It’s almost that time of year when we make those promises to ourselves that we never end up keeping! A big one is to improve our diet, but the question is “how to stop eating junk food” for real this time? With Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques, you have a better chance than ever to make good on this promise.
Guest article by Michael Lloyd-Green, NLP master practitioner
What is NLP?
NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming and is a collection of techniques heavily influenced by hypnosis and psychotherapy.
Richard Bandler and John Grinder created this hybrid approach to communication and personal development in the 1970s. Neuro linguistic programming techniques have been used ever since by well-known figures such as Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama.
Neuro linguistic programming techniques usually involve a lot of internal visualization, which can help you reprogram the way you feel about something.
Reprogramming is especially beneficial if you are trying to overcome a phobia, gain self-confidence, or, as we will discover in this article, stop a bad habit for good!
How to stop eating Junk Food with Neuro Linguistic Programming Techniques
NLP is full of genius techniques, but my recommendation for kicking a bad habit to the curb is the SWISH PATTERN!
Here is a very technical explanation:
The swish is a submodality technique with a wide range of applications. It has been used successfully to resolve compulsive behaviours such as nail biting (Wilhelm, 1991) or explosive violence (Masters et al., 1991), as well as to deal with anxiety conditions (Andreas and Andreas, 1992).
I’ve used this one with significant results to stop clients from smoking, biting their fingernails, and eating junk food.
It involves internal visualization (a fancy way of saying “imagining something with your eyes closed”) in which you pinpoint the critical trigger moment that causes you to perform the bad habit and stop the automatic reaction it provokes.
An example could be: When you look at your nails, your automatic reaction is to raise your hands to your mouth and start biting your nails.
The key trigger, in this case, is the moment you make eye contact with your nails.
The negative reaction is that you raise your hands and start biting your nails.
Therefore, we would reprogram this reaction so that the automatic response is to simply not want to bite your fingernails anymore because another stronger internal image is overriding one of you biting them.
The swish pattern is verified and has been used successfully in case studies.
Related article: 13 Tips for Healthier Eating Habits
How to Use The Swish Pattern to stop eating junk food: step by step
If you like the sounds of this and you’re ready to try out the swish pattern, then read on and follow the instructions step-by-step.
#1. Find a quiet place to sit or lie down where you won’t be disturbed.
#2. Close your eyes and think of a typical situation in which you eat junk food (for example, when you are bored at home and open the pantry to find chocolate staring back at you!)
#3. Try to pinpoint the exact moment when you feel that overwhelming urge to eat the junk food (is it when you are still sitting on the sofa imagining it, OR is it not until you actually see the junk food that you feel the urge?)
Notice whether that urge is created by a visual image in your head or seeing the junk food itself.
Is it perhaps the smell of junk food?
Or, is it a feeling you have (boredom, sadness, etc.) that starts the urge?
This exact image, smell, or feeling that creates that urge in you to eat junk food is called the “trigger.”
#4. That trigger image is vitally important to the process so take good note of what it is.
#5. Now think of a dog with sunglasses and a leather jacket riding a motorbike!
(This absurd image is used to reset your mind)
#6. Take a deep breath and relax. With your eyes still closed, I want you to think about how the version of yourself which doesn’t eat junk food would look and feel.
Imagine this image as if you were having an out-of-body experience, looking at yourself “over there.”
This version of you looks and feels great!
#7. Now I want you to step into the shoes of that fantastic version of you and feel the confidence and joy which that “new you” feels.
(This has to be a very motivating image of yourself, which excites you merely by thinking about it.)
#8. Now think about a Monkey with long blonde hair playing the drums!
(Again, absurd image to reset the mind)
#9. Now you have two key images stored in your mind which you can call on when necessary (no, not the dog and the monkey, the other two!)
One of the images is the trigger moment, which causes you to eat junk food.
The other image is the ideal version of yourself, which doesn’t eat junk food.
#10. I want you to bring up the trigger moment image again; this time, fill the screen of your mind with it.
Envision it with such detail as if you were there right now at that moment.
#11. Now what I want you to do is place a little black dot somewhere in the picture.
This black dot actually contains the “ideal you” image, but it’s too small to see it correctly at the moment, and so only appears as a little black dot somewhere in the trigger moment image you have on display.
#12. You are now going to count down from 3 to 1, and when you finish the countdown, you will do the following:
NOTE: The following process has to happen very quickly! It should only take a few seconds for you to do this “swish” action below.
- Say “SWISH” out loud while simultaneously seeing the little black dot quickly expanding to fill the screen!
- Now that the dot has filled the screen, it has become the crystal clear image of your “ideal self” that doesn’t eat junk food.
- You can no longer see the trigger image because your “ideal self” image has entirely overlaid it by your “ideal self” image.
#13. Think of the blonde-haired monkey playing drums again (reset)
#14. Repeat Steps 10 to 13 at least four more times.
#15. Now I want you to imagine the next time you will be in a situation where you would typically have eaten junk food in the past.
#16. When you get to the trigger image, how do you feel now? Do you still want to eat junk food, or is the urge not as great anymore?
