all diet programsof how to lose weight and keep it off for good.
This might sound like a miracle, and yet self-hypnosis is not magical, is not mysterious, is in no way occult. It's actually a common skill that anyone can master quite easily. It's no more difficult than riding a bicycle, something almost all of us learned to do as children. We might have been a bit unsteady and uncertain at first, but with a little instruction, practice, and trust we learned to ride our bike surely and swiftlyand soon enjoyed a new-found freedom of going where we wanted.
But let's not get going too fast. If you've struggled with your weight for a long time, or if you're anxious about making changes in your life, you might be tempted to jump right into the weight-loss program in Part II. I advise you to be patient. First let yourself understand and learn the practice of self-hypnosis, at least until you feel comfortable entering and maintaining a self-hypnotic trance. It's while in trance that the drawbridge is down for suggestions to your unconscious mind. That's when to get started on your weight-loss goals.
This chapter will try to explain many of the issues that most people wonder about when first setting out to learn about self-hypnosis. It will help you understand just what self-hypnosis is, how it works, and why it's so effective.
Before we get into the practical matters of self-hypnosisthe how, when, and wherelet's try to get clear just what we're talking about. Unfortunately, self-hypnosis is hard to define because it is not a thing but a process, and so we can't say what it is, exactly, but only what it feels like, what its effects are, and how you do it.
First, consider what self-hypnosis feels like. Have you ever had a vivid daydream? Or, have you ever been so completely absorbed in an activitylike listening to music, watching a movie, or reading a good bookthat you've lost track of time, or stopped noticing what's going on around you? If you answered “yes” to either question, then you've been in a state of mind much like a self-hypnotic trance.
But with one big difference: Self-hypnosis is not wandering or aimless like a daydream; nor is it created and directed by someone else, such as an author, composer, or filmmaker. Self-hypnosis is a focused, channeled trance in which you guide yourself to a desired result or goal, such as stress management, pain reliefor weight loss.
Self-hypnosis feels something like meditation, calming and centering, and in fact the two have much in common. Both begin with breath work and mental imagery to relax and focus your attention; both seek to quiet the mind and have you look within as a detached observer. But if their paths are similar, their directions are very different. In meditation, the goal is simply heightened awareness or enlightenment; in self-hypnosis, you decide on the goal, which can be anything from awareness to stress management, to mind-body healing, to sports performance, the list goes on and on. When you're meditating you might look as if you're in self-hypnosis, but within a self-hypnotic trance you're actively goal-directed.
Because people in a trance often have their eyes closed, many assume self-hypnosis must feel like being asleep. In fact, as you might know, the Greek word “hypno” actually means “sleep.” But self-hypnosis is nothing like sleep. Quite the opposite. The brain-wave patterns of people in a self-hypnotic trance show an alert wakefulness, and self-hypnosis patients often report the feeling of an active learning experience, or of a relaxing mind-body interaction in which they feel freed and empowered.
Secondly, what are the effects of self-hypnosis? The effects are wide-spread and will actually vary with different people's perspectives and objectives. It's rather like the story of the seven blind men trying to describe an elephant: Our descriptions will differ depending on what part of the beast we've gotten hold of. Still, in general, there are remarkable mind-body effects possible with self-hypnosis. By practicing self-hypnosis you can gain access to areas of yourself that are normally out of the reach of your conscious mind.
If you doubt this, sit down and passively but purposely try to slow your heart rate by ten percent, or try to raise the temperature of your hand by a degree or two. These are only minor examples of internal changes you can easily accomplish with no training at all in self-hypnosis. Once you've read this book and mastered self-hypnosis, you'll be able to make much more significant changes in chemical, physical, psychological, and emotional parts of yourself.
In the area of pain relief, for instance, major surgeries have been performed with self-hypnosis as the only anesthesia.
Take the documented case (1980) of Victor Rausch. A dental surgeon, Dr. Rausch had used self-hypnosis in his practice for years and was highly experienced and confident with trance induction. When he had to undergo gall bladder surgery, he chose to use self-hypnosis instead of any chemical anesthesia. The surgery was performed without complications and without pain.
Another dramatic physical and emotional change made possible with self-hypnosis is losing weight and keeping it off.
