The UAE may be a small nation, but the waistlines of many of its residents aren’t quite so diminutive. About 40 percent of UAE residents – and 37 percent of children – are believed to be obese. With a social scene that continues to revolve around eating, drinking and more eating, this is a surprise to no one. et according to Martin Shirran, clinical hypnotherapist and co-author of The Gastric Mind Band, this penchant for including food in every social activity isn’t just a local tradition.
‘The thing is, no one eats because they’re hungry any more. They eat because they’re tired, lonely, sad, depressed, because it’s tea time, because it’s seeing-friends time, to celebrate, to commiserate – the hunger question never, ever gets asked,’ he explains. When there’s a new world-famous restaurant opening every other month and another calorie-packed fast-food franchise arriving on every corner, you’re probably in the majority if you’ve forgotten what an empty tummy feels like.
Martin visited Dubai with his wife (and co-author) Marion earlier this month, in order to conduct a two-day course for healthcare professionals who work with weight and eating issues. The duo offer a therapy called ‘gastric mind banding’ (of which they are the trademark and patent owners), from their Elite Clinic in Spain. The process involves a carefully constructed combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, neuro-linguistic programming and hypnotherapy, and leaves an individual with a sense they should eat as though they’ve had a real gastric band fitted. In the past few years it has garnered a great deal of media attention around the world, and the duo have seen more than 600 patients to date. Yet the therapy was developed quite by chance: a woman they’d been treating with hypnotherapy to quit smoking found she was putting on weight, so asked if they’d be able to make her think she’d had a gastric band fitted.
‘We spent about two and a half years on research and development, and coming up with a way of treating obesity using a placebo gastric mind band. We started off just using hypnotherapy, and found that while it is successful to a degree, it doesn’t last forever,’ Martin explains. They then found that combining hypnotherapy with neuro-linguistic programming and cognitive behavioural therapy produced the winning formula.
Over time, they have also incorporated ‘pause button therapy’, a new approach that encourages people to ‘press pause’ and think about the actions they’re about to take. Though Martin and Marion use this for people with food-related issues in this instance, Martin explains he has also used this therapy to treat a variety of addictions, including drugs and alcohol, as well as in areas such as anger management.
Today, patients visiting the couple’s Elite Clinic (or one of their international franchises) will also experience a ‘virtual reality’ setup in their final appointment. First up is 12 hours of therapy, addressing the problems in their relationship with food, using a combination of the aforementioned approaches. This then leads up to the final stage – the ‘fitting’ of the gastric band.
‘In the final session we take you through a placebo operation, in which the room will be at 21.5°C – identical to the temperature and humidity of an operating room. As we put you into hypnosis, the air in the room changes to match the exact smells of an operating theatre. You’ll get the prick on the hand, as with the anaesthetic, and you’ll be holding the gastric band. We use sound effects, we use lights, lasers, smells – we
play with every single sense,’ he concludes, ‘It’s a bit like Hollywood!’ So realistic is the experience that several patients have awoken to ask if there’s any blood, or whether they’re okay to drive home.
Of course, there isn’t any blood involved, because it isn’t a real operation. It’s far less risky – and, it could be argued, a much more sustainable way of managing your weight. One of the most obvious problems with a real gastric band (or any weight-loss surgery, including liposuction) is that it fails to address the individual’s underlying issue with food. As Martin says, we don’t eat because we’re hungry any more: in particular, the reasons many people overeat are often far more complex that simply to satiate an appetite. Gastric bands and liposuction don’t account for an emotional dependency on food, which is why many people who undergo these procedures, and others like them, will put the weight back on after a couple of years.
Though gastric mind banding does address these issues, Martin stresses that the biggest problem will always be people looking for miracles. ‘People say, “I want to do this, but I still like to have two drinks with dinner, and brunch on Sunday, and I’m not giving those up.” They want the result without paying for anything.’ Though he claims gastric mind banding will do up to 70 percent of the work, it’s up to the individual to do the other 30 percent. ‘If you’re not prepared to make some lifestyle changes, it’s not going to work,’ he urges. ‘We say that upfront. We don’t want people to have unrealistic expectations – we tell them they have to play a part.’
And it seems to work. With an estimated success rate of 70 percent, with clients ranging from age 12 to 72, it’s no wonder Dubai’s health professionals are looking to get in on the act. If Dubai likes anything, it’s an exciting new franchise – fortunately, this might just be the healthiest launch in a while.
To contact a hypnotherapist or health professional in Dubai who has taken Martin and Marion’s trademarked gastric mind banding course, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 050 474 5613.