It's hard not to notice the cheesy advertisement: a full page in The Dallas Morning News, screaming tabloid headlines, before and after photos of big fleshy people morphed by hypnosis into small suggestive people: "True story how Mineola man wins 20-year battle with obesity"..."Fast Weight Loss"..."Instant Results."
Take Bob Denton, for example, a Farmers Branch projects manager who supposedly lost 201 pounds in 13 months. In his "before" shot, Bob has a tiny head, no neck and a belly that makes the Pillsbury Doughboy look svelte. But in the after photo, Bob stands tall, looking dapper in his coat and tie, a slender testament to the work of the Dallas Hypnosis Center. The ad is laced with language to seduce and manipulate: money-back guarantee, free introductory interview. However, its placement, adjoining the obituary section, seems the ultimate hidden persuader: Act now--or you'll be as dead as these guys. Operators are standing by to take your call.
That I am strangely drawn to what looks like a dicey come-on speaks volumes about my own fat self. By December, I am 35 pounds this side of bloat. During my wife's last pregnancy, I tried to match her weight gain pound for pound, too often indulging in her late-night cravings for Twizzlers and Milk Duds. Now weighing in at 239, I'm as big as I get.
Truth is, I haven't tucked in my shirttail since 1997. And I have been gaining and losing the same 30 pounds for decades. I've been Jenny Craiged, Weight Watched and Sugarbusted. I've gone on a liquid diet, a grapefruit diet, a cabbage soup diet. I considered myself nutritionally aware, knowing all the right questions to ask in a restaurant: Is that chicken prepared with oil? How fat is your low-fat dressing? Can you put the sauce on the side? I tried to avoid these questions in any restaurant whose neon sign flashes the words "Truck Stop," "Greasy Spoon" or "Fat Boys." Yet each time I lost weight, I managed to find it and more within a year.
Clearly, I have given my conscious mind every opportunity to will me out of my gluttonous ways. Maybe it's time to give my unconscious mind a chance. My only exposure to hypnosis was watching a stage hypnotist induce a close friend to cluck like a chicken. I was skeptical about the power of hypnosis to help people lose weight, cope with phobias, deal with pain--claims its most reputable practitioners--medical doctors, dentists, psychologists--all make. These practitioners are in regulated health-care professions with ethical standards that might theoretically be enforced against them. Texas also seems to be a breeding ground for unregulated lay hypnotists whose only credential is a certificate obtained from some suspect organization after attending a few weekend workshops. But even among the licensed health-care providers who practice hypnotherapy, there exists an ages-old argument about what hypnosis actually is: an altered state of consciousness or just a good therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient that doesn't need the metaphysical musings of a trance.
If hypnosis works, as it supposedly has for Bob Denton of Farmers Branch and Nell Dunklin of Dallas, why wouldn't it work for me? I am nothing if not motivated: My kids need an active dad who can tie his shoes without getting winded. So, in the name of investigative journalism, I decide to plumb the depths of my unconscious. I phone the Dallas Hypnosis Center to schedule my free evaluation.
Robert Hudak may have taken a page out of ancient history when he began the Dallas Hypnosis Center 18 years ago. The early Greeks would visit their "temples of sleep" where physician-priests would induce them into a trancelike state to cure what ailed them. The temple walls were covered with inscriptions from patients describing their medical miracles--reinforcement for those who followed that they had come to the right place.
The walls of DHC in North Dallas are similarly adorned with success stories. Gold plaques commemorate the many clients who are members of the 50-pound and 100-pound clubs. Nailed to the wall is the 60-plus-inch belt of the once obese Bob Denton of Farmers Branch, a dangling monument to motivation. If I have any doubt about DHC's legitimacy, I can rest easy. Its programs and services have been approved by the American Hypnotist Association--says so right there on the wall.
I fill out a questionnaire, which asks me whether I have ever been hypnotized (no), enjoy movies (yes), involve myself in fantasy (not since the birth of my third child). Then a pleasant, slender woman named Linda escorts me to an interview room where she asks me how much weight I want to lose.
Thirty-five pounds would be nice, I tell her.