What causes overeating? Is it caused by nutritional and biochemical deficiencies in the body? Or by some kind of malfunction in the brain? Is it a problem that’s entirely physical, where people’s thoughts – beliefs and attitudes – wouldn’t have any impact at all?
For example, a client is given a particular nutritional supplement and almost immediately finds they are no longer overeating – or even wanting to! It’s important to know this reaction is very likely to be a placebo effect. In other words, the client expected a certain result and it’s this expectation that produced the result. This is the state of compliance I write about in my book, EATING LESS.
A simple principle explains this: the mind has an effect on the body and the body has an effect on the mind. This two-way communication is continuous, almost entirely below our awareness, and has a huge impact on every facet of our lives.
There is a fair amount of research on the impact of belief on eating behaviour. A number of papers have been published along this line of research, but one in particular stood out to me because the theory was tested in a variety of different ways, and in four different countries (the United States, France, Hong Kong and South Korea) showing that these beliefs have similar impact across various cultural environments. (1)
I THINK, THEREFORE I EAT
The beliefs they looked at were about the main causes of obesity. Participants, divided into separate groups, were given three different articles to read, all describing research that was actually fictitious. One group read that a lack of exercise was to blame; a second group read that overeating was the main cause. The third, control group read about research that was neutral in terms of these beliefs – which would take any placebo effect into consideration.
Participants were asked how convinced they were by the article they’d read, and given access to chocolates to snack on. In another version of this study, the existing beliefs of the participants were identified; whether these people already believed that lack of exercise or overeating created excess weight. In a similar way, chocolates were provided to taste test or snack on.