Setting Your Sights on Success with The Self-Hypnosis Diet: An Interview with Joy & Steven Gurgevich, Ph.D.

Do you believe that your mind can affect your body? What if you could use this mind-body connection to sustain optimal health, initiate self-healing, and even maintain your weight? According to Dr. Steven Gurgevich, you already have everything you need to do this and more. We spoke to Dr. Gurgevich and his wife and co-author, Joy, about their new book, The Self-Hypnosis Diet.

Sounds True: For people who are skeptical about self-hypnosis, can you talk to us about specific statistics or proof from the medical industry?

Steven Gurgevich: Absolutely. All hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis, because it’s not something that’s done to another person. No one gets “hypnotized” by somebody else. That’s one of the greatest misconceptions: that it’s done to somebody. Another misconception is that one relinquishes their consciousness or gives up their control to somebody else. That’s totally false. A hypnotic trance is just about identical to a daydream. If you think about what a daydream is like, it’s a very relaxed form of concentration where you’re awake and you know where you are, you know what you’re doing, but you’re suspending having to be reactive or responsive to a lot of things going on around you, including what you’re feeling within you at times. A hypnotic trance is facilitated or guided or taught by the practitioner. It’s not done to the person.

There are hundreds of articles that have been published in medical journals that attest to the effectiveness of hypnosis for a wide range of medical, psychological, and behavioral problems. The history of hypnosis goes back well over 150 years in terms of the interest by the medical community. There are literally hundreds of medical journal articles that show both clinical studies and experimental studies demonstrating the effectiveness of what we can do with our mind. Again, it’s not done to the person; it’s facilitated. All the credit for what is accomplished with hypnosis goes to the patient.

Sounds True: Is there any danger in using hypnosis?

Steven Gurgevich: Basically, hypnosis is easy, drug-free, effective, and without side effects. But when it’s used by somebody who doesn’t have the training or the background to treat the condition they’re using it with, that could be problematic. My rule of thumb is, somebody shouldn’t be using medical hypnosis to treat a condition unless they’re also trained to treat the condition without hypnosis. So I guess my only caution with hypnosis is, use someone who has the credentials and the training, like a certified hypno-therapist. I would go to a doctor or a psychologist, somebody who has the credentials to use this tool, because it’s a powerful tool.

Sounds True: When did you begin teaching self-hypnosis?

Steven Gurgevich: The early 1970s—over three decades ago. I’ve been personally involved with it since 1962, when I first got interested in it.

Sounds True: After all of these years of working with people in self-hypnosis, what is the most recent occurrence you’ve witnessed that has left you in awe of its healing effects?

Steven Gurgevich: Probably the most dramatic to me was the case of a gentleman who had cancer. He came to the office reluctantly, because his wife made him. She also took him reluctantly to Dr. Weil’s clinic. [Note: Joy and Dr. Steven Gurgevich are both facilitators at Dr. Andrew Weil’s Program in Integrative Medicine at The University of Arizona College of Medicine.] He was a retired electrical engineer, and he had cancer. He was so resistant that I suggested that, “Since you’re really not interested in this, and you’ve already come to the office for a session, why don’t I talk to your wife? Why don’t you just relax, and you can listen along if you would like to?”

In the middle of the session—I’m really talking to him even though I’m sort of addressing his wife—his whole body jerks. I asked him afterwards, “What was that about?” He said that he was imagining what I was describing; that a big, powerful light was showering through his body, cleansing away any cancer cells. About three months later, I happened to run across his doctor, and he said, “You know the fellow who just didn’t believe in any of this stuff that we do at The Integrative Medicine Clinic? He gives you credit and the mind-body connection credit for healing his cancer.” It just disappeared. It was one of those cases of clearly spontaneous healing, where no one could really explain why his cancer disappeared, other than his experience that day with his mind. That would be one story.

I think the stories that please me most are just the common, everyday experiences of patients that come in with skin problems, behavioral problems, gastrointestinal disorders…and we see almost immediate results and improvement because of their ability to access the mind-body connection and tap into the power of their subconscious mind for healing.

Joy Gurgevich: Some of our other favorites are women who use our fertility booster CDs for self-hypnosis. We get pictures of newborn babies, thanking us.

