Can You Think Yourself Thin?

My family and I grabbed some breakfast from Whole Foods today.  It’s a treat – the kitchen stays clean, the kids get to eat something more exciting than we normally make (not really, but they think so), and we get to do a little grocery shopping.

But this morning I walked past an ice cream display that had this ice cream.
Boldly across the front, it says “240 Calories”.  

I thought, “What, per serving?”

Nope.  Turns out, this ice cream has only 240 calories per pint.  Whoa.

Things that sound too good to be true often are, so I took a look at the ingredients.  And you know what? It’s not all that bad.  

It has a little fat and protein in it, and not surprisingly, some carbohydrates.  However, they cut back on the sugar by adding erythritol, as sweet tasting sugar alcohol, they added some milk protein concentrate to actually give it a little protein (most ice cream has almost none), and they even added some prebiotic fiber, which is healthy for the bugs living in our belly.

Not bad.  

And if it tastes good, that might be a pretty good option for ice cream.

But that isn’t why this ice cream caught my attention, or why I’m writing about it.
Seeing this ice cream reminded me of a fairly recent and crazy study I read.

The study was published in the journal Health Psychology considered whether what was on the food label changed our physiology, when we consumed that food.  The head researcher whipped up a 300 calorie French vanilla shake and divided it into two batches with very different labels.  One container was called “Sensishake” and said the shake had zero fat, zero sugar, and was only 140 calories per serving.  The other container was called “Indulgence” and the label claimed it was a 620 calorie shake loaded with sugar and fat.

Remember, it was the exact same 300 calorie shake in each container.  Only the label was different.

The results were shocking.  There is a hormone in our body called ghrelin, which is considered to be our hunger hormone.  When we are hungry, ghrelin goes up and makes us want food.  Researchers found that when people consumed the Indulgence shake, their ghrelin levels were three times lower than the group that drank the Sensishake.

People who thought there were drinking a low-calorie shake were hungrier that those that drank the high-calorie shake because their physiology was different.  What they believed they were drinking caused their physiology to change!

So back to this 240 calorie ice cream.  Maybe it is 240 calories, and maybe it isn’t.  (Calories are way more inaccurate than people realize.)  But does it matter?  If we think we are eating something healthy, or low-calorie, or fattening, or hip-widening, maybe it is.  But not because the food inherently any of those things, but because we think it is.