5 Alternative Therapies for Weight Loss
Everyday Health – Updated October 2021
Author: Charlotte Libov
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Low-cal, low-fat, low-carb — you name it, you’ve tried it. You’ve exhausted every option from Weight Watchers to Atkins, and you still can’t get the scale to work with you for the long-term. For some people, this might be the time to try an alternative weight-loss therapy.
Although there seems to be no end to different types of weight-loss therapies touted as sure winners, for an effective approach, you need to be discriminating. Here are some of the most popular ideas — from acupuncture to hypnosis — along with expert opinions on what works and what doesn’t.
Acupuncture for Weight Loss
What it is: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing method based on teachings that “qi,” or energy, circulates through the body along 14 meridians, which roughly correspond to the body’s organs. Acupuncture’s underlying theory is that blockages in this energy flow cause imbalances that materialize as health problems such as obesity. Acupuncture seeks to restore balance.
How it’s performed: Acupuncture practitioners insert thin metal needles into the skin at strategic points to stimulate the tissues and break up blockages in the energy flow.
Does it work? It’s recognized as an effective therapy for many ills, including pain relief, headache, stroke rehabilitation, and even addiction, but little has been published on acupuncture and weight loss. Thanks to acupuncture, some people can experience reduced hunger and weight loss, a meta-analysis of seven studies that was published in the journal Obesity. But the authors point out that none of the studies conformed to the gold standards for accuracy, so more research is needed before acupuncture can be deemed effective. Daisy Merey, MD, PhD, a weight-loss specialist and the author of several books, including Beyond Diet and Exercise and The Merey Way to Healthy Weight, says of acupuncture: “I know it’s good for pain relief, but I haven’t seen any good results [for dieting].”
Acupressure for Weight Loss
What it is: Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but without needles.
How it’s performed: In acupressure, strategic points on the body are stimulated with finger pressure.
Does it work? As with acupuncture, the majority of research done on acupressure has been on its ability to relieve chronic pain, but evidence regarding weight loss is scant. One study, reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that, after six months, participants receiving acupressure treatment lost 2.5 pounds more than those who went to a support group, but the general consensus is more research is needed to evaluate acupressure’s effectiveness.
Hypnosis for Weight Loss
What it is: The term hypnosis comes from the Greek word that means “to sleep.” When used for medical reasons, specially trained clinical hypnotists use techniques to put people into a relaxed frame of mind.
How it’s performed: Unlike dramatic displays of hypnosis depicted in movies, serious hypnosis usually takes several sessions. During each session, the clinical hypnotist, or hypnotherapist, uses techniques such as guided imagery and post-hypnotic suggestion to encourage you to make beneficial changes, such as to enjoy healthful eating.
Does it work? Jean Fritz, a self-described yo-yo dieter, tried hypnosis for weight loss when she hit menopause and gained 40 pounds in two years. “Luckily, I am a highly suggestible person and, after my first session, I noticed that my sugar and chocolate cravings were gone,” she says. She says she experienced a sense of peace and well-being and was able to change her diet effortlessly. So far, she’s lost 30 pounds. “I’m still working toward my weight goal of 130 pounds, and I haven’t reverted back to my old habits,” she adds.
Ayurveda for Weight Loss
What it is: Ayurvedic medicine, or simply Ayurveda, is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, having originated in India thousands of years ago. Its goal is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit.
How it’s performed: No single procedure or product defines Ayurvedic medicine. Rather, Ayurveda is considered a holistic approach tailored to the individual, with a wide range of therapies including specialized diets, massage, and herbs.
Does it work? As with most alternative therapies for weight loss, clinical research is lacking, but Aryurveda has staunch supporters like Denise Baron of New Mexico, who was so impressed with her nearly 25-pound drop that she became an Ayurveda wellness coach. “Aryuveda addresses the entire nervous system with diet, lifestyle, and self-massage,” Baron says. “Methods may include drinking hot water and lemon over the course of the day to stimulate digestion, meditation, breathing exercises, a few gentle yoga poses, and we might even recommend herbs from the kitchen or the health food store.”
Natural Weight Loss Supplements
What it is: Weight-loss supplements are typically pills or powders that contain one or more dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances used as part of your diet.
How they work: Supplements are a multi-billion-dollar business, and the weight-loss industry is a large part of that, with many different types of supplements on the market. Over-the-counter dietary supplements are usually marketed with the goal of suppressing hunger or increasing metabolism and lean body mass.
Do they work? According to a recent review of a wide variety of diet supplements done at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, there’s no research to support that any product, whether one designed to speed up metabolism or to suppress your appetite, to name just two examples, leads to a significant or a sustained weight loss. The author of the review did suggest that green tea, fiber, and calcium supplements or dairy products may play a positive role in an overall healthy approach to weight loss, whereas products considered stimulants seem to have more negative than positive effects.
“Dietary supplements are intended to play a supportive role in weight loss — they’re not going to make all the difference,” says Bill Gottlieb, a health coach and co-author of The Natural Weight-Loss Pharmacy. “Today, the typical person doesn’t have 5 or 10 pounds to lose. You’re more likely to be overweight by 20 pounds, 30 pounds, or even 40 or more.” If you are going to use a supplement, Gottlieb recommends staying away from supplements with multiple ingredients. “Use a single agent and from a reputable manufacturer, one that’s been around for awhile,” he suggests. But remember that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the same way that medications are, so getting your vitamins and minerals from whole foods, rather than supplements, is really the best way to go.