Steven Gurgevich: One lady wrote to me who had two babies die during the second trimester, and she knew when they died. Her doctors told her that she’d have to go on these special fertility drugs and she couldn’t get pregnant for another year, or consider adoption.

She wrote me a lovely little letter saying, “Would you please create something where I can use my mind to tell my body I can get pregnant and have a baby?” It took about two months, but I devised something. About ten months or eleven months later, we got a lovely photograph of a little infant named Sammy. He was perfectly healthy, and she had a great pregnancy with no side effects and a lovely, natural delivery. She proved all of her fertility experts wrong by just using the power of her mind.

Those are everyday experiences. Going into trance, or producing what we call a hypnotic trance, is what we call an everyday phenomenon. Every time somebody pauses to stare out a window, and they suspend actively thinking or analyzing, but simply become absorbed in their thoughts or ideas or imagination, that is a trance. We help somebody create that and fill it with images and ideas of healing, the mind-body connection does the rest.

Sounds True: So it’s just a matter of tapping into that power that’s there all the time, and harnessing it or navigating it to accomplish anything we want to accomplish?

Steven Gurgevich: Yes, because, as I tell the patients, everything you need is already within you. The hardest part of doing hypnosis is getting out of our own way. We set it into motion with our thoughts and ideas, we believe in it, and let it occur. We make it happen by letting it happen.

Sounds True: You mention “the law of reversed effect” in your book. Can you talk a little more about that?

Steven Gurgevich: If we try too hard, all we’re doing is getting in the way. That’s the law of reversed effect. Think of it like when you want to say the name of, say, a movie title or a book title, and you know you know it, but at that moment you can’t remember it. It’s on the tip of your tongue, and you try and you try, and you repeat the question over and over, “What’s that name? What’s the name?” At that point, you’re simply trying. You’re not remembering. But when you offer it to your subconscious with an idea of, “Oh, I’ll remember later. It’ll come to me,” and then you let go of the question, you discover that you cannot know the answer until you forget the question. That’s getting out of your own way. That’s probably the hardest part of doing hypnosis—getting out of our own way and letting ourselves believe.

Sounds True: Will hypnosis help with some of the constant chatter that goes on in our minds?

Steven Gurgevich: Let the chatter go. Just recognize that it’s present, but choose where else you might put your attention. Don’t let yourself get caught up in it. It’s okay. You can be having all kinds of other thoughts streaming by. That’s fine. It’s like, when we work with children, some of the doctors I train in pediatrics will say, “The kids aren’t still! They’re moving around, their eyes are opening and closing, they’re jiggling, their legs are jumping up and down.” And I say to them, “That’s right.” For adults, it’s usually our minds that are doing all of that, from the inside, but that’s fine. All that’s important is where we put our intention, where we put our belief.

Sounds True: Can hypnosis help us work with our fears?

Steven Gurgevich: Yes, absolutely, because we’re born with only two fears: loud noises and falling. That’s what researchers have said for many years. All other fears, whether it’s a fear of confined spaces, snakes, spiders… all of the other fears are learned. Fear is irrational. It doesn’t exist in reality. If it did, we’d all be afraid of the same things. We’d all be afraid of snakes. We’d all be afraid of spiders. It is learned, and anything we can learn, we can unlearn by relearning something else. That’s exactly what hypnosis does for anxieties and phobias and behavioral problems. We substitute a positive solution or a positive answer for a negative pattern that had been previously learned.

Sounds True: How can traditional diet methods be complemented by self-hypnosis?

Steven Gurgevich: Any diet method would be complemented by self-hypnosis because the individual is adding the element of their own conscious and subconscious mind. They’re enhancing their motivation, their belief, their willpower, and their expectations for a positive outcome. You know, if you set your sights on success, that’s where you’re going. If you set your sights on something less than success, that’s where you’ll wind up. Self-hypnosis helps people identify what they want, picture it, imagine it as they would like it to be. It’s like programming the inner computer to go into motion and do the work.

Sounds True: A lot of us fluctuate—our weight goes up and down. How does self-hypnosis help in creating a more stable body weight?

