What we believe is what we get
By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oregon
Our culture’s relationship with food seems to be as complex as its relationship with body. And how they converge is like a love/hate relationship. Dissatisfaction with how our bodies look, what they weigh, our body mass index… all seem to occupy much of public thought. Advertising uses this obsession to peddle clothes, makeup, drugs, and diet schemes.
The public discussion about the struggle to be healthy centers on how we can change our bodies, and food often plays a role in this. Dieting, pre-portioned meals, along with workouts at the gym, are some of the less exotic versions of getting the “new you.” If you lean towards extremes then you might opt for gastric bypass or stomach stapling; maybe even steroids.
But, there’s more to it. Consider these three examples.
Hotel maids don’t exercise. That’s what Ellen Langer learned when she asked a group of them about this in a research project. After an initial set of measurements, Langer told half the group that what they did for a profession was a lot of exercise. After a month the group receiving no information about how hard they work exhibited no change from the initial measurements. The informed group, however, showed marked changes in their numbers, the kind that would normally be the result of exercise.
Hmmmm. Perhaps I should start thinking of sitting at the computer as a lot of hard work!
Then there’s Kevin Richardson, a prominent fitness trainer in New York, who wrote an interesting paper. He tells of a young man who made remarkable muscle gains by the use of steroids that were fake, unbeknownst to him.
And researchers at Yale looked at a creative twist with milkshakes (one of my favorites!). Two groups were given exactly the same milkshake. One group was told that it was a healthy low calorie shake, and the other group was told that it was off the charts with fat and calories. In actuality, the shakes were in between the two extremes.
Those who thought they were getting the low calorie shake showed no change in the production of a hormone that tells you you’re hungry. Those who thought they got the “indulgent” shake, however, showed a sharp decrease in its production, experiencing a reduced craving for food.
Here’s what I take from these experiments. What we believe is what we get. How we think about food, exercise, or even steroids determines how our bodies respond.
Contemporary researchers are just scratching the surface on the notion that our thoughts affect our bodies. Yet, this is not a new discovery. In the 19th century, when food was thought to have dramatic influences of a different kind on one’s health, medical researcher and spiritual healer Mary Baker Eddy concluded that:
“If mortals think that food disturbs the harmonious functions of mind and body, either the food or this thought must be dispensed with, for the penalty is coupled with the belief.”
I’m wondering if thought can determine our food/weight relationship without the trickery and deception of these experiments. Can we have a healthier body based on an understanding of the mind /body relationship that’s straightforward?
My choice is to recognize that it’s more my thought about the food, than the food itself, that affects me. I’m not saying its always easy to change your thoughts, but when you do, the effects can be real and permanent.
First published in My Oregon on OregonLive.com