We get experts to weigh in on whether these alternative weight loss methods are legit.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

From crash diets and appetite suppresents to fat-burning procedures and liposuction, there are no short of methods available for weight watchers to try to drop kilos. And consumers are lapping them up, especially if they don’t find success with exercise and moderate dieting. But while fads come and go, there have been a few alternative weight loss methods that seem to have withstood the test of time and gained themselves serious advocates. Here, we round them up and break them down for their effectiveness and safety.

"One in two people around the world consider themselves overweight and want to slim down, according to a 2016 study by Nielsen."


The age-old traditional Chinese medicine technique has been used for all kinds of ailments from pain and allergies to PMS and addictions. For weight loss, scientists are still on the fence about it, but a recent study published in The Scientifi c World Journal found that the majority of 196 obese patients who received acupuncture and restricted their diet lost weight over six weeks.

How it works “Acupuncture works to manage imbalances in the body that cause weight problems,” says physician Anita Pee of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic. Depending on the body constitution and health condition of the patient, hair-thin needles are applied to selected acupuncture points that can promote digestion, improve metabolic rate, control the appetite and strengthen spleen functions to reduce water retention, she adds.

Some other studies have found that acupuncture can reduce stress – particularly useful for emotional eaters. The technique doesn’t melt fat off  the body directly, but helps promote better health in general and may lead you to make better food and lifestyle choices.

What to expect Just like how you can’t slim down after just an hour at the gym, the same can be said for acupuncture. You will need to go for twice-weekly sessions, and then slowly taper off after you reach your desired weight. “The ideal is to lose 0.25 to 0.5kg each week,” says Anita who has seen a diligent patient drop over 10kg in under three months. Your physician may also recommend cupping to complement acupuncture and prescribe herbs to help improve your spleen functions, stimulate regular bowel movements and reduce bloatedness from water retention.

Should you try it Acupuncture is a safe complementary therapy to get to a healthy weight, as long as you receive treatment from a licensed physician. For best results, you should get a sensible diet and exercise routine in place.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is now one of the world’s most popular dieting methods – it’s easy to implement and stick to. Rather than telling you what and what not to eat, this dieting method is about when you eat.

There are a few ways that you can attempt this. Some people go by the 16/8 method, which restricts your eating period every day to just eight hours – you will have lunch and dinner but not breakfast. There are others who fast for 24 hours up to twice a week. And some prefer to limit their calories to 500 or 600 calories for two nonconsecutive days in a week.

How it works It’s a case of simple mathematics. By limiting the number of hours you are allowed to eat, you end up reducing the calories you consume. But this only works if you don’t wind up bingeing during your eating hours.

Fasting also causes other processes in your body to take place. For example, human growth hormone levels increase and insulin levels drop. They have the effects of promoting fat loss and muscle gain and making stored body fat accessible for energy use.

What to expect Just as with other dieting methods, a fast drop of weight can be seen, says Louis Yap, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. However, Louis advises everyone to take this with a pinch of salt as part of the weight loss is due to water loss and you may feel dehydrated as a result. And if you’re not disciplined enough, the rebound may happen quickly too.

Should you try it Intermittent fasting is safe as long as you are consuming nutritious food and not avoiding any food groups, says Louis. But he suggests that this diet can be used for initial weight loss while a more sustainable, controlled diet can be used long term for maintenance.

If starving for 16 hours a day sounds too much, you may attempt a more moderate version by keeping fasting to 12 hours a day while eating your regular meals within the other 12. Regardless of how you go about intermittent fasting, be sure to still include low fat dairy products, fresh fruits and lots of water into your everyday diet. And when in doubt, consult a dietitian to ensure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients.


The jury is out on whether hypnosis is really effective for weight loss. Some early studies found that people who experienced hypnotherapy lost more than two times the weight of those who simply dieted. But results from other studies were dismal. Still, doctors and therapists remain enthusiastic as hypnosis is a gentle form of mental coaching to help patients work towards the best version of themselves.

How it works In a typical hypnotherapy session, you are put into a light trance while the therapist takes you through visualising exercises and helps make suggestions in your subconscious state that will translate into real-life behaviour changes. For instance, you may be taught to deal with cravings by walking away from the thought or choosing say fresh fruits instead of chocolates.

What to expect In itself, hypnosis isn’t going to directly help you shed weight. However, thanks to the meditative effects of hypnosis, you may find yourself being more mindful of your actions and feeling more positive towards healthy food and exercising, both of which are important for weight loss.

Should you try it If you are prone to emotional eating or lack the willpower to stick to your workout or diet, them hypnotherapy may be effective in getting you over the hill. It’s important to find a therapist who’s credible so get a referral or check out your options at local hospitals.

On the flip side, a Stanford University study found that one-quarter of people can’t be hypnothised simply because of how their brains are wired. If you belong to this camp (or if you’re not fully invested in the idea of hypnotherapy), then this is probably not for you. Hypnosis is also not suitable for those with mental health illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.