Steven Gurgevich: I think that, just like in our book, The Self-Hypnosis Diet, what makes this effective is that it’s not a diet. We discourage dieting. Diets don’t work. The self-hypnosis diet provides a missing ingredient whereby we use the mind-body to establish lifelong patterns of eating and exercise that make it seem like you can eat anything you want and still keep your perfect weight. So in short, the self-hypnosis is helping the individual to make lifelong patterns of healthy food choices and exercise patterns so that, by simply living them, they maintain their natural perfect weight. If they need to make adjustments to that, these are very simple at that point.

Sounds True: It seems like an impossible dream to be able to undo some of the thoughts that have kept us going up and down, and to be able to actually replace them and relearn with new thoughts.

Steven Gurgevich: Well, change is difficult, and change is stressful, but if an individual really wants to have their perfect weight, a weight that they’re more satisfied with, they have to make changes. Otherwise, if they keep doing what they’ve been doing, they’ll keep getting the results that they’ve been getting. As I said, change is stressful. That’s another selling point on self-hypnosis: that self-hypnosis is so euphoric and so comfortable to do that the change seems almost effortless. You’re feeling very relaxed and very pleased and very focused on your achievement, rather than focused on the effort. Somebody using self-hypnosis is imagining that they already have achieved what they want. That’s a wonderful feeling! That allows them not only to attract it to them, but to set into motion their movement toward it.

Sounds True: Is this something I’d have to do forever?

Steven Gurgevich: Initially, it would be good to learn how to do it, how to experience it. It would be much like, “I’m going to learn how to use my ability to daydream to put the thoughts and ideas in my mind of what I want to change, or what I want to have, and then I allow my mind-body, or my subconscious, to do it for me.” And you let yourself believe in it. It’s really that simple. Hypnosis is very easy. It’s drug-free. It’s without side effects. Again, the hardest part is getting out of our own way.

Sounds True: How often should I plan to use it at first?

Steven Gurgevich: If you are using the CD in the back of the book, I would say for the first month use the CD every day. Meaning, pick one of the tracks that you find is the most compelling or compatible with your needs. There’s one that’s made for regular daily use, but there are a couple of others, like an emergency rescue remedy from cravings. Find one that you like, or mix them up, and every day give yourself the experience of doing it. Within 21 to 30 days, you’ll have already created the automatic ability to turn hypnosis on whenever you want to have it available. It doesn’t have to be ritualized at all. What you’re discovering is that you’re tapping into the powers within you. Again, everything you need is already within you. Self-hypnosis just lets you discover how to access it. Think of it: whether it’s driving a car, using a pencil, riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard, playing a piano…If you do something 21 days in a row, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, a year later, there’s a part of your body that still remembers how to do it.

Sounds True: What about hypnosis for pain relief?

Steven Gurgevich: It’s excellent for pain relief. Half of my practice is individuals with pain-related problems. One of the nice things about it is, again, that it’s drug-free and without side effects. We use our mind to alter our experience of pain. Pain is highly motivating. When somebody’s in pain, they are highly motivated to feel something else. So when you provide suggestions for imagining another place, another feeling, there’s a natural tendency for it to work well.

Again, the hardest part is getting out of the thinking, analyzing mind, and being able to let ourselves imagine, or even pretend. With little children, we don’t use the word “trance” or “hypnosis.” We just simply say, “pretend, ” like, “Pretend that your hand is asleep, “ or, “Pretend that you’ve turned off the switches that go to your feelings in your hand.” With children, we just say, “pretend.” With adults, we use a more sophisticated language and we talk about “trance” and “daydream” and “hypnosis, ” but it’s all about belief and imagination. Everything that we put in our mind affects our body, and everything that affects our body affects our mind. There was this illusion at one time that mind and body were separate and distinct, and they’re not. They’re intricately intertwined and cannot function without each other. They are, in essence, one thing, the mind-body.

Sounds True: Let’s move to some questions for Joy. Behavioral nutrition is really a brand-new field of nutrition. Most people are used to nutrition as telling them what to eat because of how many grams or carbohydrate or fat are in them. Joy, your approach to helping people change their eating behaviors is very effective—but it’s not what people would expect from a clinical nutritionist.

