IF your waistband is straining after weeks of overeating and excessive drinking, you will probably be one of the thousands of Scots vowing to shed the pounds in the New Year.

Yet for a growing number of dieters worldwide, the traditional calorie-counting route to weight loss is being shunned in favour of a different approach pioneered by an expat Scot – the "virtual" gastric band.

In just three years, the Hypno-band – which sees patients placed under hypnosis and taken step-by-step through an imaginary gastric band operation, covering everything from consultations with a surgeon to a post-operative follow-up – has spread from a single practice in Majorca to 35 countries across the globe, including Australia, Dubai and Singapore.

Paisley-born hypnotherapist John Maclean, below, devised the technique after finding existing weight-loss therapies used under hypnosis were not adequate to cope with the increasingly obese patients coming to him for help.

In 2007, Mr Maclean, who obtained a psychology degree during his 25-year career in the Royal Air Force, decided to combine the concept of a gastric band operation with counselling to get to the root of a client's eating problems.

"Especially for those clients with high BMIs, they've often tried every diet imaginable, they've been to every slimming club, and some of them have even had real gastric band operations or were contemplating them," said Mr Maclean.

"But the one thing they'd always missed out on was that no-one had ever said to them 'let's look at why you eat the way you do, what is your relationship with food, what are the emotional triggers'. That's what the first session of Hypno-band is all about – analysing what someone's relationship with food is and using cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnosis to help them change those behaviours."

At first, Mr Maclean, 58 – who splits his time between running his Newwave Hypnotherapy clinics in Majorca and Exeter – intended to use the technique on his own clients.

However, amid demand from colleagues in Spain and pressure to open up the technique to other practitioners, Mr Maclean trademarked the Hypno-band in 2008 and began licensing it to hypnotherapists around the globe.

There are now 700 qualified practitioners worldwide, including 60 in Scotland – up from just three a year ago – while the popularity of the original Hyno-band has spawned numerous variations on the technique within the hypnotherapy industry.

Rae Jenson, a clinical hypnotherapist who runs her own practice near Linlithgow, was the first practitioner in central Scotland to offer the Hypno-band when she qualified last year. There are now three more working in that region.

Ms Jenson, who charges £300 for four to six sessions, says demand for the virtual gastric band outstrips any other form of hypnotherapy at her clinic.

The course begins with clients discussing their eating habits before being placed under hypnosis to begin preparation for their "operation".

"The first session is about preparing them for the idea that their stomach is going to get smaller," said Ms Jenson. "You talk about the stomach going from the size of a rugby ball into the size of a tennis ball, which is around the size your stomach should be.

"But then you take it one stage further and describe the stomach becoming the size of a golf ball and when you think about the amount of food you could fit into a golf ball, it's not very much."

In the following weeks a patient will go on a virtual tour of the hospital, meeting their consultant and generally building up a sense of confidence and realism which is embedded into their subconscious and reinforced by the 'operation' itself.

"You use a backing track which sounds like the operating theatre with all the monitors, and play that at the appropriate time," said Ms Jenson. "What you're doing is really describing the whole operation from start to finish."

How and whether the technique actually works is up for debate – there are plenty of anecdotal success stories but no independent clinical trials.

Though parallels have been drawn with the placebo effect, a patient undergoing hypnosis is still conscious afterwards that they haven't actually undergone a gastric band operation.

As with all hypnosis the technique relies on the power of suggestion, with the goal that a patient's subconscious belief in the band slashes their appetite – and their waistline.

Ms Jenson said: "There are no restrictions and people respond well to that rather than being on a diet. They have the freedom to eat what they want – they just eat a lot less of it."