At last, science is finally catching up to what the mystics have been saying for thousands of years: the mind and body are intricately connected. More than ever, people are talking about the power of our thoughts – and I for one, am a believer. We’ve all heard some variation of these popular sayings:
“As you think so shall you be”
“If you can think it, you can be it”
“Visualizing what you want will attract this into your life.”
But does this apply to how we think about our own body or about the food we eat? Can we wishfully visualize ourselves in top shape and see it manifest for ourselves? Can our thoughts influence our weight?
What if I told you that the thoughts you think about the food you’re eating in addition to the perceptions that you have about food can affect your body on a physical level and influence how much you eat, and also have a direct affect on your weight.
Consider this one study from the American Psychological Association titled “Mind over milkshakes: mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response”. The goal of this study was to determine whether an individual’s perception of a food affects physiological hunger as measured by ghrelin levels.
Ghrelin is one of the two primary hunger hormones that transports hunger messages between the stomach and the brain. When you are hungry, ghrelin levels increase. When satiated (meaning full and satisfied) ghrelin decreases.
Scientists from both Yale and Arizona State Universities asked 46 healthy men and women to drink milkshakes on two separate occasions. Although these milkshakes were the exact same 380 calorie milkshakes, they were led to believe on the first occasion that they were a 620 calorie “indulgent” shake and on the second occasion, they were led to believe that they were drinking a 140 calorie “sensible” shake.
The researchers wanted to know if mindset and perceptions of the food would affect something as measurable as a hunger hormone, which effects how satiated we are after we eat, thus influencing how much we eat and ultimately how much we weigh.
Ghrelin was measured through blood samples in participants at three points, before during and after the milkshakes. They were also asked to view and rate the (misleading) label of the shake and then asked to drink and rate the milkshake.
Conclusion: Do Our Thoughts Influence Our Hunger and Our Weight?
I bet you can guess where this is heading. The interesting part of this research actually found that mindset (or perception based on what they thought they were drinking) did indeed affect participants hunger hormones.
When drinking the “indulgent” shake, participants reported more satiety, but even beyond that, this perception of fullness was directly seen on a physical level by a decrease in the levels of ghrelin.
In comparison, when they drank the “sensible” shake, despite it being the exact same shake, participants reported less physiological satisfaction and this too was also directly seen in a corresponding shift in the hunger hormone, resulting in a less pronounced ghrelin response.
This means that participants’ satiety was consistent with what they believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional value of what they consumed.
Our hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, strongly influence weight management. High ghrelin levels are associated to increased food consumption and weight gain.
This research is extremely important given that we thought these hunger hormones were only strictly influenced by food consumption. But as this study has demonstrated, it’s not that straight forward. How we choose to perceive food can also potentially affect how satiated we are.
The first thing I thought about when I read this study was fruit. So many people exclaim to me that fruit can’t make up a meal; that it’s not a substantive food in it’s own right. I used to think this way too, years ago, but the more I educate myself, the more my perceptions change and the more I view fruit as not only a meal, but one of the best meals designed for our bodies.
Like I tell my clients transitioning to a low-fat raw vegan lifestyle: If you think that the food before you is not going to satisfy you, then it probably won’t.
How does this change your perception of your next meal?
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,
Laura Dawn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist