Controlling Hunger: One Milkshake, Two Results

A recent study has people wondering if we have more power over our hunger than we realize.

As a student, Alia Crum, a clinical psychologist who does research at the Columbia Business School in New York City, spent years studying the placebo effect.  She was fascinated with the way a placebo could physically alter the body if the person taking the placebo believed they were taking the real thing.

As a clinical psychologist she wanted to know if food labels could have a similar effect on our appetites and specifically on the hormone ghrelin.

Ghrelin is a hunger-stimulating hormone that is produced in the lining of the stomach. Ghrelin levels increase and metabolism decreases before meals putting us in search of food.  Once we’ve eaten a meal our ghrelin levels go back down and our metabolism goes up to burn the calories.

The Milkshake Study

Shake Pics

Milkshake pic by Sorveteria Ki Sabor @ Flickr.com

As Crum began to wonder whether or not reading food labels could influence ghrelin levels she came up with an experiment called The Milkshake Study.

For The Milkshake Study Crum made a large batch of milkshakes that were 300 calories each. Crum divided the milkshake concoction into two batches.

Half of the batch was put in bottles labeled as a low-calorie drink called Sensishake.  The Sensishake ‘label’ said that milkshake had zero percent fat, no added sugar as was only 140 calories. The remaining batch was put into bottles that were labeled as a rich treat called Indulgence with fat, sugar and 620 calories per serving.

Crum then recruited participants that she divided into to two groups. One group drank the Sensishake and the other drank Indulgence. All of the participants had their levels of ghrelin measured by nurses both before and after they drank the beverage.

The Indulgence drinkers had significantly steeper decline – up to three times more – in ghrelin after consuming their shake. Participants that drank the Sensishake produced a relatively flat ghrelin response. The study results reported that “participants’ satiety was consistent with what they believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional value of what they consumed”.

What This Means For You

Crum’s study shows that if you think you are eating or drinking a high calorie, and therefore highly satisfying, food or drink your body reacts as though it has consumed more. The reverse is also true.  If you search out foods that are low in sugar, fat, sodium, and calories you may not feel as satisfied after you eat them. Your brain might be telling your stomach you’re being deprived and your stomach believes it.

Crum says we may have to rethink the calories-in-calories-out philosophy because there may be more to it than that.  We need to take into consideration that how we feel about the foods we eat affect not only our hunger, but our metabolism too.

The Milkshake Study shows that you may have more control over your own hunger and satiety than you realize.  A healthy dose of positive self-talk when you’re eating a salad or a low calorie meal could help you ‘trick’ your stomach into responding to it in the same way it would if you were indulging in a four-meat pizza or creamy chicken Alfredo.

Why not try it for a week and let me know if it works?

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