From Quitting Smoking to Losing Weight-July 2, 2003

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

”Smoking, Is Quitting Possible?”


Dear Dr. Gelb:

About a month ago I quit smoking. The hardest times are when I am having a cup of coffee or reading the paper which I used to enjoy with a cigarette, and those are my weak moments. How can I get strong at those times?

Trying to Quit

Dear Trying:

Congratulations on such a positive move. Of course, always consult one’s trusted physician regarding issues that affect the physical body. From an emotional standpoint, in my opinion, a large part of trumping an addiction is about remembering who is in charge of one’s behavior and having the confidence that “I can say no.”

A typical downfall from an emotional perspective is that sometimes people who are trying to resolve an addiction tap into their own selfishness and don’t like to feel the discomfort of withdrawal. They consider that to be punishment and rebel against what they need to do (“It felt so good to have that cigarette with my coffee, I miss it and I don’t like that feeling!”). One former smoker expressed a possible solution saying that, “When I socialize with my smoking friends, I long for one of their cigarettes, but I don’t give in to the craving, I just accept it. What helps me is the idea that I am not a non-smoker. Rather, I am a smoker who doesn’t smoke.”

”Hypnosis, Can It Work?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

I’m thinking about hypnosis for weight loss and improving my self image. Can it work?

Curious, but cautious

Dear Curious:

I believe that for the most part habits can be broken because they are primarily learned, having developed from behaviors people teach themselves. In the case of overeating, one explanation is that the overeater has taught his or her body to want certain foods. With that teaching in place, once the subconscious wants it, it tends to remind the person. In that sense it can be said that the mind controls the body.

Effective hypnosis can reprogram the subconscious to replace a habit such as overeating with another behavior. In other words, generally speaking the subconscious is likely to give up the undesirable behavior and replace it with something else that is suggested to it. This, combined with self-discipline, is likely to make it easier for a person to say “No” to the undesired behavior, thereby diminishing the habit. What many then find is that the craving for the item from which they are trying to wean themselves is now diminished. In fact, they can then go for hours and even days without even thinking about it.

A cautionary note however, is that some people use hypnosis to camouflage problems. In my opinion, this is not therapeutic. For example if someone is trying to resolve an issue that has emotional trauma attached to it (e.g., overeating while studying for an exam to ease test anxiety due to fear of failure conditioned during childhood), then hypnosis can offer a band-aid type of solution as it conditions the mind to change a behavior (e.g., no excessive eating while studying). However, if attention is needed to the emotions (e.g., deeply ingrained fear of exam failure), then psychotherapy could be the better choice with its ability to uncover the emotional component of a problem. I believe that the emotional component can impact how the body behaves. Some people have tried to resolve all their problems with hypnosis, thinking that it was a cure for everything. However, in some instances they let go of one habit (e.g., overeating) and substituted it with another (e.g., smoking). This pattern can persist until the emotional trauma that created a particular habit is resolved.

Of course, always consult one’s trusted physician regarding issues that affect the physical body, and make sure that any hypnotherapist one selects is properly trained and credentialed.

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this daily column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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