Weight loss secrets are a dime a dozen (and usually about as valuable), and treating addiction is serious and complex business. So to be clear: flotation therapy is not a magic cure-all or a quick fix for weight loss and addiction. However, scientific evidence does suggest that the unique benefits of floating can help individuals overcome substance abuse issues and better manage their weight. Here’s how:
Why Combine Weight Loss and Addiction?
First, let’s address why weight loss and addiction are similar. When it comes to the ways flotation therapy can help, there’s a very strong connection. Most research on how flotation REST (the traditionally academic name for flotation therapy) affects both weight loss and addiction centers around how floating can help individuals transform their behaviors and adopt healthier habits…like quitting smoking, drinking less, and eating better.
So when we’re discussing weight loss here, it’s in the context of psychology, and helping people learn to stop overeating…not necessarily about physical components like increasing certain hormone levels, boosting metabolism, or enhancing exercise. While floating may have an effect on those aspects of weight loss, it simply hasn’t been studied enough yet to know for certain.
Floating and Changing Behavior
The same theory emerges again and again within most of the research diving into REST as a treatment for addiction: the relief from stress and anxiety, enhanced focus, and introspection found during REST helps individuals change their behavior.
This concept was described quite succinctly in the abstract of a study regarding the effects REST (both flotation and chamber, which involves lying in a silent, dark room rather than floating in an isolation tank) has on addictive behaviors by well-known REST researcher Roderick Borrie:
These effects include profound relaxation, relief from pain, and a shift in consciousness to a state that is more introspective, less defensive, and more receptive….The characteristics of the REST experience that make it effective in treating addictions are discussed as follows: 1) the induction of a general relaxation response, 2) substance misusers find serenity and relief by nonchemical means, 3) internal refocusing to concentrate on personal problems, 4) disruption of habits through removal of trigger cues and response possibilities, 5) increased feelings of control over addictive behaviors, and 6) enhanced learning processes.(1)
Think of it this way: many people turn to food, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs to provide comfort during times of emotional distress (that’s why the whole idea of “comfort food” exists, after all). Addicts do so compulsively, and may feel as though they cannot find relief anywhere else. Dr. Borrie proposes that when individuals struggling with addictive behaviors engage in REST, they find that comfort and safety in a completely different manner. That discovery leads to the aforementioned “disruption of habits” and “increased feelings of control” that can be key to changing behavior.
Floating and Smoking Cessation
The majority of the research around floating and addiction has been specifically regarding quitting smoking. In fact, REST has been studied as a part of smoking cessation since the 1970s, and meta-studies have found consistently positive results(2). For instance, in studies that combine floating or chamber REST with receiving anti-smoking messages, former smokers who utilize REST are less likely to start smoking again than those who don’t.(3)
Floating Enhances Known Treatments
In addition to its own inherent benefits, flotation therapy can help combat addiction and weight loss by enhancing other avenues of treatment. For instance, meditation has been shown to reduce both substance abuse(4) and emotional eating(5), and floating is well regarded in the meditation community as a way to greatly complement regular meditation practices. Similarly, reducing stress is a known way to help prevent relapse for recovered alcohol and drug addicts(6), and flotation therapy has been shown to significantly lower stress.
Floating as an Effective Therapy
As we said, there’s no magic cure-all or quick fix when it comes to complex issues like weight loss and addiction…but the research shows that floating can be an incredible supplement to treatment programs for substance abuse and to promote weight loss. And unlike most medications, floating does not come with a lengthy list of possible side effects.
- The use of restricted environmental stimulation therapy in treating addictive behaviors. Roderick A. Borrie. The International Journal of Addictions, 1991.
- Restricted environmental stimulation and smoking cessation: a 15-year progress report. Peter Suedfeld. The International Journal of Addictions, Aug. 1990.
- Restricted environmental stimulation therapy of smoking: A parametric study. Peter Suedfeld, Gloria Baker-Brown. Addictive Behaviors, 1987.
- Treating and preventing alcohol, nicotine, and drug abuse through transcendental meditation: a review and statistical meta-analysis. Charles N. Alexander, Pat Robinson, & Maxwell Rainforth MS, MA. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 1994.
- Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Shawn N. Kattermana, Brighid M. Kleinmanb, Megan M. Hooda, Lisa M. Nackersa, Joyce A. Corsica. Eating Behaviors, April 2014.
- The role of stress in alcohol use, alcoholism treatment, and relapse. Kathleen T. Brady, Susan C. Sonne. Alcohol Research & Health, 1999.