Sheri’s Rants # 51: Appetite and Attitude

Posted on June 17, 2011 by

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This remarkable article was sent to me by Liz H in California.  It is a MUST READ.

In GT we encourage folks to switch from ‘poo’ – or processed food – to whole, real food.  We get a lot of whining about how folks ‘miss gourmet food’ and have cravings for something ‘substantial’ – which is mind bending since whole, real food is not only more substantial than poo, tastier, less expensive, and just even simpler and quicker to prepare.  The body responds with vibrancy, clear thinking, deeper sleep and renewed vigor.  I keep encouraging folks to change their minds about how they look at real food – asking them to think about it as a CULINARY ADVENTURE rather than yet another exercise in dieting.  People have a hard time wrapping their heads around this concept.

This last weekend I was on a boat all day with some old friends.  I had offered to bring the food.  I made no mention, excuse, or rationalization for what I would be cooking (I don’t talk about my work with my friends and family much – I don’t need the resistance) –  so there was no preamble.  I brought 5 dishes straight from the GT recipe files – and the meal was throughly enjoyed with comments about how ‘gourmet’ it was – how delicious – how satisfying – and I thought, WOW – showing up, being me, cooking how I cook there was no pre-concieved notion about ‘diet food’ or ‘healthy food’.  The food was received as what it was – delicious, colorful, and deeply rewarding.

It was timely to have this experience just days before Liz sent me this article:

Mind Over Milkshakes

 Sure, we want to eat healthily.  But when given a choice between the French fries or the salad, which calls to us most loudly?  An article in the May, 2011 issue of the Health Psychology journal written by my daughter, Alia Crum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Yale University, might shed some light.

Ali wanted to explore the role of the mindset on food consumption and to find out if one’s mindset when eating influenced the body’s physiology beyond the actual nutrition and calories. She decided to measure ghrelin, a hormone released in the stomach in response to eating. While eating, ghrelin levels normally change, spiking downwards, basically speeding up your metabolism and telling you that you are full.

Ali gathered 46 volunteers (18-35 years of age) who were told that they were to evaluate the labeling and the taste of two milkshakes: one a “high fat 620-calorie Indulgent shake” (“Decadence You Deserve”) and the other a “no fat 140-calorie Sensible shake” (“Guilt-free Satisfaction”).  Each volunteer evaluated the labels and tested both drinks – one week apart.  Each time they were given blood tests before and after drinking the shake to measure their ghrelin levels.

What the participants did not know was that they were actually drinking the same 380-calorie shake both times.  One would think that the ghrelin reaction would be the same for each.  Indeed, when volunteers tested the “Indulgent” shake, they experienced a sharp decline in ghrelin, which is consistent with the body telling the mind that it is satisfied after the shake was consumed. (More specifically, the gut telling the brain that adequate nutrients have been digested and that it is speeding up metabolism to digest the nutrients present.)

But, bizarrely, the ghrelin levels did not drop when they consumed the supposed low-calorie “Sensible” shake – an indication that their bodies did not signal a feeling of fullness or satiety.  These findings offer insight into the power of mindset on food consumption: the body reacts based on what you think you are consuming rather than what you actually are consuming.  We can literally change the state of our body by changing the state of our mind. But what is more fascinating in this study is that the effect of the mindset is somewhat counter-intuitive.  Consuming the milkshake in the indulgent mindset had the more appropriate response.  This might tell us why so many healthy eating habits and diets fail:  we think that these healthy options are not as satisfying and our gut reflects that mindset in its physiological response.

“People should still work to eat healthily,” suggested Ali on MSNBC. “But, do so with a mindset of ‘indulgence’ – believing that a food will be enough to satisfy and fulfill nutritional needs.”

Wow! Eat healthy, but think indulgently. How do we do that?

Does that mean if we’re having a bowl of lentil soup and a salad for lunch that we need to work at feeling satiated? If it’s a mindset issue that dictates fullness, what might be a healthier form of “nourishment” that could fill us up? How about gratitude? How about getting centered and feeling thankful for nature’s continual abundance in our lives, for our daily nourishment, for the food harvesters and preparers? Perhaps we could fill ourselves up with the present moment – enjoying each morsel of food slowly and mindfully without the distraction of multi-tasking on our Blackberries or i-pads.

I once met a Japanese woman who traveled frequently between Japan and the U.S. She would eat only one rice ball during the entire multi-hour flight – and take the entire flight to eat it!

Healthy eating might be far more satisfying when we add a pinch of mindfulness and a dash of gratitude.

Tom Crum

Posted in: Sheri's Rants