Sept. 23, 2010— -- As Marianna Zega lies on a gurney minutes away from the start of her gastric-band "surgery," she can smell the anesthetic, hear the operating staff shuffle about and even feel doctors put the band around her stomach.
It's an operation that happens tens of thousands times a year. But what makes this procedure unique is that none of it is real. It's all in Zega's mind.
The procedure, or lack thereof, is called "gastric mind-band" and it's done through hypnosis. The treatment is the brainchild of hypnotherapists Martin and Marion Shirran, who run a clinic in Spain. The married couple got the idea, they said, from a neighbor.
"She said, 'My next door neighbor's just been in the hospital and paid a lot of money and had a gastric band fitted. And I just thought maybe if I came to see you, you could hypnotize me to make me think I've had it done,'" Martin Shirran said.
The idea is to fight obesity mentally. An intense four-day program also includes behavioral therapy to help patients learn to resist temptation, and culminates in the gastric-band hypnosis session.
"We create smells in the room and have background noises, because the more senses that are involved in the whole process, the stronger the suggestion is," Marion Shirran said. "It's got to come from the person themselves."
The relatively radical approach appealed to Zega, who was 325 pounds when she sought out Hazel Newsom, the only hypnotherapist in the United States trained by the Shirrans in the gastric mind-band. Newsom is a partner in the Elite Clinics in Olympia, Wash.
"My weight controlled my life," Zega, 47, said. "I was more a homebody. It probably prevented me from dating a lot and just doing everyday things."
After the fake surgery about 10 months ago, Zega said she feels as though she actually has a band around her stomach.
"Immediately after I left, I felt different," she said. "[The weight] felt like it melted off my body overnight. Yesterday was 10 months and I've lost 120 pounds. ... My mind controls what goes into my body."
Patient Feels Like a New Woman
Their European clinic has been so successful that the Shirrans are set to offer their $3,000 therapy in New York at The Benestar Centre. Martin Shirran said the health benefits can justify the cost.
"Diabetes is also very, very expensive on your health," he said. "I don't actually know whether you can compare, if you can put a price on it, what someone's getting.
"Over the course of the last four years, we've treated just over 400 people with this treatment. The success rate has been very, very high -- over 74 percent," he added.
Zega said her own experience was proof enough and, with help from a makeover at Licari Salon in New York City, she now has a new life to go with her new body.
"I'm dating. I go out a lot more. I'm more confident," she said. "I feel like I'm living my life now."