Have Your Milkshake and Drink It Too


The line between psychology (mind) and physiology (body) seems to blur with every new research into brain chemistry and neurological systems. Many processes in the body, of course, involve bodily functions that are directed by the brain, and some of these can be affected by the mind-set of the individual, a person’s emotional state, beliefs, and expectations. We’re not talking about a mind-over-matter walk on hot coals. Rather, this phenomenon occurs where it really matters—milkshakes.

The findings of a team of clinical psychologists shed new light on human metabolism and the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is the “gut peptide” that communicates with the brain concerning food (energy) consumption and the resulting feelings of satiety, or fullness. In effect, it helps trigger whether the body will store or burn fat after a meal. Experimental evidence indicates that if a person expects a food to be more filling (i.e., higher in calories), the body will be more inclined to treat it as such, by raising metabolism after consumption in order to burn the calories. When one does not feel satiated (as measured by levels of ghrelin in the blood), metabolism slows and thus food energy may be stored as fat. Likewise, if an individual believes a food he or she is about to consume is low-cal, that expectation in itself can affect the level of ghrelin and result in the slowing of metabolism.

The experiment consisted of having different subjects consume the same (milkshake) product. One group was presented a “sensible” low-cal drink, and the other was led to believe the shake was an “indulgent” dessert. The number of actual calories was identical, but the labeling misrepresented that amount. Results were confirmed by measuring levels of ghrelin in the blood.

So can we have our milkshake and drink it too? Can we eat high-calorie foods but just “tell ourselves” that they are not? Of course it is not that simple. People can’t easily “trick” their minds into believing something they know is untrue, right?

Image credit: © Mike Kemp/Getty Images

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