If you're like me, you get pretty unfriendly and cranky when you're hungry. Blame it on ghrelin, the gut peptide or "hunger hormone" that gets released to the brain when you need food now. Ghrelin levels decrease as you satisfy your hunger, and you start to feel full.
In a recent study entitled "Mind Over Milkshakes," clinical psychologists at Yale tested whether ghrelin levels are affected by the mindset we're in when we consume food. (Click here for a nice summary at The Body Odd.) Lead researcher Alia Crum and her colleagues told 46 average-to-chubby volunteers they'd be taste-testing two new milkshakes, one that had 620 calories and was high in fat (labeled the "indulgent" shake), and one that had only 140 calories and no fat (labeled the "sensi-shake.")
First of all - seriously? The "sensi-shake"? Who came up with that name? I just got a great idea for a combination weight-loss tool: The Sensi-Shake-Weight. It's like a shake weight, but filled with a milkshake that you can suck through a straw every time the shake weight gets near your face. And you thought the shake weight couldn't get any more phallic.
Anyway, the trick was that both shakes were actually exactly the same, just packaged differently. The researchers predicted that participants would experience greater reduction in ghrelin levels after drinking the "sensi-shake," since they went into it feeling good about their healthful choice.
But as it turned out, the participants' ghrelin levels were flat or just slightly higher while tasting the "sensi-shake" - pretty boring. In contrast, their ghrelin levels sharply increased right before tasting the "indulgent," terrible-for-you shake, then plummeted after drinking it - this means they craved it like crazy before tasting it and were totally satisfied afterward.
The takeaway is bad news for dieters: if you think of your eating experience as "restricted" or "sensible," you're not going to be as excited about it, nor are you going to feel satisfied when you're done eating. The trick is to convince yourself the food you're about to consume is a delicious treat, rather than sulking about how you're forcing yourself to eat a tasteless cardboard substitute for real food.
And steer clear of anything that calls itself a "sensi-shake." It's not - they're tricking you.