Joy Gurgevich: You know, it’s kind of interesting: When we did our audio The Self-Hypnosis Diet, we didn’t want to include too much information about food choices. It was really very much directed towards the psychological aspects of weight loss. In that three-CD audio, we don’t really talk about food or dieting and food in that respect. When we wrote the book, we also steered very clear of talking about food, because so many dieters are sick of hearing about what they should eat and what they shouldn’t eat. In the book, we still have only one chapter, Chapter 9, which really talks about healthy lifestyle and being able to incorporate that into your daily living so that you restore your healthy weight and don’t have to worry about dieting anymore. It’s called, “Taking Care of You: Exploring Wholesome Foods and Other Wise Choices, ” and it’s just a bridge to help people understand that what this is all about is having a healthy lifestyle. That’s what behavioral nutrition does: it creates a bridge.

Sounds True: For those of us that have been on the diet rollercoaster, the fantasy is that we wouldn’t be so obsessive and worried all the time about food. With the mind-body connection, it seems logical that at some point, the body would tell us what it wants and we feed it naturally, instead of feeding the emotional cravings. Could that happen?

Joy Gurgevich: Yes, absolutely. You know, the self-hypnosis diet’s main goal is to help you feel like you can eat anything you want and still keep your perfect weight.

Steven Gurgevich:And as you move from fantasy into belief, even if it’s only pretending, you have set it into motion. As long as you can let yourself believe it’s possible, it’s going to happen.

Joy Gurgevich: And you know something that I think a lot of people enjoy hearing is that, when you know that you have to turn that into a belief, you really only have to believe it 51 percent. There can still be thoughts in there that you know you don’t really believe it, but if you just believe it 51 percent, that’s all you need to put yourself over into that area that’s going to make it work best for you.

Sounds True: Joy, in what other ways does the work you’re doing help us with our issues around food?

Joy Gurgevich: I think the main way it helps is that it moves people toward eating foods that are very wholesome and nourishing. When a body is fed nourishing and wholesome food, it becomes satisfied. If we sit down and start binging on French fries and Twinkies, we may have eaten enough calories to fulfill the calorie need, but we haven’t satisfied our body with the nourishment that it needs. So that brings into play that need for something more to eat, not being satisfied with what we’ve had, even though we’ve had a lot of calories.

Two thirds of Americans are overweight, and basically that is because we are under-nourished, but over-fed. We eat a lot of fast foods, a lot of foods that are highly processed, and not high quality. If we eat more foods that are very close to nature and as little processed as possible, those are the foods that really nourish our bodies and give us that feeling of satiety, of satisfaction that we’ve actually had a good, wholesome meal. They’re nutrient-dense. Many of the foods that we eat in America are very nutrient-poor, but very high in calories. We need to switch that around. We have to get into the balance so that we’re eating more nutrient-dense foods. And some nutrient-dense foods are very high calorie, too, but they’re excellent quality and very satisfying.

Steven Gurgevich: We were featured in the December 26, 2006 issue of Woman’s World, and in the course of preparing that article they interviewed us about two months earlier, and they asked us to create a simple exercise to tap into the mind-body. We made a very, very simple one that the readers of that tabloid could do. They tested it out on a couple of their staff writers, and they each lost significant weight! In fact, one of them lost a pound a day, just doing a simple, affirmative–speaking-type process. In each case, it was not about dieting at all. It was about telling ourselves that we do have a desire to eat wholesome foods, and that if we do eat foods that are outside the range of one’s diet—like very rich cakes and cookies—then just a few nibbles or a few bites are very satisfying and more than enough to satisfy any desire for them, so we get to enjoy them. These two reporters published pictures of themselves and talked about how they could actually have a few bites of the treats they loved, but then they found that they were very full, and they wound up making other choices of things to eat. They were losing weight through the feasting process.

Everything you need to do this is already within you. As you allow yourself, as you go through the self-hypnosis diet, you allow yourself to believe, to pretend, imagine, and believe that it’s going to happen, that it is happening, that it’s already occurred. You’ll be amazed and delighted by all that you are achieving with your hypnosis.

