Keep it in mind


In a study of overeaters, 50 women with Binge Eating Disorder were recruited for a trial and given a placebo for four weeks before they started the active medication that was being evaluated. Binge eating fell by an average of 72% – from 6 to less than 2 episodes a week – during the placebo period. 22 of the group became ineligible for the trial because they were no longer experiencing the required disorder.

A blog I wrote some time ago includes more studies such as these, throwing light on the impact of expectation with regard to food, hunger and fullness. And there are many, many more studies along these lines.

There is really only one way to make sense of research like this, and that is to acknowledge that while the chemistry of our bodies has an effect on the mind, our beliefs and expectations have an effect on our bodies.



The influence of the mind on the body happens in many different ways: deliberately chosen, as in meditation or unconscious and automatic. They can be passing effects, gone in seconds, or they can last longer.

They can be so familiar they’re automatic and not at all deliberately chosen. One example you may know about is that when a doctor takes a patient’s blood pressure, the patient’s attitude actually sends the blood pressure up. This way of thinking, which probably includes some anxiety, produces a stronger reaction when a doctor takes the blood pressure than when a nurse does it!

Many patients, it seems, have particular beliefs about doctors, and these thoughts create physical effects.


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  1. Janet

    Thanks Gillian – your article is excellent, as always – well researched and interestingly written.

  2. Maggi

    Just finished reading the book “Addiction: A Disorder of Choice”, written about data on illegal drug use that shows that it’s the mental side of things that works to make nearly all illegal drug users quit by age 30 and in a way that doesn’t support the disease model of addiction. Of course, possibly going to jail and having the drug sources be a lot harder to find than the nearest supermarket or gas station helps. But the main influence was seeing that the substance use wasn’t nearly as fun as it used to be and it was getting in the way of other pursuits even more important than getting that high. Cravings did NOT go away with such insights. They just weren’t perceived as being strong enough to be the deciding factor anymore. Author Gene M. Heyman also went on to explain how it usually takes some intellectual effort to combat instincts that have been usurped by modern substances or activities that humans didn’t have excessive access to before. This is likely because it can also take awhile for the benefits of the new regime to compete with the in-the-moment advantages of the old. I suspect with such easy access to high-reward food, the timeline for reducing the attachment to food might be even longer.

    BTW, one of the factors that seemed to affect whether users could kick the drug on their own, and it definitely applied in only a minority of the cases, was comorbid psychiatric disorders. The ability to think clearly is a huge advantage. I hope to think that enough of the masses have the right ability to do it, once they really get the options. What are they? Stay stuck, get more stuck, get less stuck, get unstuck, all with their own difficulties and consequences. I think that with food, getting less stuck is the most viable option for most. That’s one of the reasons I love the title of your book. Thin might not be possible but eating less very likely is!

    • Thank you so much for this, Maggi. I’ve ordered the book and look forward to reading. As the author is a Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Medical School I’m hoping for some strong research and evidence behind this idea – what a great start to the year for me.

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