On the Menu: Ghrelin Milkshakes and Placebos for All

I’ve known for a while now that my attitude is one of the biggest influences in my successes. My failures, too, but let’s keep this on the positive side. My point is that what I think affects how I feel and that affects how I act. It’s all very psychological. Or is it?

Monday’s Morning Edition reported on a study that suggests that there could be an actual physiological component in all this.

Specifically, Alia Crum‘s research focused on how nutrition labels affected the body’s processing of those foods. Her theory: “Labels are not just labels; they evoke a set of beliefs.” And she wondered how those beliefs affected the body.

Chocolate Milkshake at Bob's Big BoySo she did what any good researcher would do and made a bunch of milkshakes which she then poured them into bottles. Half were labeled as sensible (low calorie, no sugar, no fat) and the others were labeled as decadent (over 600 calories!), even though all were the same 300-calorie shake.

To monitor the effects of the shakes, Crum’s helpers measured the ghrelin levels of (lucky) study participants both before and after they drank the milkshakes. Ghrelin, in case you’re wondering, is the so-called “hunger hormone” that sends the brain those pesky I want cupcakes! messages from time to time. (Your ghrelin might send a different message; mine is all about the cupcakes.)

As it turned out, ghrelin levels dropped significantly more in those people who thought they were drinking a high-calorie, decadent shake than those who thought they were drinking lower calorie shakes. What each group thought affected how their bodies reacted. The high-cal group believed they were getting more and their bodies responded accordingly. The low-cal group’s bodies said, “We want more!” (Take that, diet food industry!)

Keep this in mind when you consider another of Crum’s research projects: Mindset Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect(with Ellen Langer), which I first read about in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (an amazing book on its own, to which I have craftily attached my Amazon affiliate link. )

In this study, a group of hotel maids who believed they didn’t get enough exercise (say what!) were split into two groups. One group was given examples that indicated the work they did met the Surgeon General’s recommendations for daily exercise. The other group wasn’t given this information. They got to be The Control Group. Big whoop.

Checking in after a month or so, the researchers found that even though those in the informed group hadn’t changed their behaviors, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index compared to the control group. Apparently they weren’t doing their work differently; they were perceiving it differently, and that created physical change.

I’m no scientist (obviously), but I think Alia Crum and her co-workers are on the right track. This mindset thing is all I can think of that would explain how I could transition in a matter of days from eating a Snickers bar as an afternoon snack to eating a Snickers bite and being satisfied. I had convinced myself that a tiny bit of indulgence was enough, and so it was enough.

It also explains how my posture straightened and my chin lifted a little higher after I started exercising regularly. I was just walking on the treadmill (fairly slowly) and doing a simple yoga routine, which no doubt provided some physical benefits on their own, but the more far-reaching effect at the time was how I felt about my actions for having done them.

Even today, after 5+ years in maintenance, I see as much benefit from what I’m thinking as from what I’m doing. When I keep my mind focused on the right things, I do the right things. Or more of them anyway. I’m still me, after all. :)

Does this make sense to anyone but me? Or did I lose you at the milkshake? I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences on all of this.

Alphabet Soup: D

I’m feeling the urge to explore the next letter in my alphabet series looking at the words and concepts that help me stay on the healthier path. I wonder if it might have something to do with this:

d made of candy

What can I say, it was marked down to $1.00 a box in the clearance aisle. :)

But that’s okay. I’ve got a couple of ‘D’ words to help me keep my focus.

Discipline: Such a negative word if you think of it in terms of punishment or penance (I’ve tortured myself enough over the years, thank you very much), but when I think of discipline as a code of behavior, it becomes a power word. My behavior is a debt of honor I owe myself, not a tool with which to whip myself into shape. With that in mind, discipline is important as a daily action, but far more important as a means of returning to center when I’ve strayed away from it.

Determination: For many years, I believed my stubbornness to be a negative trait, but I realized early on in this adventure that it could be one of my most powerful assets. Making a big change of any sort requires a single-mindedness and unwavering resolution to see it through.

Delicious: I could have called this one ‘diet’, but I’m long past over that word. There’s an old joke that if the food tastes good, it can’t be good for you, so spit it out. Ha-ha, right? Well, for many years, I tried to lose weight by eating foods I didn’t enjoy. No wonder I couldn’t/wouldn’t stick with it. I know I’m not the only one who got caught up in that mindset, because I’ve read and heard other people say things along similar lines. All of us are/were wrong. Eating should be a joyful experience, not just a exercise in consuming minimal calories or points. Everything we eat should be delicious. Or, if you’re a marginal cook like me, an attempt at delicious. :)

Vitamin D I don’t want to overlook this powerful ally! A daily dose of sunshine–even as little as 10 minutes per day in summer–can protect against many diseases as well as help combat depression and insomnia. (I don’t know about you, but when I have insomnia, I often end up in the kitchen with my fingers in the almond jar!)

Those are the ‘D’ words that helped me in the past and continue to keep me on track. Now it’s your turn to amaze me with your insights.

AIM: Are We There Yet?

logo: Adventures in Maintenance with photos

This month’s AIM topic comes from the AIM: Ask Us (Almost) Anything responses. (We love when you ask us questions!)

How did you know when to transition to maintenance from loss mode? Was it a number or a size or something else? Did you struggle to not want to “lose a little more”?

Such great questions, and I’m not just saying that because I know the answers. :)

Way back in 2008, around the minus-75 pound mark, I started thinking about how far I wanted to take the weight loss. I hadn’t set out to lose 100 pounds; I’d just wanted to lose “some weight” while I built a life based on healthier eating and consistent exercise. In fact, when I first started working with a trainer, I was asked to set my goal weight. I told them I had no idea, that I’d know when I was there, but size 12 or 14 sounded good. (I honestly didn’t think single-digit sizes were within my reach.)

Since I was still considered “overweight” at minus-75 pounds, I continued doing what I was doing. I felt great and loved the improved appearance of my body. As I told several people at the time, if my weight loss stagnated at any point in that range, I’d have been more than satisfied. (Yes, I do use words like stagnate when I’m talking, which explains, to some degree, why people think I’m weird.)

Eventually I chose 100 pounds as my loss goal, just because it was a nice, round number. As I got closer to the goal, a few friends made remarks that I should stop losing, and I was noticing a drawn appearance to my face. I can’t describe it well, but it was enough to know I was done. Fortunately, I figured this out just as I reached my loss goal. :)

Looking back, I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’d have transitioned to maintenance even if I hadn’t reached the 100-pound mark. I’d like to think I would have accepted it and continued on with my life, but that same stubbornness that served as an asset while I was losing might have turned ugly there at the end. :)

Have you given any thought to your own transition phase? How will you know you’re ready?

Or, if you’ve already made the move to maintenance, feel free to share your story!

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out the other AIM bloggers to read their stories:
aim logoLynn @ Lynn’s Weigh
Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debby @ Debby Weighs In
Shelley @ My Journey to Fit

AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you’d like us to address!