It’s not your imagination — you can think yourself hungry. Your mind has more control over your hunger hormones than you might realize. A study published in Health Psychology in July 2011 found that people who thought they ate a 620-calorie milkshake produced less of the hunger hormone ghrelin after consumption than did people who thought they ate a healthy, 140-calorie shake. Both sets of participants actually consumed the same 380-calorie shake. The supposed indulgers had a psychological reaction that they should be less hungry given the calorie-bomb and their biological reaction followed suit. Crazy, I say! But, the researchers tested the responses on two separate occasions and found the same results.
What this research suggests is that your perception truly is your reality. You actually have the power to think yourself hungry – and your body responds. This may explain why after eating a salad the size of a small child, I am still hungry. I know that I ate a lot of food, but that it had relatively few calories. I convince myself that I can still eat more – so I do.
Think of the low-fat food craze – people thought fat was making them fat, so they jumped on the low-fat bandwagon. Low-fat cookies, low-fat chips, low-fat cakes – you could eat Twizzlers and bagels and fat-free ice cream because they didn’t have the number one weight-gaining ingredient; or so we thought. The results – people got fatter than ever. Part of the reason is that portion control went out the window – instead of eating just one low-fat cookie – people ate the whole box. Dietitians thought this was because the lack of fat made the foods less satiating – so you were just hungrier. That might be part of it – but part of it is very clearly psychological. You think it isn’t going to make you fat and your hormones respond by saying, “okay, then, we’re still hungry.”
So, what’s a well-informed eater to do? You know when you’ve eaten something low in calories – you know when you’ve eaten something high in calories – how can you prevent your hormones from reacting to this knowledge. I wish I knew for sure, but I have a suggestion (don’t I always?)
Instead of consistently making what you think to be the lowest-calorie, most sensible choices – live a little. Notice that you’ve indulged and accept it. Maybe your hormones will react accordingly and you’ll have the yummy and eat less overall. Stop trying to trick your taste buds with sugar-substitutes, fat substitutes and pretend foods. You know when you are lying to yourself, and consequently – so does your body. Eat real food, says Michael Pollen. Words to live by.