There may be a good reason why eating “healthy” and “light” foods don’t seem to allow you to lose weight as you would expect and the reason may be due to brain chemistry rather than the food itself. In an interesting article, David Robson explored the direct effect mindset has on your eating habits.

In particular:

  • The “hunger hormone” ghrelin, rises before a meal and lowers after eating and effects your urge to eat. This hormone binds to the hypothalamus in the brain, which is the primary part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
  • When words such as “healthy”, “light”, “low”, “guilt-free” are used in the description of food, the level of ghrelin in your blood does not drop as much or sometimes at all after eating, meaning that you are hungry again sooner and eat more often, resulting overall in more kilojoule intake, not less.
  • Even if the same food is eaten, but labelled differently such as “healthy”, the level of hormone drop is less than compared to when the same food is labelled as “indulgent” or “satisfying”.
  • As the hypothalamus is responsible for forming memory, eating at your desk when working or not paying attention to eating means that you can ”forget” when you last ate and directly results in higher ghrelin levels.

What do you do to reduce your need to unnecessarily eat after your previous meal?

  • Eating more slowly and at the table, rather than at your desk or watching TV will help trigger a greater drop in ghrelin after you eat.
  • Vividly imagining the “indulgent” foods that you want to eat, such as chocolate and cake, before you eat them means that you often eat smaller portions of these foods, when you have them, rather than more.
  • The way you think about healthy foods, in positive descriptive words, rather than negative words, such as “low” and “reduced” effects your satisfaction levels with food and ultimately your kilojoule intake

Robson, D (2022) The Indulgence Effect New Scientist, 1st January 2022, No. 3367. P36-40.

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