Once you’ve established healthier patterns of eating and exercise, you’ll never have to think about dieting ever again. You know, diets don’t work. You just have to get to that point of saying, “I’m not going to diet. I’m never going to diet again!” They don’t work. They just don’t do it. Instead, what does work? Healthy eating habits and regular exercise patterns. Over time, you’ve adjusted your palate, your preferences, so that it seems like now you can just eat anything you want and keep your perfect weight. If the healthy eating that you’re doing is imposed on you, if you’re having to do it as opposed to loving and preferring to do it above all else, it’s not going to last. Again, that’s what Joy does. Somebody who’s never eaten quinoa or oat groats or other nutrient-dense grains, when they taste them, they don’t know what to think at first. They haven’t learned to like it yet. They’re still used to the high-salt, high-fat, high-sugar taste that the fast food industry promotes. Once you’ve made those palate changes along with, in your mind, the preference for what’s good for your body, pretty soon, somebody could show you a Big Mac, and it might be the most luscious photograph in the world, but it will repulse you because you know what really is in that stuff.

In one of the exercises I did on the CD, there was one place where I made reference to—this was in preparation for going to a big meal—that you may find some foreign object in your food. What happens to you when you find what looks like a fingernail, or a toenail, or a long strand of hair in your food? That delicious, yummy food immediately changes. So we can use some of those aversive techniques to say, “I’m going to use this to help me break up with this love affair with unhealthy and fattening foods. Instead, I’m going to develop a love affair with foods that make my body healthy, strong, vital, energetic, and as trim as I want it to be.”

Joy Gurgevich: You know, there’s sort of a related trick to the aversive techniques, too. It’s when you start reading labels, when you start reading the ingredient labels to some of foods that you eat, when you actually realize what is in it, and understand that it isn’t healthy, it makes it a lot more difficult to eat that food. I’m sure you’ve been to wine tastings. I do food tastings, so that people whose palates are still needing to develop towards more wholesome eating can have a taste of some of these whole grains and healthy foods, and they can make a decision right then whether they actually like it. Once they’ve had a taste of something and they do like it and they know where to buy it, I know that they’ll go buy it the next time. So food tastings and reading labels so that they understand what is in the food that they’re choosing.

Steven Gurgevich: But it can’t be an imposed diet or restricted eating. It has to be something that somebody says, “I’m going to learn to love this. I’m going to learn to like this and love this, and my body is going to reflect it.”

Sounds True: That’s why diets don’t work: because you feel like somebody’s telling you what to eat, when to eat it, how much to eat.

Steven Gurgevich: Yes, and the research studies done on diets and restrictive eating—I think we mention it in the book—have always shown that they don’t work, or if they do work, it’s very short-lived. People regain the weight back because they didn’t change the underlying habits and preferences. The self-hypnosis diet is a very comprehensive treatment of using the power of your mind to reach a perfect weight.

Any time an individual notices they are gaining weight, the first thing we want to look at is “Why is that happening?” We want to rule out any illness or thyroid or hormonal imbalance. If there’s nothing organically or medically wrong, so to speak, then the next step is to examine, “What is the person doing that’s producing those results?” As we say in the book, there are no mistakes; there are only unwanted results. If you’re not getting the results you want, that just means you have to go back and tweak and adjust your choices and preferences in diet and exercise and thinking patterns.

Sounds True: Is there anything that self-hypnosis can do to help with some of the fluctuation of our hormones as we get older?

Steven Gurgevich:Yes, with hypnosis, we can affect our hormones with how we think and feel. In fact, a journalist who was doing a piece for Woman’s World contacted me. She’s a freelancer and she had found six women who used alternative medicine approaches to treat medical conditions. One woman had a thyroid imbalance called Hashimoto’s disease, and she used only self-hypnosis to regulate her thyroid gland back into perfectly normal functioning. Her endocrinologist couldn’t believe it, but documented that that’s exactly what happened. The journalist who wrote to me basically was asking, “How can this happen?”

Sounds True: How about hot flashes?

Steven Gurgevich: Actually, it does help. In fact, I see quite a few patients who are placed on a drug called Lupron, which is to suppress estrogen during cancer chemotherapy treatments. Men and women will both have a lot of hot flashes during their treatment when they’re on this drug. We use hypnosis to mediate it. In some cases, it works better than others, but to one extent or another, when we employ our mind, we’re going to get results.

Joy Gurgevich

Joy Gurgevich Return to top of page

Joy Gurgevich is a behavioral nutritionist specializing in helping individuals make wholesome food choices that support a healthy nutrition lifestyle. She is a preceptor for Dr. Andrew Weil’s Progra...


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