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Virtual Lap-Band Procedure Could Help Some Lose Weight

By Lisa Sigell

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Allison Harden is being wheeled into an operating room, about to have gastric-band surgery. She can hear the operating staff, the monitors -- it seems so real.

But it's not. It's all in her mind.

"You will not feel any pain at all... Just then the surgeon enters the room," a clinical hypnotherapist says to Allison, who is under hypnosis.

The process is called the Hypno-Band. It works by convincing people into believing that they actually had gastric-band surgery without going under the knife.

In traditional lap-band surgery, doctors reduce the size of the stomach so patients can not eat as much. This mental surgery is designed to do the same thing.

"The idea of the Hypno-Band is to install in the patients mind, in the clients mind, that they have a lap band fitted to their stomach, so they feel full after very little food," clinical hypnotherapist Michael Zappellini said.

The idea is to fight obesity through our minds' ability. It takes place in four intense sessions, the first two aimed at removing the reasons a person would overeat in the first place and preparing them for virtual surgery.

"The gastric band is inserted through one of the small incisions in your stomach, the surgeon looks through the camera and then he tightens the band slightly, forming a small pouch at the top of your stomach. So all you are aware of is a slight tugging as the surgeon completes the fitting of your band," Zappellini said to Allison, as she lay in a state of hypnosis.

The room was set up to be as realistic as possible.

"We have smells like in an operating room, we have sounds of monitors like everything in a real operating room, because the more senses that we can add to the procedure, the more realistic in their mind it becomes," Zappellini said.

But the process only works if the person is willing to be open to change and suggestion, which Allison Harden was.

"Weight has always been a struggle of mine," Harden said.

She was even bullied about it when she was a child. Finally, at the age of 23 she hit what she considers rock bottom. That is when she went to see Zappellini.

"I've tried everything; I've tried Jenny Craig, the no-carb thing. It worked temporarily but never was permanent," Allison said.

She said that she was an emotional eater, eating when she felt good, but especially when she felt bad. She thought about surgery, some family members had done it with great success. She even talked to a doctor about the lap-band, but realized that surgery wasn't for her.

Hypnosis has been used for surgery for a long time, but this is a fairly radical approach and there's no scientific proof that it works.

"Just relax for a moment, knowing that your operation is over and that it has been a great success, eating healthier food, more nutritious food and feeling full more quickly," Zappellini said during the process.

The experience had an immediate effect on Allison.

"I feel really relaxed… Kind of like a feeling that you did too many crunches or something."

Allison says that she doesn't remember much of the virtual surgery, but Zappellini said that was not important.

"Consciously they know that they're not having any surgery. But subconsciously, they believe that they have this band fitted on their stomach and therefore will be very full quickly and will lose weight," Zappellini said.

"My hope is just to lose weight and get back to where I was when I was happy with my body, had higher self-esteem. I just want to be healthy again."

For more information about the Hypno-Band, click on the following:

And for more on Certified Hynotherapist Michael Zappellini, click here:

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