As I was eating my egg white omelette and peas – yes, peas – for breakfast, I ran across an article in my newsfeed unceremoniously informing me that eating breakfast is not as important as once thought. Breakfast may not in fact jump start the metabolism as many studies have found. What?
I’m sure many of us have found it a bit confounding when long held dietary advice is so suddenly and it seems casually reversed.
Conveniently, a friend recently sent a link to a study of the placebo effect on hunger, which seemed apropos. Dr. Alia Crum, who has a Ph.D. from Yale and is currently an associate professor at Stanford, conducted an interesting study to test her theory that “labels evoke a set of beliefs.” Here’s what she did:
Crum created two different shakes. The first shake she called the “Indulgent-shake” and it contained 620 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 56 grams of sugar. The second shake she called “Sensi-shake” and it contained 140 calories of guilt-free satisfaction with 0 grams of fat and 0 grams of added sugar.
She then took two control groups and showed each group what they were drinking by giving them the nutritional facts found on the label of the drink. Those participants who drank a serving size of the diet shake felt 3 times hungrier* than those who drank a serving size of the fattening shake. Here’s the thing – the only difference between the two shakes was…you guessed it, the so-called “facts” on the nutritional labels.
Crum found that the labels on the food we consume have the ability to create a placebo effect. Crum says of hunger and dieting for that matter: “Our mindsets matter – what we believe, expect and think determine our bodies’ response.”
Although most of us deep down already know that there is a distinct connection between thought and hunger, this study reminds us that we really don’t have to be a servant to hunger or to ever-changing dietary theories. And for some of us, this kind of information is enough to impel us to make different choices in our eating simply through human willpower.
But what if we need something more to address the deep internal battles that result in overeating? A friend of mine found simple human willpower wasn’t enough. It took a deeper look at her sense of her identity and connection to the Divine.
A number of years ago Joyce began to see those telltale signs of overeating. But she wasn’t able to overcome her self-indulgent behavior because of the pleasure she found in food. Joyce said the moment of change came when she saw self-indulgence as not something to take pride in, but something synonymous with gluttony. So she decided to deal with this thoughtfully. For Joyce that meant it was time to pray.
One of the ideas that came to her was that she had a misconception about her own identity. She knew that it was ok to enjoy food, but she discovered that over time she was limiting part of her happiness and self-worth by finding too much pleasure in food instead of something, well, more spiritual. So, in order to readjust her thinking she took a closer look at words commonly associated with weight loss: self-denial, self-abnegation and self-restraint.
What she realized was that she could deny, restrain and change the notion that her identity had to do with pleasure, happiness, joy coming primarily from eating. In the course of this mindset change she saw that her happiness and joy came from a more spiritual source, which included her understanding of the Divine.
It was not easy at first, but after about a week of prayer along these lines she began to feel better both physically and mentally. And for Joyce this was a source of spiritual strength. She put it this way: “When we are moderate in everything and let go of temporary pleasures (like food) we are happier and freer.” And this happiness and freedom translated into weight loss. Joyce has found she still has to nurture the mental and spiritual toughness that brings balance. But this mindset has kept the weight off.
Rethinking our view of hunger and dietary recommendations is a good starting point if we’re confused about how to navigate the latest dieting recommendations. But if this is not enough, it may be worthwhile to consider something more spiritual, like turning to a Divine source for strength and freedom.
*Crum compared hunger levels by monitoring the Ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels in the participants of the study.
David Price writes on the connection between health, thinking and spirituality. A former attorney, David is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Colorado. David is also a Christian Science practitioner with an expertise in prayer-based healing.