#17. If you still feel the urge, repeat Steps 10 to 13 a few more times, and it should be gone after this.
#18. When you feel confident you no longer have that automatic response urge to eat junk food, that’s a great sign.
The real test is the next time you are in that situation in real life. If, at that moment, you also aren’t compelled to eat junk food, then the Swish Pattern has been successful!
Related article: How to Finally Get Motivated to Crush Your Health Goals
What if I go back to eating junk food?
The Swish Pattern has been known to cure bad habits for good, but in some cases, the clients could be great for a few weeks, months, or even years before finally going back to the bad habit.
If this happens to you, it is probably an ecology concern that needs to be looked at.
There is something the bad habit was providing you (most likely a feeling) that hasn’t been substituted by anything else in its place.
The absence of the habit now leaves you craving that missing element you no longer have until it becomes impossible to ignore any longer, so you go back to the only thing you know will give you that feeling, i.e., the bad habit.
First things first, don’t beat yourself up about it! According to psychologists at Yale and the University of California, this self-flagellation negatively affects your problem-solving abilities and can even lead to depression.
Give yourself a break and realize that there is probably a deeper issue here that needs to be addressed.
Ask yourself the question: Why do I like eating junk food? Try to go a bit deeper than just saying, “cuz it tastes good!”
How does it make you feel when you eat junk food? (Happy? Calm? Comforted?)
Do you usually look for junk food when you are feeling a certain way? (Depressed? Angry? Lonely?)
When you have identified the emotion that eating junk food gives write it down on a piece of paper and get ready to do some brainstorming.
Write down other “healthier” ways you could get that emotional hit when you need it.
What other things make you feel that way?
If you are having trouble thinking of any and feel a bit stuck, I’ve got a great Zen mind trick for you to help calm your mind and think clearly.
You can do the following through any of your three primary senses. I have given you an example of each so you can take your pick and use the one you prefer:
Look at the fingernail on your right thumb.
Concentrate on one particular point of the fingernail and put all your attention there.
Block out the rest of the world and entirely focus on this point for about 1 minute.
Pick out one particular sound you can hear. It could be the hum of the refrigerator or the wind in the trees, for example.
Concentrate on that one particular sound; put all your attention there.
Block out the rest of the world and fully focus on this sound for about 1 minute.
Notice a physical sensation you have right now. It’s better if it’s external and particular. Examples include the feeling of your feet in contact with the ground or your clothes against your skin.
Concentrate on that one particular feeling; put all your attention there.
Block out the rest of the world and fully focus on this feeling for about 1 minute.
After doing this Zen mind technique, you should be feeling a lot calmer, and thoughts can come much more quickly.
When you’ve finished writing down at least five healthy ways to achieve the feeling that eating junk food gives you, I want you to choose the best three.
Now, imagine the next time you feel the urge to eat junk food. You will then imagine each one of the three alternative ways of achieving that feeling and decide which one “feels” the best for you.
You can now do the Swish Pattern technique from earlier again. This time, in the black dot on the “trigger image” (Step 11), instead of being the “ideal self” image, there will be the image of you doing the alternative activity you have chosen to give you the “emotion” that eating junk food gives in a healthier way.
Related article: Are You Stress Eating? Here’s Why and How to Stop
What else can I do to stop eating junk food?
Another huge factor to consider when trying to stop a bad habit is your environment.
Your environment can make the task so much easier or more challenging!
If you have junk food in your cupboard, the temptation will always be there staring you in the face, so, if you’re serious about improving your diet, then don’t buy any more junk food.
Make your house a junk food-free environment! If others eat junk food in your home, then at least get them to hide it.
Legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once famously said:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This claim is supported by reliable research, including social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard, who stated the people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.
Related article: Is Stress Preventing Weight Loss? Here’s How to Fix It
A study from Northwestern University in 2017 also showed how just being close to high or low performers can affect your performances (Spoiler: Negative influence has 2x the weight of positive influence).
Be very careful about who you give your precious time and energy to.
There will be those who hold you back even though they love you.
They will do it out of the fear you will fail and be disappointed so through trying to “not get your hopes up,” they’ll give you excuses and ways out.
This will make it a lot harder to say no to junk food when the excuses to jump back on the wagon are so readily available.
They may also be afraid of losing you; perhaps it’s something you and the person do together.
It could be that you and your partner, for example, eat junk food every time you watch TV together, and your partner is afraid of losing this tradition which they enjoy, even if it’s at the expense of your health.
Whatever the case, be aware that they are typically doing it from a place of love.
Understanding this will help you deal with them better and shine a light on the situation. It’s evident that while they would like this for you, it’s not in your best interests.
The best thing you can do is to lead by example, and with the results that come from not eating junk food (better weight, more energy, happier mood, etc.), you might even inspire the other person to do the same, thus improving the health as of your loved ones as well as your own.
The fact you are reading this post is already a great sign that you are serious about improving your diet!
With this attitude and the neuro linguistic programming techniques from this article, the prospect looks bright that this year will indeed be the year you stop eating junk food and finally make good on that New Year’s resolution!