Watching athletes in the winter Olympics win by hundredths of a second is a testament to how much your mind and focus can affect yby our outcome. Being mentally prepared as well as physically prepared is a well-accepted concept to most.
But have you ever wondered if your thoughts and beliefs about the food you are eating, or even your perception of food after reading its label, could actually affect your body’s physiological response to food? The following study shows this might actually be true!
A study titled “Mind Over Milkshakes: Mindsets, Not Just Nutrients, Determine Ghrelin Response,” demonstrates the powerful effect the mind has on how we feel and how our body responds.
One example of mind over matter is the placebo effect which can occur up to 30% of the time when a person feels a beneficial effect from any treatment due to their positive expectations and beliefs. The following study demonstrates a similar phenomenon – one’s mindset can have a powerful influence on the body’s physiological state.
“Evidence continues to point to the idea that one’s state of mind influences the body, and we cannot easily separate the interdependence of mind and body.”
Perceptions and Food Labels
The power of mindset is often ignored even though placebo effects have been well established. Food labels are often manipulated to entice or interest customers. You may find you are preferential to one product or another based on the food label itself. The perception or belief about the food plays an important role in addition to the actual consumption of the food.
Food expectancy studies have shown the role mindset plays in preference and taste. In a study from 2004, people drinking Coke from a brand-name cup liked the taste better. Another study showed people enjoyed strawberry yogurt and cheese spreads less when “low-fat” was on the food label. In a 2008 study, participants blindly tasting wine samples believed the wine labeled as more expensive was of higher quality and tasted better despite it being the same as the lower-priced wine. They also demonstrated heightened activity in the pleasure center of the brain when drinking the higher-priced wine.
Several studies have demonstrated that when people believe they are consuming a low caloric meal or snack, they are left with more hunger and tend to eat more. When people consume a high caloric meal, they tend to report greater fullness and thus eat less in response. The perception of a food label or what you believe about the food may be more powerful than you think.
The Milkshake Study
The goal of the study was to determine whether changes in mindset or perceived beliefs about what is being consumed could influence physiological responses in the body. The authors sought to determine this response by measuring the gut peptide ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone.” An increase in ghrelin signals your brain it is time to eat, and a decrease signals your brain you are full and metabolism revs up to burn consumed calories.
46 participants aged 18-35 with normal to overweight BMI were recruited for two, 2.5-hour sessions one week apart at Yale Clinical Research Center. The participants were told that two milkshakes with differing nutrient content would be given to them in each session. Participants were told the goal was to determine whether the two milkshakes had similar tastes and to examine their body’s reaction to each.
One of the milkshakes was labeled a “guilt-free” sensible shake with a food label showing no fat and a caloric count of 140. The other milkshake was labeled an indulgent dessert shake with high fat content and a caloric count of 620. The milkshakes in actuality were identical. All participants consumed the same shake consisting of 380 calories.
At each session, blood samples assessing the levels of ghrelin were taken at 20, 60 and 90 minutes. Between the 20- and 60-minute blood draw, participants were asked to read and rate the label of the shake. Between the 60- and 90-minute blood draw, participants were asked to drink and rate the shake based on smell, taste, appearance and healthiness via visual analogue scales. Also recorded were the participant’s subjective feelings of hunger ten minutes before each blood draw.
Participants rated the sensi-shake as healthier than the indulgent shake.
Satiety was found to be consistent with what participants believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional content of the milkshake.
There was a steeper decline of ghrelin levels after consuming the indulgent shake, leaving participants full and satisfied.
There was an increase in ghrelin levels after consuming the healthy sensi-shake, leaving them unsatisfied.
When participants thought they were consuming the “high calorie” milkshake, their ghrelin levels dropped at a three-fold rate compared to the “low calorie” shake which means the body responded as if they had consumed more food even though they had not.
“In this case the distinctive ghrelin profiles were psychologically mediated; they were dependent on the perceived expectancies of the milkshakes’ nutritional contents as opposed to objective nutritional differences.”
As this study demonstrates, the beliefs about what is being consumed can actually alter an appetite controlling hormone despite the actual nutrient content of food. While the researchers suggest further studies are needed to better understand the relationship between psychological factors and response to food, mindset altered the body’s physiological state despite all participants receiving the same exact nutrients.
This study may have further implications in weight management and metabolic maintenance. The psychological mindset while eating or dieting may alter the effect of the hunger hormone and thus aid in dietary goals. Weight was not measured or followed in this study. Further studies are warranted to determine the impact of mindset effect on weight loss.
While it matters what you eat, this study emphasizes the importance of what you think about what you eat. What we feed our minds also feeds our bodies and vice versa.
“Perhaps if we can begin to approach even the healthiest foods with a mindset of indulgence, we will experience the physiological satisfaction of having had our cake and eaten it too.”