Scientists and thinkers have been studying the unconscious mind — the part of the brain where things like memories and motivation occur — for hundreds of years.
You may have heard of advertisers using subliminal messages to influence people’s thoughts and behavior. You might even be wondering whether people can use subliminal messages or other phenomena of the mind, like hypnosis, for weight loss.
This article explains how people or therapies can use subliminal messages for weight loss and whether these methods have any scientific backing.
How do subliminal messages work?
Subliminal messages are stimuli, like sounds or images, that are too faint or quick for most people to perceive consciously.
Though they’re below the threshold of human awareness, they may still stimulate the brain and affect behavior.
In other words, the human brain might perceive and react to subliminal messages without even realizing it. For this reason, subliminal messages have often been used as a simple way to influence people’s thoughts and encourage them to change their behavior.
People have tried using subliminal messages to change many kinds of behavior, including quitting smoking, exercising more often, boosting self-esteem, and even losing weight.
Subliminal messages and weight loss
Two main pathways in the brain regulate the intake of food and drinks in humans.
The homeostatic pathway encourages you to eat when your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to complete its most basic functions.
On the other hand, the hedonic pathway can override the homeostatic pathway and cause hunger, even when your body has ample energy.
Though both depend on neural pathways in your brain, the hedonic pathway is triggered by things like stress, thoughts, emotions, and things you perceive, like advertising.
In short, it appears that subconscious cues may influence various eating behaviors.
Thus, some wonder if they can use subliminal messages to influence their brain pathways and encourage weight loss.
Summary: Subliminal messages are visual and auditory cues delivered at levels below the threshold of human perception. Humans can’t consciously see or hear these messages, but they might still influence brain pathways.
Subliminal weight loss programs
Proponents of subliminal message weight loss programs make many claims about them. Some say these programs help people meet their weight loss goals by reprogramming the subconscious brain to replace negative beliefs with positive beliefs.
These programs come in many shapes and forms. You can find audio tapes, CDs, DVDs, MP3s, digital apps, YouTube videos, and more, all promising weight loss with the help of subliminal messages.
Some subliminal weight loss programs also use hypnosis, positive affirmations, and guided meditations or other similar practices for focusing the mind.
Many use background music or binaural beats to relax the mind and prepare it for the subliminal messages.
Binaural beats are an auditory illusion in which two tones, one in each ear, cause the brain to perceive a beat. Some people use them for meditation.
How to use them
The best way to use subliminal messages for weight loss depends on which program you choose. Most programs include specific instructions.
Many suggest listening to audio while lying down with your eyes closed, whereas others instruct you to listen while working on other activities. Some programs specifically instruct users to listen to audio messages before going to sleep or sleeping.
Some programs layer messages beneath the music if you want to try using subliminal weight loss messages while listening to music.
Music-based subliminal weight loss programs use instrumental music, binaural tones, or nature sounds to accompany the subliminal weight loss messages.
Summary: Many subliminal weight loss programs are available. Depending on your preference, you can find visual or audio programs while sleeping, listening to music, or working on other activities.
Are they effective?
Subliminal weight loss messages may sound like a simple way to lose weight. However, little scientific evidence supports their effectiveness as a weight loss tool.
Suggested read: Can you lose weight with diet alone?
A 2018 analysis of studies examined how weight control cues influence food intake. It found that using subliminal cues had no effect on food intake.
Scientists have done very few rigorous studies on specifically using subliminal messages for weight loss. Many studies have been small, and most haven’t directly measured weight loss.
One much older study from 1992 did compare weight loss rates in three groups of women classified as overweight. One group listened to subliminal weight loss messages, one group listened to a placebo, and one group didn’t listen to any messages.
After 5 weeks, all three groups of women had lost similar amounts of weight. The women who heard the subliminal messages didn’t lose significantly different weight than those in the other groups.
The researchers concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that listening to subliminal messages could help people lose more weight than they could without the messages.
However, they suggested that listening to subliminal messages might make people more conscious of their weight.
Possible benefits of subliminal messages
There’s not enough research on this topic to make many conclusions about the specific benefits of subliminal messages for weight loss.
Still, some evidence suggests that subliminal messages may indirectly support — or at least influence — weight loss goals and some of the behaviors that often accompany them.
A recent experiment assessed dieting results in 29 volunteers exposed to visual subliminal messages. The scientists concluded that processing subliminal food messages may influence dieting performance.
In 2014, a study of 13 people found that those exposed to positive visual subliminal messages before exercising participated in a cycling routine for longer than those exposed to negative visuals.
However, a study in 2009 concluded that subliminal messages of words related to exercising led to greater food intake immediately after viewing the messages.
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An older study exposed people to visual subliminal messages that contained diet-related keywords. It determined that people who were dieting tended to pay less attention to foods that triggered the hedonic brain pathway, such as those high in sugar and fat.
In 2012, one research review concluded that viewing food- and diet-related keywords — consciously and subconsciously — may have a notable influence on the future behaviors of some dieting people.
Effectiveness can vary
Some research suggests that the effectiveness of subliminal messages may depend on many other factors, such as:
- the medium used — audio or visual
- a person’s individual goals
- past cultural experiences
- levels of hunger and fullness
- personality traits
- the ability to self-regulate
Thus, subliminal weight loss programs may not work the same for everybody.
Summary: Though research suggests relationships between subliminal messages and health-related thoughts and behaviors in certain people, it’s too early to say how effective subliminal messages are for weight loss.
Choosing a subliminal weight loss program
To get the most from a subliminal weight loss program, be sure to choose a program that seems credible.
Subliminal weight loss programs aren’t regulated, and there’s no guarantee that the company has layered subliminal messages into the audio or visual content as promised.
Carefully read any instructions the program provides.
Many programs include disclaimers that note a person will notice the most significant weight loss benefits when they exercise and eat healthfully, in addition to following the subliminal messaging program.
Thus, you may also want to improve your diet and physical fitness habits to get the most out of a program.
Summary: Before choosing a subliminal messaging weight loss program, thoroughly investigate several. The effects of subliminal messaging may vary greatly depending on your beliefs and needs, so choose the one you feel is a good fit.
Some proponents of subliminal messaging have long promoted it as a safe, simple, and effective way to lose weight.
Some early research suggests that subliminal messages may influence food- and diet-related thoughts and behaviors. However, other research has found that subliminal messages with weight loss cues have no effect.
The research is mixed, and there aren’t enough studies on the topic.
Therefore, the jury is still unsure whether subliminal messaging can help you lose weight. It may offer benefits for some people, but there’s no guarantee.