How can NLP aid weight-loss?

NLP ( Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a talking therapy. You could consider it a motivational form of coaching. NLP allows you to create new, lasting habits, address limiting beliefs you may have about yourself, and change your patterns of thought and behaviour. 


What is NLP?

If you think of our brains as computers with many wires connecting to each other, these wires hold the experiences and information we have collected throughout our life. In NLP terms, this is our ‘map of the world’.  The way these wires are connected and the data they hold is different for each one of us and will have been influenced by our education, parents and family, culture, and many other experiences. It acts as a filter and ‘programmes’ our reaction to incoming information.

Sometimes the reaction will be useful and beneficial to you. This may be when you make the choice to change your schedule so you can attend an exercise class. Or perhaps you make the right decision when you encounter a work-related issue.

However, we can also have ‘hard-wired’ negative reactions that can produce a 'fear' response to a situation, be detrimental to our self-confidence, or just contribute to bad, unhealthy habits. For example, this could be when you turn down social invitations because you believe others will judge you based on your weight, or you decide to eat the whole packet of biscuits because you’ve already ‘failed’ by eating one. 

The purpose of NLP is to change the way these wires are connected to produce a beneficial reaction instead of a negative reaction. 

A brief history 

NLP was created in the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder and is the result of a human communication project which aimed to reproduce specific, successful and repeatable patterns of behaviour that successful therapists used.  They studied and observed the most effective techniques from disciplines such as hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and psychology and ‘modelled’ them to create NLP.  From their studies, they produced two language models and a range of  ‘change techniques’ that would help others to learn how to communicate more effectively, change behaviour and improve learning skills. 

NLP and weight-loss

Losing weight can feel like an ongoing struggle sometimes, with two steps forward and one step back. An NLP practitioner can help you understand why you may struggle with weight-loss using the link between how your brain works, the language you use (outwardly and inwardly,) and the habits you have.  Having the right mindset is key for long-term change. It is easy for motivation to wane after a few weeks – look at all those empty gyms in February. Working on your mindset using NLP will help you to stay consistent even when that initial rush of enthusiasm has died down. 

How NLP can help weight-loss:

  • Find your motivation
  • Overcome barriers to weight-loss
  • Understand your limiting self-beliefs 
  • Reduce or eliminate cravings
  • Change your relationship with food 
  • Replace unhealthy habits with new healthy ones
  • Create long-lasting change that is second nature – not on a diet
  • Take control of your thoughts and emotions

A first step is exploring the underlying reasons for wanting to lose weight. Every person will have a unique motivation to make a change. 

For example, you may want your clothes to feel more comfortable, but when we dig deeper, the more powerful, emotional response could be that you want more self-confidence or increased energy for running around with your children/grandchildren. Being aware that you deserve to be the healthiest version of yourself and what you will gain from that, both emotionally and physically, can be more powerful than just wishing to lose weight.   

We all hold beliefs about ourselves, what we can and can’t do, and what type of person we are. Some are empowering and some are limiting. They may not necessarily be true but have come about from past experiences and from people we encounter throughout our lives – teachers, parents, friends etc. Some of these beliefs will be around food and/or exercise. Understanding these and where they came from is a technique used in NLP.  

Eating habits may have developed from childhood experiences, such as bullying or growing up feeling unattractive which may then lead to emotional eating for comfort. It may be that you grew up in a household where you were always encouraged to clear your plate and eating all of your dinner was rewarded. Others may just have always been conscious of their weight and believe that they will always be overweight because it’s a family trait.  

A client once told me “I’ve always been the ‘fat, funny one.’" This was holding them back because, subconsciously, they didn’t believe they could lose weight and still be funny and likeable. Therefore, whenever they lost weight, they would self-sabotage and regain it. Working on the root of this limiting self-belief, letting go of it and replacing it with a new empowering belief, had a huge impact on this client’s relationship with food and their self-talk, and they went on to lose weight and maintain it. They were also a lot happier and more comfortable in themselves as a result of exploring their identity and how they perceived other people saw them.

Some people experience self-sabotaging behaviours that throw weight-loss off track. They feel as though they can’t control their cravings or they reward themselves with food. They will then feel as though they have failed and are unable to get back on track again. This can lead to a cycle of dieting and regaining weight because they feel they haven’t found the ‘right diet’ that will work for them.  Taking the ‘diet’ out of the equation, and instead focusing on taking control of thoughts and language, can limit negative self-talk and self-sabotage. Recognising patterns of emotions and the triggers that initiate the bad habits can enable us to change the response to that trigger and build a good habit to replace the bad. Until these subconscious triggers are successfully identified and replaced with new positive habits, the weight will not stay off and the cycle will continue.

Taking control of your thoughts

Here is a very simple example of this process:

  1. Identify a habit you would like to change, for example, a daily glass of wine.
  2. Break down the emotional patterns/thought processes that lead to the glass of wine being poured. Is it a reward for hard work, a natural endpoint to the working day and the start of ‘me time’?
  3.  What results do you get from the glass of wine – happiness, relaxation, numbness, ability to switch off?
  4.  Identify another activity that gives these same results – perhaps a hot bath, a walk outside, uninterrupted reading time, or an alternative drink such as a nice cold sparkling kombucha?
  5. Think about what you could do at the trigger point to interrupt that pattern – move the glasses to a more inaccessible cupboard, don't keep the wine in the fridge, have your bath ready to go or your book. 
  6. Make this new habit very easy and accessible compared to pouring a glass of wine. 

It is important to remember that our unhealthy habits and these self-limiting beliefs have been built up and become ingrained over many years, so to change them requires deeper understanding and awareness. NLP can provide the tools needed to work on this and lead to long-term sustainable weight-loss and an improved relationship with food and yourself. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Welwyn, AL6
Written by Rachel Larkin
Welwyn, AL6

As a qualified and registered Nutritional Therapist and NLP practitioner, I work with clients 1-1 and all online. Offering fully personalised programmes to help stressed, tired and busy people to improve their health and wellbeing giving simple nutrition and lifestyle advice to create new healthy ha...

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