WHAT we eat - or HOW we eat?


NLP and weight management

NLP provides us with lots of interesting and useful insights into how to manage one's weight - and one particularly useful model is the TOTE or TATE model.

It’s not just what you eat - how you do it is more important

The great temptation for those of us who wish to lose weight or change our body shape is to go diet-shopping or system-shopping. It’s based on the belief that somewhere out there is a the perfect diet or the perfect system for losing weight.

And, of course, lots of businesses have recognised this and provide products or services to service this belief. And people pay lots of money for these. And one of three things happen

  1. The method doesn’t work – so they look for a new magic system or diet
  2. The method does work – at least until they stop following it and begin eating normal food or stop attending the weight-loss classes
  3. The method does work and continue to work – because the person changes their lifestyle, beliefs and self-image.

There is no right answer or right method for losing weight. It’s a matter of discovering what works best your lifestyle and your personality.

Check ‘how’ you eat, matters too

When exploring what works best for you pay as much attention to how you eat as well as what or how much you eat. And for this NLP has a nice little self-observation method called the T.O.T.E. or TATE model.

It was developed by Miller, Gallanter and Pribram over half a century ago and, though not a true NLP model, it’s very widely used in NLP.  (The original wording is a bit arcane so, as part of our drive to eliminate jargon in our NLP courses, we have changed the wording and call it the TATE model.)

The 4 pieces in the TATE

The TATE makes it easy to identify the steps we go through in anything we do. Take, for example, the activity of eating. There are four steps or stages in the process

  1. Trigger: something let’s you know it is time to eat. This may be seeing food, hearing about food, thinking about food or a feeling of hunger. The main thing to recognise is that something starts the process of eating.
  2. Action: one the trigger is activated the brain starts looking for ways to do it - to eat. We may go the fridge, shop for food, or cook food. But the our food eating programme or TATE has begun.
  3. Target: What do you want to achieve by eating? What’s your goal? This can be to feel full, to remove the feeling of hunger, to enjoy the taste of the food, or to change your mood.
  4. Exit: having reached your target what do you do next? Do you look for more food, of feel guilty about eating, or have a drink, or go for a walk, or flop out on the sofa?

How the TATE can make a difference

To see how the TATE works we will compare how two people approach eating – Mike and Kate.

Mike's TATE for eating

So let’s look at Mike first. His TATE or strategy works like this.

(1) Trigger: This is whatever activates our neurology to want to eat. And Mike has a number of such triggers:

  • feeling angry or anxious or hungry
  • see any food adverts, anywhere
  • smelling food
  • hearing others talking about food.

So this means that throughout his day Mike encounters lots of messages which focus him on the next stage – eating.

(2)  Action: This is what we do once the food-eating neurology has been activated. Once Mike’s food-eating neurology and chemistry is triggered he:

  • searches for food
  • begins eating ‘enthusiastically’
  • often eats whilst watching TV or doing other things
  • continues enthusiastically eating till there is nothing else
  • extends his search to find even more food – e.g. finds a food shop
  • eats more.

(3)  Target: This is the very important ‘how do you know it's time to stop?’ signal! Sometimes we deliberately make this decision but, more often, it’s a out of awareness (unconscious) thing. The more common stop signals include:

  • empty plate
  • no food left on table
  • feeling full
  • no longer hungry

Mike’s Target is to feel full. So he continues eating till he gets this sensation and is unable to eat any more. And, so he doesn’t have to go out shopping too often, his cupboards and freezer and fridge always contain lots of food for when he stops feeling full.

(4)  Exit: This is about what you do when you’re done – in this case after you have finished eating. In Mike’s case he is so full he does nothing except sit around – and once the full feeling abates he’s probably begin the TATE strategy all over again.

How about a different TATE for eating?

Kate’s eating strategy

(1)  Trigger: She has just one key trigger for eating – feeling hungry. If she doesn’t experience this sensation she will not begin eating.

(2)  Action: Kate likes her food. So she takes her time to savour it: takes small bites, chews well, and pauses between bites. She enjoys herself.

(3)  Target: Kate is quite clear about her Target. It is to reach a state where she no longer has the sensation of hunger. Once she experiences this she ceases the eating strategy.  She is not concerned about leaving food on the plate – she has reached her goal.

(4)  Exit: Once she has reached her goal the eating strategy quickly becomes a thing of the past. She moves on to other things

What’s the impact?

We examine this strategy at the beginning of every NLP Practitioner course. Not so long ago when I asked the group ‘What’s the difference between the impacts of one versus the other strategy?’ one person replied “About 8 stone!”

Looked at purely in terms of weight and size, it’s not the quality of the food that Kate and Mike eat that matters - what matters is their eating strategy. And if they were to swap strategies for a year the change for each of them would be dramatic.

Action points

There are many ways of using the TATE to modify how you eat and here are a few to get you started. These are based on Kate’s strategy.

1.  Trigger: This is the least easy to change since triggers tend to operate automatically or unconsciously. Unless you have some NLP training it may be best to work on the other three stages.  (And if you have trained in NLP you will have a range of methods including the Swish Pattern, Anchoring, Change Personal History, and Parts Negotiation.)

2.  Action: Compare how you eat with how Kate does so and then gradually modify how you eat. Kate pays attention to eating. And she eats slowly, with attention, savouring her food, and she enjoys eating it. Compare that with how you eat and adopt some of her strategy such as doing nothing else whilst eating.

3.  Target: This is an excellent place to begin – and you can do it with your next meal. Note that (1) Kate is happy to leave food on her plate and (2) she only eats to alleviate hunger – not to feel full.

4.  Exit: Link this with your work on the Target. Once you have alleviated the hunger feeling stop eating and do something else – so that you are distracted from thoughts of food.

Enjoy eating!

There is usually a conflict between what we want and what works best for long-term and enduring weight management.

We want instant change. That’s understandable. We want the lighter weight or smaller size instantly – now! Yet we have spent a lifetime learning to eat the way we do.  So it’s worth spending a couple of weeks modifying just one piece of our eating behaviour until it becomes ‘wired-in’ as our new norm.

Incidentally, this doesn’t have to be done in isolation. You can also pay attention to the

  1. Type of food you eat
  2. Quantity you eat
  3. Amount of daily physical activity you take part in.

Employing lots of sensible methods for managing your lifestyle will speed up the weight management results.

And this, in turn, will boost your morale and your motivation to stay on track – and to maintain a healthy relationship with, as Kate sees it, the wonderful, enjoyable and life enhancing process of eating.


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