Why it’s totally sensible to indulge…

ariel and salmonHere’s yet another reason make dieting a thing of the past:  our mind-body connection.  You probably already know that dieting leads to feelings of deprivation that can eventually lead to bingeing.  What you may not be aware of is that how you react psychologically to what you’re eating may have a direct impact on your physiology.

Seems simple doesn’t it?  We eat, we get full, and the motivation to eat stops.  However, it seems it’s a little more complicated than that.

A couple of years ago, researchers at Yale University carried out a study in which they had subjects come in on two separate occasions, set one week apart, to drink and rate two drinks.   One of the drinks, called “Indulgence”, had 630 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 56 grams of sugar; and had a picture of a hot fudge sundae on the label.   The second drink was called a “Sensi-Shake”.  It had 140 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 20 grams of sugar; and the label said “Guilt-free Satisfaction.”   You can see the actual labels here.

What the subjects didn’t realize was that although the labels were very different, the shakes were actually both an identical 380-calorie shake.  For each test, they showed up in the morning after a night of fasting.  Then, they were shown the label of the shake they thought they were about to drink and then given ten minutes to drink the shake.  The subjects were then asked to rate the shake on taste as well as their levels of hunger at different intervals.

In addition, blood samples were taken before they began, after they read the labels, and then again after they drank the shake to measure levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin that rises when the stomach is empty to induce the sensation of hunger in the brain.  Ghrelin levels then drop when the stomach detects food and nutrients.

This is where it got interesting.  When the subjects thought they were drinking an indulgent shake, their ghrelin levels rose sharply in anticipation of the shake and then dropped significantly in response.  But when they thought they were being sensible, ghrelin remained relatively flat, suggesting that their satiety levels were at least in part, governed at the psychological level.   In their minds, they didn’t derive as much satisfaction from the drink, and their bodies metabolically followed suit.

This begs the question, if you treat each meal or eating experience as an indulgence, will you be more satisfied physiologically?  We don’t know for sure, yet, but I know that every time I’ve had an eating experience that engaged all of my senses–and in particular, my sense of sight through a beautiful presentation, I also felt more physically satisfied.  Experiencing that amount of pleasure from a meal can only be positive.

If you’ve ever had the opposite experience–“being good” with a ‘diet’ meal or a meal that simply wasn’t satisfying and felt deprived, then you can probably relate to being hungry thirty minutes later or being obsessed with food, making the temptation to eat again stronger.

The authors also brought up a good point that may be hurting those trying to be ‘good’ with their eating.  A package, for example that’s labeled, ‘low-fat’ may have you thinking you’re eating diet food – even, for example, if it’s high in sugar.  Continuously reaching for foods like these that potentially never satisfy (and are addictive and stimulate the appetite) may backfire when it comes to weight loss and lead to even bigger health problems down the road.

My takeaway from this?  Enjoy whatever it is you’re eating and as always, the best foods come without labels.

5 thoughts on “Why it’s totally sensible to indulge…

  1. I live by indulgence when it comes to food! Everything in moderation!! With all the wonderful flavors and sensations nature provides us through food… we are meant to try everything! Except poisonous mushrooms of course :)

    • LOL, Kelly! And your statement is very true: ‘the wonderful flavors and sensations nature provides us.’ There is so much deliciousness in real foods. : )

  2. For me, when i enjoy what I am eating. I savor it, fill up quicker and don’t eat as much ~ chocolate and all!