You see that lone decadent chocolate chip cookie swimming in the white plate. The last cookie. Last. Cookie. Thoughts fly faster than hummingbirds.
- “One cookie won’t kill me – it’s only ____ (fill in the blank) points.”
- “You really shouldn’t – it’s too indulgent.”
- “But, what if I skip lunch? Then I can have it.”
As your arguments engage in a ping-pong battle in your brain, your stomach starts to growl. ‘Make up your mind already,’ it seems to say. So, is your body hungry or is it the sight of that cookie that sends rumbling messages to eat it?
Turns out, there’s some truth being expressed in that the gut hormone ghrelin is our bodies signal to the hypothalamus in our brain that we need to feed. Your stomach empties, your blood sugar blues begin, you see food, ghrelin to the rescue. You begin to eat.
Here’s what’s curious about ghrelin. It can actually change its delivery based on what you THINK is in the food you are about to eat. Huh? We’ve known about psychological vs physical hunger for a long time now. We didn’t know that if you think your food is indulgent, sinful and to die for, ghrelin drops more quickly when eating than if you consider that cookie a fiber-filled egg-white fake sugar health bomb.
In other words, your body signals to the brain that it isn’t hungry any more when eating an indulgent food. Your body thought it consumed more calories.
Study: 46 subjects drank a 380-calorie milkshake. Some thought it a 620-calorie ‘indulgent’ shake or a 140-calorie ‘sensible’ shake. Ghrelin was measured before and after drinking. Also, when they read the label of the shake that revealed it’s calories. Thinking the shake was indulgent produced a very steep decline in ghrelin whereas the sensible shake drew a flat line.
Moral of the story: Mindset over matter. Think yourself thin. That salad has 1,000 calories!
Health Psychology, 2011 Jul;30(4):424-9.