Julie, a thirty-five-year-old waitress, had been struggling with her weight for nearly a decade, ever since her first pregnancy. She seemed to have been on a continual diet, with no lasting results. She didn't like the way she looked. Her physician had urged her to lose weight for the sake of her health. The final straw was when she overheard two customers at work commenting about her size. At that point she began instruction in self-hypnosis, with the goal of eating less and exercising more. Julie lost sixty-five pounds in nine months. More important, two years later the extra weight was still off. She was exercising regularly and she loved the way she looked and felt. You can read about Julie's whole story in Chapter 13.
Still other effects of self-hypnosis are control over fears, relief of stress, freedom from unwanted habits, resistance to disease and aging, and increased performance at work and in sports. As you can see, the life-enhancing effects of self-hypnosis are limited only by your desire to change.
And lastly, how do you do self-hypnosis? For this, you'll need to keep on reading.
So far, then, here's a definition self-hypnosis that seems to explain the feeling and the effects of the phenomenon:
Self-hypnosis is a relaxed and focused state of mind in which positive suggestions are received and acted on much more powerfully than in normal experience.
How Does Self-Hypnosis Work?
Although no one has figured out exactly what goes on in self-hypnosis, or why it's so effective, the most satisfying theory is as follows.
While in this absorbed state of mind, two special things happen: You focus your attention much more clearly than when awake or asleep; and you also relax the critical, questioning mind that usually guides you in life. During this time of heightened awareness and acceptance, suggestions appear to go directly into the unconscious mind, where they find fertile soil for stimulating the growth of new ideas and perspectives. Thus the secret of self-hypnosis is that it takes you deep inside, and when you nurture the seed of well-being within you, letting it take root in your unconscious, it can grow and blossom in your conscious mind.
But what do we mean by the conscious and the unconscious mind? You might think of the conscious mind as the everyday, sensible, rules and regulations part of yourselfthe part that wants you to keep on doing what's familiar, or what seems to have been working for you. The conscious mind is valuable, no question; it has helped you survive by making sure you learn from past experience. But it's not nearly as important as it thinks. Its center is the ego, and it's filled with exaggerated notions of self-importance.
On the other hand, you can think of your unconscious mind as the emotional, intuitive, and loving part of yourself. This is the part that wants you to see life as an adventure, to be open to new experiences, and to move toward a more creative existence. Its center might be called the “inner voice,” and it is bubbling and brimming with positive human potentials.
There's no getting around it. If you want to go beyond your conditioning, programming, and upbringingthe habits and attitudes you've acquired in the course of your lifeyou must tap into your unconscious mind. Conscious resolutions, reminders, and self-criticism won't get you very far. The truth is, the conscious mind is only about 10 percent of your mental capacities, although the ego believes it's far more than that, more like 90 percent. In fact, it's just the opposite. The unconscious is a reservoir of 90 percent of your inner resources, and you'll find your greatest possibilities for growth and change in this vastly underutilized unconscious part of yourself.
Dr. Erickson was crystal clear on this point. He regarded the conscious mind as severely limited in its role in our health and well-being. He said the unconscious mind must be allowed through self-hypnosis to do the creative work, then the conscious mind could receive the new ideas and perspectives, and fit and focus them in our daily lives. A favorite metaphor of his was that the unconscious is the manufacturer, the conscious is the consumer, and self-hypnosis is the bridge between them.
Who Has Control in Self-Hypnosis?
A question often asked in regard to hypnosis is: Who's in control, you or the hypnotist? And the unasked question is: Can you be made to do something against your will? Of course, in self- hypnosis you are in control of your own trance, and so such considerations are not even an issue. You will always be giving yourself positive, constructive suggestions.
And yet there remains for many people an uneasiness about giving up their conscious control, a fear of being taken over by someone else's will, which, sadly, has been fostered by stage hypnotism, novels, movies, and TV. This is called the “Svengali Effect,” after the early film, Svengali (1931), in which a bearded madman (played by John Barrymore) hypnotized young women to do his bidding and commit crimes for him. But even very recent films and television shows depict hypnosis as the tool of evil geniuses. And certainly stage shows featuring hypnotism strike fear in people's hearts that they can be made to act foolishly or do something they wouldn't do otherwisemaybe quack like a duck, croon like a lounge singer, or laugh uncontrollably.
