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What Hypnosis Did For My Health

"I feel more alive and the world seems to notice."

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illustrated gif of woman lying down being hypnotized
Mengxin Li
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When it comes to weight loss, there seems to be two of me. “Real Me” wakes up determined to eat protein and veggies, exercise daily and avoid sugar and processed carbs.

But when I’m stressed, tired or feeling that 4 p.m. lull, “Other Me” appears like a ninja nemesis to hard sell some carb pick-me-up. “Real Me” knows to Just Say No to the grocery store cupcakes growing stale in my kitchen. Yet “Other Me” insists — with a convincing campaign of “You’ve had a long day, you deserve it” and “You can start that diet tomorrow.”

“Real Me” may be focused, but “Other Me” is relentless. Case in point: My clothes are tight, I lack energy, and my digestive system is on strike. I decide to try hypnosis, a state of focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness that induces a state of suggestibility. It worked for my dad, who quit his two-pack-a-day habit 40 years ago and hasn’t smoked since.

From a friend’s referral, I contact Irit Horn at Washington DC Hypnosis Center, and pony up $750 for three sessions. It’s not cheap — but less expensive than a new wardrobe.

I meet Horn at her Rockville, Md., office. She’s warm and funny as she listens to my determination to quit junk food, a goal “Other Me” keeps sabotaging.

“The unconscious mind is like a 5-year-old, it wants to have fun. It’s always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” Horn explains. “The subconscious is all throughout your body. If you want to connect with it, you have to feel instead of think.”

Through a series of breathing and counting exercises, Horn puts me into a deep state of relaxation. My body feels heavy, like I’m wearing the lead X-ray bib at the dentist’s office.

“I want you to imagine that your mind is a tiny camera and you’re going to drop it into your body and scan from top to bottom,” she says. “Let me know what you notice.”

A whole lot of nothing for a while. Then I notice tingling in my hands. I imagine that they’ve suddenly transformed into bear claws. Strangely, this fills me with confidence.

Unbidden, a word pops into my head. “Capable,” I say. “I’m Momma Bear with capable hands.”

“When you think about those Safeway cupcakes, how do you feel?” Horn asks.

“I’m strong and don’t need sugar,” I say, the sensation of willpower resonating in my body.

“Excellent,” she says. “Keep scanning your body.”

I tell Horn that I notice pressure on the back of my head.

“What is the pressure trying to tell you?” she asks.

“Pause, it’s saying,” I answer. “But I don’t know whether that’s my head or body talking.”

“Check in with your bear hands,” she says. “They know the answer.”

My fingers pulse and I laugh out loud.

“Paws,” I say, delighted. “It’s a double entendre, get it?”

My subconscious has a sense of humor!

Horn counts me out of the hypnosis, and we discuss next steps.

“When you get that sugar craving, you probably need something else, like a hug, or sex, or mental stimulation,” she says.  “Your job is to drop down into your body and ask it what it really wants.”

Horn has me come up with six alternatives: resting, calling a friend, eating fruit, watching a funny show, listening to music, reading a magazine or taking a walk.

The first week passes and it’s like “Other Me” is on vacation. No sugar or processed carbs pass my lips. It’s a miracle! I also start making different choices. I took an hour-long nap in the middle of the day, a first. When a friend asked me out for a glass of rosé, I suggested we go for a dog walk instead. I flat-out decline an invitation to meet friends at a Mexican restaurant and made skinny fajitas — sans margs and chips — at home instead.

At my second session, I report my success and tell Horn about a dream I keep having. The gist is, I move into a new apartment and discover all of these extra rooms I never knew it had. Horn suggests we explore the dream under hypnosis.

She counts me into a deep relaxation. Per her instructions, I’m scanning my body when I imagine a blue polka dot, which turns into an eye.

“Imagine that you’re in the energy of the eye,” she says.

I expand into this all-knowing awareness, which is more of an abstract feeling than an actual thought.

“What does the apartment represent?” Horn asks.

“My body,” I say, which surprises me.

“What does it mean?” she asks.

“It means personal growth,” I say. “But why can’t it feel more pleasant? There are all of these extra rooms, but I never know where to sit.”

Just like that, I lose the feeling. I kept scanning, but start to feel drained and frustrated, even in my relaxed state.

“The question you should be asking is ‘How?’ not ‘Why?’ ” Horn says after I open my eyes.

Still, the second week passes with zero sugar and processed carbs. It’s not like I don’t want the crackers and sweets, it’s just that I don’t eat them. The scale hasn’t budged, but my jeans are looser and I’m drawn to wearing brighter colors. I feel more alive and the world seems to notice. I’m walking my dog by the farmers market when two men — tall, tan, buff with a hint of gray, my favorite flavor — jog past me. We make eye contact. I look from one to the next and smile, nodding my head in approval, and both of their faces light up into megawatt smiles. Energy zings back and forth between us.

“Bright colors, hot guys, you’re shifting energy!” says Horn at our third session. “That’s the feeling you want when you want to eat sugar. Let’s anchor that feeling in hypnosis.”

Horn puts me under. She has me retell the story to conjure the emotion and instructs me to press my thumb and forefinger together. Both of us giggle uncontrollably.

“It’s the Law of Attraction, what you focus on will grow,” she explains. “Feeling is 10 times stronger than thought. Be careful where you put your energy.”

One month later, I step on the scale. Down two pounds. Not much, considering the calories I’ve foregone. But I realize I’ve lost something else — the nagging sensation that I’m postponing my life. Making better food choices not only has made me feel better physically, but also has brought an unanticipated calm to my mind. “Other Me” seems to understand that instant gratification isn’t as satisfying as “Real Me’s” agenda of taking care of myself.

I now feel that I’m right here, right now — in the present enjoying my corporeal self, rather than being trapped in the garret of my head.