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Beyond Dieting: Alternative Approaches to Weight Loss

How acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, prayer, and other mind-body practices may help you lose weight.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

To lose weight, some people look beyond diet and exercise. Would methods like hypnosis, acupuncture, meditation, prayer, and traditional Eastern methods help budge the pounds?

Perhaps. But if you want to ditch diet and exercise altogether, think again.

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“The bottom line is to be more active and consume less calories,” says Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, LDN, CDE, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. “There is no magic bullet for solving your weight loss problem."

So the basics will always be eating right and exercising.

But there is a "third part, the mind-body aspect, you need to make sure you're not missing out on," says Wendy Kohatsu, MD, an integrative medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor of family and clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Most complementary approaches don't have much research showing how well they work for weight loss. Some are tricky to test by Western standards, and not enough studies have been done to determine effectiveness.  

Here's what you need to know before you consider trying these methods.


One of the best-known branches of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture aims to remove blockages in the flow of your qi, or life force.

Practitioners do this by sticking very thin metal needles into strategic points on the skin. Qi is thought to circulate throughout the body and balance out spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.  

In 2007, about 3 million U.S. adults reported using acupuncture in the previous year, especially for back pain, nausea, depression, and arthritis.

Weight loss isn't a traditional acupuncture goal, says Victor Sierpina, MD, an acupuncturist, holistic medicine expert, and family doctor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.

But some aspects of acupuncture seem particularly useful in losing weight, Sierpina says.

Acupuncture may help you relax. That's useful if you eat because you're stressed or depressed

Acupuncture is generally safe when done by a competent practitioner. The cost -- typically $50-$85 per session -- can be pricey, Sierpina says.


Like acupuncture, acupressure targets certain points on the body. But it's done with pressure from the fingers or other devices, not needle sticks.

In 2007, a small study lasting six months showed that people using one form of acupressure lost about 2.5 pounds more than those who went to a support group. But more research is needed for experts to support acupressure as an effective weight loss method.  

You can learn to do acupressure yourself, and it can even be learned from a book or video, Sierpina says.



A form of traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda strives for harmony and balance between body, mind, and spirit. In modern India, Ayurveda is still widely used, though not exclusively.

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