Mind Over Milkshakes: How Your Mind Can Change Your Metabolism

Ever try to change your metabolism?

Heh – it’s not that easy.

Or is it?

Maybe you just went about it the wrong way.


Psychologist Alia Crum’s research, dubbed the “Mind Over Milkshakes” experiment, shows that changing your digestion, and possibly your metabolism is only a matter of using your mind.

On 2 separate occasions, participants consumed a 380-calorie milkshake under the pretense that it was either a 620-calorie “indulgent” shake (“Decadence You Deserve”) or a 140-calorie “sensible” shake (“Guilt-free Satisfaction.”)

When participants were led into having an indulgent mindset, it actually affected their digestion. They had a dramatically steeper decline in ghrelin than those who thought they were consuming a “sensible” milkshake. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that is responsible for us seeking food and becoming ravenous when hungry.

Ghrelin is the hormone that causes us to reach for another cookie just because we remember how good the last one tasted. People given this hormone in studies become so ravenous that they eat markedly more than their usual food intake. In short, ghrelin is one the driving forces of overeating.

While eating, ghrelin levels normally change, spiking downwards, basically speeding up your metabolism and telling you that you are full.

When ghrelin levels are low after a large meal, we feel satisfied and no longer seek out food. In Crum’s studies, the ghrelin levels of participants who “thought” they were drinking an indulgent 620-calorie shake dramatically decreased. The participants felt more satisfied than those who “thought” they were drinking a “sensible” shake.

In fact, both groups drank the same milkshake. The only difference was how the shakes were labeled. The “sensible” shake was labeled as having no fat, no added sugar and low calorie. Ghrelin levels in these participants were unchanged.

What this means is that your beliefs may have a more significant impact on driving down your appetite than the actual calorie count. This finding shows one reason why “diet” foods do not help us lose weight. They don’t give us the signal that we are satisfied and it’s time to stop eating.

Even though salads can be quite indulgent, for instance, many people can’t get themselves to eat it because it reminds them of dieting. Or it just doesn’t seem like a “satisfying” meal.

Other people think they are eating “light” when they order salad, and then piling on the dressing and rich toppings. If you “think” your salad is rich and indulgent, you may get the added benefit of feeling full and satisfied, regardless of the calorie count.

Food labeling is a tangled mess easily manipulated by the food industry. A product may be labeled “low-fat” (because it is lower in fat than a full fat option) but still be a high-fat food. A food product might be a good source of fiber but still have a sugar content that is exorbitantly high.

What does seem true is that:

1. The old metabolic formula “calories in…calories out” has a few more holes punched in it.
2. Labels are not just labels. They evoke a set of beliefs.
3. There are no idle beliefs. We don’t give them enough credit for how much they influence our physiology.

We’ve always known that our minds are powerful. Maybe now, we just need to practice how we think about what we eat. I’d say that it’s a lot easier to fool your stomach by using your mindset than to change your metabolism using exercise alone.

It may come down to how we think about salad.

Eat healthy. Think indulgent 🙂

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Psychologist, Master Certified Coach and Certified EFT Practitioner. She is one of the world’s leading experts in using Emotional Freedom Techniques to help people lose weight without dieting, stop binge eating, and reduce anxiety and stress. She is the author of 4 Books on Emotional Freedom Techniques, the EFT Tips Newsletter, the Binge Eating Teleseminar and the EFT Weight Loss CD. Carol has a thriving coaching practice and is passionate about helping others succeed.