When Jessica Penney's friend suggested she get an imaginary gastric band, the 25-year-old was understandably sceptical. She'd already tried slimming pills, replacing meals with shakes and weight-loss groups, but nothing seemed to shift her excess stones.
However, Jessica was so desperate to slim down, she got in touch with a hypnotist. She's delighted she did because after just one year, Jessica is five stone lighter and six dress sizes smaller.
"I hated the way I looked so much, I was willing to try anything but if I'm honest, I didn't think it would work," says the mum-of-two from South London. "I can't believe how successful it has been."
Jessica started to gain weight when she was at school, where she was a regular at the tuck shop. There, she'd buy two bags of crisps, two bars of chocolate and cake every day: "I used to go every morning and afternoon break with my friends but while they all stayed the same weight, I got bigger and bigger."
Even when Jessica left school and got a job as a receptionist in a car showroom, she kept a drawerful of snacks by her desk to get her through the day.
In fact, the only time that Jessica did lose weight was during her two pregnancies with Scarlet, now five, and Max, two, when she became severely ill and suffered from terrible morning sickness.
But when she returned to work after maternity leave, her life as a new mum slowly introduced new, but equally bad, habits. While her former partner would make healthy meals for the kids, Jessica would spend her days tucking into toffee éclairs and sausage rolls, then buy a large Big Mac meal with an extra cheeseburger and milkshake on her way home.
"I just wanted quick, convenient food and McDonald's seemed to be perfect," she says. "Before long, it was just part of my routine to stop off at the drive-thru.
"But in June 2012, I needed a new uniform. I'd ordered a size 20 but it was far too tight. I had to order another not just one, but two sizes bigger. I was so embarrassed. I hadn't stepped on the scales in years, so I had no idea what I weighed. It was a real wake-up call."
Not long later, Jessica saw some photos that gave her a second reality check: 'My sister and I'd gone to visit my dad in Egypt a few years ago but she only got the pictures developed near the end of 2013.
"I was horrified when I saw them. I couldn't believe how big I looked, especially the one where I was holding Scarlet in the swimming pool. And the thought that I'd been walking around looking like that since was mortifying. I must have been about 15 stone."
So over the next few months, Jessica tried diet shakes and slimming pills but with little success. Even when she lost a few pounds, it wouldn't stay off.
She even looked into gastric bands but her fear of needles and the large price tag to get one privately held her back.
But then a friend suggested she get in touch with her hypnotist, Robert Hisee. She'd seen him to help with her agoraphobia and after four-and-a-half years of being stuck indoors, she was now able to leave her house again. He also offered imaginary gastric bands, where he hypnotised people into thinking they'd had the weight-loss surgery.
"I had no idea if it would work but I was so desperate to change the way I looked, I gave him a call. He told me it would be £300, which seemed reasonable – I was spending more than that on junk food every month. I thought it was worth a go, so I booked an appointment."
In November 2013, Jessica attended a three-hour consultation, during which Robert talked her through a gastric band operation. When she left, the only physical reminder was a small stone she was given, to represent the size of the food she should be having at each meal.
"I had no idea if it'd worked. The next morning, I made myself a big bowl of cereal, which I would usually have before a couple of slices of toast, but I could only manage one Weetabix.
"At first, I didn't think much of it, but at lunch, I was the same – instead of having a cheese and ham baguette with a bag of crisps, I only fancied a salad. For tea, I made lasagne but I could manage about half of what I'd normally have.
"This went on for a few days before I realised I'd stopped snacking too. Because I didn't weigh myself, it was hard to keep track but in a couple of months, people were complimenting me all the time and I realised my clothes were all falling off me."
And it wasn't just her looks that the weight loss changed. Soon, she was on her hands and knees playing with Scarlet and Max and chasing them around the park.
Within nine months, Jessica had dropped to a size 8 but, concerned she was too small for her 5ft 5in frame, she increased her portion sizes and is now a perfect size 12, weighing nine stone.
"Now, I feel like a completely different woman to the one in those holiday photos," Jessica says. "It sounds dramatic but my imaginary gastric band not only changed my life, it probably saved it too."
By Emma Ponsford
For more information, visit thehypnotistman.com
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