Placebo Effect

Your Mindset is the Missing Piece of the Wellness Puzzle. You've Got to Check This Out!


Do you eat a rainbow of vegetables, nourish yourself with healthy fats and protein, move around more than you sit, take a daily walk, sleep like a fallen log, and even meditate most days?

Yes? At least, mostly? Then you must feel wonderful!

Oh. Why are you shaking your head no?

Maybe you feel stressed about fitting all of those things into your life. Or maybe you question how helpful those wellness practices are when you’re still heavier than you want to be. Perhaps you’re doing all of those deeds because you know the struggle will only get more challenging as your birthdays pile up.

These are just some of the different beliefs we have about taking care of ourselves. Often our beliefs are limiting ones. We acquire these limiting beliefs as a result of making incorrect conclusions about something in our life. And these beliefs have the power to hurt us.

You can believe that the earth is round (please do)–and you’d be right, of course. Yet you can also believe that there’s no way you could ever traverse it in your lifetime–and then you’d be wrong. But in a way, you would also be right. It’s an incorrect conclusion, because in fact, many people have traveled all around the world. Yet if you believe you can’t, it’s highly unlikely you’d do anything to create your navigation plan. In other words, your limiting belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your general nature of beliefs about a certain subject is known as your mindset. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most of us have a negative mindset about taking care of ourselves (it’s a neverending burden, right?).

But can our mindset, whether it’s negative or positive, physically impact our health and wellness? Yes! There are some fascinating studies showing how intrinsically they affect us. You can read at least fifty different books on the subject (and I’ve come close), but today I’ll share with you my top three studies. The first two were conducted by the psychologist Dr. Alia Crum, and the last one is by the “mother of mindfulness” Ellen J. Langer.


Mindset Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect (aka The Hotel Maids Study)

“In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one’s mind-set, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.”



Mind Over Milkshakes

“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 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 postconsumption (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.”



The Counterclockwise Study

“The only way to actually know someone’s age is to ask him or her. [The researchers] decided to continue with the study, in which a control group of older men were told that they would attend a retreat where they would spend a week “reminiscing” about the past; the experimental group, by contrast, would spend a week surrounded by paraphernalia from twenty years earlier, listening to radio shows and discussing news from the period. They were not allowed to bring up any events that happened after 1959, and they were to refer to themselves, their families, and their careers as they were at that time.

The point was not living in the past; rather, it was about giving mental signals to the body to reflect the energy and biological responses of a much younger person. By ‘acting as if’ they were in their late fifties and early sixties, the men in the experimental group actually changed their performance on benchmark tests. At the end of the study, the experimental group demonstrated marked improvement in their hearing, eyesight, memory, dexterity and appetite.

Some who had arrived using canes, dependent on the aid of their children, walked out under their power, carrying their own suitcases. Langer concluded that by expecting them to function independently and engaging with them as individual minds rather than as old people, she and her students gave them the opportunity to see themselves differently. This, then, had an impact on them biologically.”



Aren’t those fabulous?  I’m only touching on the studies here, so I urge you to take a deeper dive and listen to Dr. Alia Crum describe her two studies and more in her TEDxTalk about mindsets (18:20).

Got more time? In Ellen Langer’s TEDtalk (25:33), not only does she talk about her influential study (and others), she gives you concrete ways to apply mindfulness to your life and change your mindset, too.


Remember, beliefs are simply stories we tell ourselves that become entrenched with time. We can change them with focus and repetition. As a health coach--and with The Wonderfulness Program--I can help you explore how to do this and more. I’d love to hear from you!


Wishing you wonderfulness!