However, when you watch stage hypnotists, you should realize that they're showmen using tricks to entertain an audience and to deceive people into believing that the hypnotist is all- powerful. First, by asking for volunteers the hypnotist gives the participants tacit permission to leave their inhibitions offstage. Then the group is assured that they're not responsible for their actionsafter all, they've been hypnotized. The hypnotist also promises love and approval (in the form of applause and laughter) from the audience if the participants do the outrageous. And last they put subtle but powerful pressure on each volunteer not to “spoil the show.” With all of these positive and negative reinforcements, it doesn't really matter whether the participants are hypnotized or not. They're fully primed to do foolish and fantastic things. Let the show begin.
Fiction aside, the truth is that there is no relinquishing of volition with hypnosis, no being controlled against your will. While I recommend that you never allow an unqualified person to use hypnosis with you, research has shown that people will follow only those hypnotic suggestions that are in their fundamental interests. In fact, many studies show that subjects under deep hypnosis will ignore a command to act against their own best interestsand will come out of trance if pressed to comply. A hypnotherapist might help to guide or develop your trance, but you are always in control.
It's also important to realize that self-hypnosis actually allows you more self-control rather than less. In practicing my own self-hypnosis, and in more than twenty-five years of teaching thousands of individuals, I've discovered that when you learn to let go of some of your conscious control, you gain a powerful sense of freedom in your life. It's your unconscious mind, don't forget, and when you've empowered it through self-hypnosis, you can count on it to protect you and care for you when you're awake or asleep, dreaming or meditating, relaxing or in hypnotic trance.
Who Can Benefit from Self-Hypnosis?
In the past, doctors who used hypnosis in their practice would routinely give their patients one of several susceptibility tests to determine their chances of success or failure. Some patients scored high and were approved for treatment; others scored low, were deemed unhypnotizable, and were offered other options.
More recently, however, studies have shown that even those who score low on these tests are indeed hypnotizable. The problem is that there are a great many variations in trance induction techniques, and so a poor score on one test means only that the person is not responsive to the particular method used in that test.
Now, when Dr. Erickson developed his technique of self-hypnosis, he found a method that was successful with nearly everyone, even with referral patients who had tested as “unsusceptible” to hypnosis, and who had been given up as hopeless. Many scientists and researchers in the area of hypnosis have now come to agree with Erickson that, given the right approach, practically everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of hypnosis. It's only a matter of finding the right technique for the individual.
Dr. Erickson, as a therapist and teacher, pioneered the use of individualized hypnosis techniques to fit the unique experiences and needs of each patient. He developed an indirect, permissive, and flexible language for hypnotic suggestion, using phrases such as “You may feel ...,” or “Perhaps you will notice ...,” that don't command or direct the patient, but leave open the possibility of some different, more personal experience. And he also found hypnosis to be most effective when he blended his suggestions with the patient's own words, images, and symbolsthe personal language of their unconscious.
Erickson was so interested in personalizing hypnosis because, as he said many times, he knew that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis”that it's always a do-it-yourself job. This means that only you have the power to hypnotize yourself, or to be hypnotized by someone else. The power is yours, not the hypnotist's. This also means that no one else heals you; a doctor or therapist might help you learn how to heal yourself, but the healing comes from you.
I follow this philosophy in my private practice, and also in this book.
Thus you'll find the book offers you the choice of a number of methods of entering and deepening your self-hypnotic trance. You can find the method or methods that you're most comfortable with and that work best for you. Many readers will be successful using several or all of the methods presented; but if one or another doesn't seem right for you, feel free to try another. Also, the book will show you how to modify and adapt the methods to the uniqueness of your own personality, circumstances, and experiences.
In addition, you'll find many, many places in these pages where you're asked to blend something from your own life experiences into the trance script, or to put some of your own words into the suggestions. If you take a few moments to personalize the scene or the language, you'll reach your goals more quickly.
Most of us can remember the first time we rode a bicycle. It was a shaky but exciting experience. And yet with a little practice we soon discovered we had some control over a new dimension of our abilitiesincreased balance and coordination.
Of course, we already had balance and coordination in things like running and playing. But this was something special, a delightful enhancement of our natural skills that gave us the means of dramatically expanding our boundaries.
This delightful personal expansion is what you can expect when you learn the skill of self- hypnosis. The journey awaits.