‘Mind over munchies’ can cap cravings

By Shayna Brouker • Published: September 16th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s the eternal dilemma for dieters: To have just a nibble of the indulgent, full-fat yet fully delicious ice cream or a whole bowl of the sensible, fat-free, skimmed-down frozen yogurt. Sometimes the healthier route just doesn’t satisfy like the real thing. But what if simply thinking you’re actually indulging in a brownie sundae rather than sinless vanilla fro-yo could satisfy your sweet tooth?

Well, it can, say scientists from the University of Washington. Researchers gave 46 lucky volunteers a 380-calorie milkshake that they thought was either a whopping 620 calories or a mere 140 calories. They measured the subjects’ level of a hormone called ghrelin [GRELL-in] at baseline and before and after drinking the milkshake. Our stomachs release ghrelin when we are hungry, and previous research has shown that levels jump half an hour before meals and return to normal after eating.

Participants also read the misleading labels before drinking the milkshakes to know what they were ingesting. Then they drank and rated the dessert drinks.

The result? The indulgent approach yielded a much steeper decline in ghrelin after sipping the shake, signaling a satisfied stomach. On the other hand, the mindset of sensibility produced a relatively flat ghrelin response … and a higher level of hunger. Regardless of the actual calorie content, it was the participants’ perception of what they were eating, not their tummies, that told them how full they felt. The study showed that the mind really can triumph over matter when it comes to munching.

So the next time you come up against a craving for your kryptonite, just think about how delicious it is … then choose the low-cal version. Your belly won’t know any better — and you will be better for it.