I love breakfast time. a simple but much looked forward to meal. But it may be damaging my health. Not because of what I eat but because of what I think about as I eat.
Recently I have become concerned because of medical guidance on food.
My scary breakfast consists of: Buttered brown bread toast with marmalade, and tea. I love the crunchiness of toast. I love the contrast of hot toast with cold butter of which I like lots. The sweet tanginess of marmalade is an essential addition and the tea must be hot.
Expert advice tells me that too much butter is bad and too much sugar is bad and burnt toast is carcinogenic; very bad. I am sure there are other health infringements in my simple breakfast. Is the tea too hot too!
My concern is not however about the effects of the butter or the marmalade or even the carcinogen in themselves. My concern is about my state of mind as I eat. It is to do with the placebo effect.
The Placebo Effect
A placebo is a pretend version of a medication used in drug trials when bringing a new drug to the market. It looks like the real drug in every respect but is completely inert having no effect whatsoever. In a trial neither the doctor nor the patient knows who is receiving the real or the pretend drug.
As trials become refined these days it is found that the placebo – pretend drug – is often as effective as the real drug on trial.
Those of you who have read my book The Mind Diet will know that I am intrigued by this placebo effect which is the power of belief to cause beneficial chemical changes in the body.
But, there is also something called the nocebo effect.
If you have time watch this video by Dr Alia Crum which will explain a lot.
Amongst other demonstrations of the placebo effect Dr Crum discusses, is the effect on hunger the hormone grehlin, and on digestion, when people tested a milkshake. Those in the experiment took the same milkshake on two different days.
On the first occasion they believed it to be low fat, low carbs and very healthy while on the second occasion they believed it to be highly indulgently nutritious. The reality was that it was neither. It sat somewhere in the middle in terms of nutrition but blood tests showed how differently the drink was metabolised depending on what was believed at the time of ingestion. The fact that the differing effect was measurable by the levels of hormones in the blood demonstrates the power of belief at the time of ingestion.
In reality, the same food item can have a multiplicity of effects resultant not only from the outside influence of what they were told about it but also because of the state of mind of the consumer at the time. The nocebo effect is when what you have been told or led to believe has a damaging or negative effect.
Food eaten and enjoyed in a relaxed stat will be metabolised differently than when stressed or anxious. Stress – fight or flight as it is called – places different demands on energy management in the muscles and blood stream.
To this extent food is what we believe it is, or put the other way around, we become what we think it is. We are what we think.
So what has this got to do with my breakfast?
Let us think about the placebo a little more. Suppose I had a medical condition for which I joined the trial of a new drug. I am told to take one tablet every day at breakfast. I have been assured that the pill will cure me and firmly believe that it will.
Each morning, as I take my pill, there is a momentary commitment to the treatment – this may not even be a conscious moment as I rush around – then I get on with my day. My illness is cured. A brief subconscious act of faith each morning has brought about a cure. But then I discover that I was taking a placebo. My belief in an inert tablet has had a profound effect in my body.
This is why I am troubled by health warnings about my food. Each morning I think of the possible ill effects and worry that the thoughts may have a placebo effect; or more correctly, a nocebo effect damaging my health.
- Be careful what you think about.
- Be careful who you listen to.
- Be careful who you associate with.
This applies to your success as much as your health.
If you want to build your knowledge on this intriguing fact get my new programme, The Success Code.
Click on my little friend below to learn more.
Also published on Medium.