Who has ever been standing in the grocery aisle, reviewing a food label, and wondering: “Is this good or bad for me?”  Questions that dichotomize food into black and white categories are a thought pattern that has been around for… well… forever.  But could this method of thinking be affecting us on a physiological level?

A study done at Yale University entitled “Mind over Milkshake” captures the extent of power our perception has over our body’s physiological response to food. Researchers had participants come in and drink two different shakes on two separate occasions. One shake was labeled “Sensi Shake” and 140 calories.  (All the taste without the waist, right?) The second shake was labeled “Decadence You Deserve” and 620 calories. Now that sounds like a milkshake!

They then tracked the participant’s hunger hormone levels, called ghrelin, for 90 minutes after consuming each of the shakes. They found that after participants consumed the low-calorie shake, they did not show any changes in ghrelin levels. In other words, there was no physiological satisfaction. The high-calorie shake generated an initial increase in ghrelin, followed by a significant drop. I equate this to the thought process of: “Wow, this is good I want some more” that most of us feel immediately after having a treat; followed by the “Oh, wait I am actually really full” feeling.

Here is the kicker… both shakes had the exact same caloric content of 380 calories, they were only labeled differently.

They say you are what you eat. After studies like this one I am thinking we need to change this to you are what you think about what you eat. This begins with legalizing all food and owning your decision to eat what you choose to eat. If you choose to eat only organic foods: great!  If you choose to eat conventional because you can’t afford organic: great! What matters is that you are comfortable with your own decisions about food.

By Jessika Brown, Director of Nutrition Services


Source: Crum, AJ. Corbin WR, Brownell KD, Salovey P.  Mind over milkshakes: Mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response.  Health Psychol. 2011. (30):424-429.