Fasting and Milkshakes – What science can teach us about the way we experience hunger

Written By Katherine O

Fasting and Milkshakes – What science can teach us about the way we experience hunger

Author(s): Alia J Crum, William R Corbin, Kelly D Brownell, Peter Salovey 

Published Date: 2011

Mind over milkshakes: mindsets, not just nutrients, determine ghrelin response  


Why is a fasting community talking about milkshakes? Forgive me and I’ll do my best to not tempt you during this article. 


There is a huge lesson to be learned from this Yale research study: what we believe and tell ourselves about the food we consume not just impacts how we experience it, but it actually influences how full we feel. Sound crazy? Here’s the science:


  1. A group of participants were given identical milkshakes (380 calories/shake)
  2. Half the group was told that they were getting an “indulgent 620-calorie” shake
  3. The other half were told they were getting a “sensible 140-calorie” shake
  4. The participants ghrelin hormone (the hormone that makes us “feel hungry”) was measured and can you guess what happened?
    1. If all that mattered was the nutritional content of the shake, everyone should have had the same ghrelin response, right?
    2. But, of course the reason I’m telling you about this is that’s not what happened at all
  5. Those who believed they were having the “indulgent” shake had a dramatically steeper decline in hunger (as measured by their ghrelin levels) than those with the “sensible” shake
  6. As the researches stated it in their findings, “Participants’ satiety was consistent with what they believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional value of what they consumed.”

Pretty amazing, huh? It is similar to a placebo effect for hunger. 

So, what can you learn from this:

  • Give thought to how you describe your food to yourself, is this a “sensible” or an “indulgent” meal?  Perhaps by reminding yourself throughout your meal that you are treating yourself to a decadent dish you can naturally decrease your ghrelin levels and feel satiated more easily. 
  • What we tell ourselves about what we consume is powerful. Being mindful and truly savoring can also play a big role in how we experience it. Is that broccoli you’re about to consume, “a sensible choice” or “a nutrient-rich slice of heaven that you’re lucky to have?” Sounds silly, but it clearly changes how your body responds.
    • Can you hype your food to yourself? And does that change the way you experience it? 
  • And, taking it a step further into the fasting world, what do you tell yourself during a fast? Are you “suffering” without food OR do you have “plenty” with enough body fat on your frame to easily keep you alive for months, so this 24 hour fast is nothing? 
  • I would love to hear the results from your self experimentation in the comments below. 



Objective: To test whether physiological satiation as measured by the gut peptide ghrelin may vary depending on the mindset in which one approaches consumption of food. 


Methods: On 2 separate occasions, participants (n = 46) consumed a 380-calorie milkshake under the pretense that it was either a 620-calorie “indulgent” shake or a 140-calorie “sensible” shake. Ghrelin was measured via intravenous blood samples at 3 time points: baseline (20 min), anticipatory (60 min), and post consumption (90 min). During the first interval (between 20 and 60 min) participants were asked to view and rate the (misleading) label of the shake. During the second interval (between 60 and 90 min) participants were asked to drink and rate the milkshake. 


Results: The mindset of indulgence produced a dramatically steeper decline in ghrelin after consuming the shake, whereas the mindset of sensibility produced a relatively flat ghrelin response. Participants’ satiety was consistent with what they believed they were consuming rather than the actual nutritional value of what they consumed. 

Conclusions: The effect of food consumption on ghrelin may be psychologically mediated, and mindset meaningfully affects physiological responses to food. 


Purchase the full study here:

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