Shortcut to Slim

Season 2: Episode 3

The New Science of Mindsets (How Perceptions Work For You or Against You)

You are listening to the Shortcut to Slim Podcast. Show details — Hosted by Lindsay S Nixon — Season 2: Episode 3;

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In this episode you’re learning about the new science of mindsets and how a single shift in thinking can improve your health, even YEARS into the future.

After this you will think twice about your beliefs!

From placebos to self-fulfilling prophecies, perceptions matter and those perceptions work for you or against you.

In the last episode you learned that what drives your behavior is how you think.

That how you think determines what you do, so in order to change what you do, to change your behavior, to perform better, you have change your thoughts.

And this is difficult because anything that challenges what you already believe makes you feel unsafe.

Even if what you believe is wrong, it makes you feel safe to still believe it because it’s familiar.

For example, let’s say you believe you are weak and lack self-control. You even tell yourself this: “Ugh, I have no self-control.”

That belief is wrong.

I can prove it: Do you slap every person who irritates you? Of course you don’t. That proves you have self-control.

Or maybe you say, “ugh, I can’t commit to anything. I’m so weak.”

That belief is wrong too.

If you’re married or bought a house or have a job or have a kid. You’re committed.

But it is uncomfortable for you to hear this.

We feel blame, guilt, and shame when we go against what we believe or what we have already accepted as truth.

Behavior is a symptom.

You can regulate your behavior with training, but it takes incredible effort day in and day out.

You’re also never completely in control that way.

This much is evident when we compare workdays to weekends.
As soon as something comes between you and how you regulate your behavior… there goes control.

Being in control of the thoughts that drive your behavior? That is the real control.

How you think about something transforms the effect it has on you.

This applies even to our our PHYSICAL reality.

Here I’ll show you:

  1. Stand up.
  2. Extend your right arm out and point.
  3. Twist around to point behind you.
  4. Twist as much as you can without moving your feet.
  5. Take note what you’re pointing at.
  6. Come back to center.
  7. Close your eyes.
  8. Image the spot you pointed to.
  9. Keep your eyes closed but twist again.
  10. In your mind, try to go back to that spot or father.
  11. Open your eyes.

Look how much farther you twisted!

Crazy right?

Even our physical reality is more subjective than we believe.

This is the field of mindset science.

By changing how you think about an experience, you can change what happens inside your body.

And the newest field within mindset science shows us that a single intervention that changes how think about something, can improve your health and success, even years into the future.

Here’s one of my favorite studies:

Researcher Alia Crum recruited housekeepers at seven hotels across the U.S.

We’ve all cleaned a toilet, scrubbed a shower, dusted and vacuumed—we know that cleaning is taxing work but yet we don’t think of it as exercise.

Actually, most people only consider exercise something that happens in a gym or cardio class or when you wear lululemon pants and sneakers… but guys, “exercise” happens when you cook, play with your kids, wash your car, walk around the mall, basically move your body in any fashion. You’re all exercising rockstars, I promise.

But coming back to housekeeping: In terms of workouts, it’s one of the best.

Housekeeping burns over 300 calories an hour, putting it on par with weightlifting, water aerobics, and speed walking.

And these housekeepers are doing this for 8 hours a day. EIGHT HOURS!

I work with a few pro and semi-pro athletes and except for the mountaineer, none of them train this much!

At the start of the study, 2/3’s of the housekeepers believed they weren’t exercising regular.

1/3 said they got NO exercise at all.

Their bodies reflected this perception.

The average housekeepers blood pressure and body weight were exactly what you’d expect of someone who doesn’t exercise much.

At 4 of the hotels, Crum told the housekeepers that they were exercise superstars.

She gave a presentation on how making beds, bending over to pick up towels, pushing heavy carts—all of that required tons of strength and stamina.

Crum also put up posters affirming this, some of which included how many calories were burned doing various activities. For example, cleaning a bathroom for 15 minutes burns 60 calories.

At the other 3 hotels (the control group) Crum told the housekeepers exercise was important for health, but did not mention that their work duties qualified as exercise.

The results were mind blowing.

After 4 weeks, the housekeepers who were told they were “exercise superstars” had lost weight and body fat.

Their blood pressure was lower AND they liked their jobs more!

They hadn’t joined a gym, or gone on a diet.

The only thing that changed was their perception of themselves as exercise superstars.

Housekeepers in the control group showed no improvement.

Crum’s hypothesis is this:

When two outcomes are possible, your expectations influence which outcome is more likely.

Crum believes that the housekeepers perception of their work as healthy exercise (instead of “hard on their body” like they originally thought) plus the new identity of themselves as exercise superstars (instead of sedentary) transformed the effect their actions had on their body.

In other words, the effect you expect is the effect you get.

Sidebar: It can be argued that once the seed was planted, the housekeepers started scrubbing a little harder, or making other small “modifications” that helped bring about the changes to their body and study results. If true, that still proves Crum’s point!

Here are two other super cool:

In Mindless Eating (Wansink fangirl forever...) there is a fascinating story involving sailors and Jell-O.

Billy was a WWII Navy cook and during one particularly long tour, he accidentally ordered twice as much lemon Jell-O and no cherry Jell-O.

Seems like small potatoes to us but apparently that sort of thing can cause a riot on the ship. Apparently on one occasion a fight broke out. Billy got creative and added red food coloring to the lemon Jell-O. It was still lemon-flavored but it LOOKED like cherry.

NO ONE MISSED A BEAT. Some sailors even thanked Billy for finding the cherry jell-o.

This wasn’t a one time thing ever.

It was a long tour and Billy did his trick a few more times.

No one ever suspected.

Psychologists call this “expectation assimilation” and “confirmation bias.”

I’m going to dig into “expectation assimilation” and “confirmation bias” deeper in a future episode but for now, in the case of food, this means that:

Our taste buds are biased by our imagination and by our perception.

Wansink has some other great examples in his book, including feeding people Campbell’s tomato soup from a can at an expensive French restaurant, and people truly believing it was the best, most exquisite, luxurious soup they’ve ever had…

Or when he switched wine between bottles whether it was swapping expensive for two-buck-chuck, or changing the region.

Here’s another study by Crum.

This one offers a possible explanation forwhy fitbits,calorie trackers, and diets with “free” or “unlimited” foods like WeightWatchers can be so sabotaging.

In this study, participants entered the lab after an 8-hour fast.

On the first visit, they were given chocolate milkshakes that were labeled: “Indulgence: Decadence You Deserve” with a nutrition label that showed 620 calories and 30 grams of fat.

One week later the participants entered the lab again, after another 8-hour fast, and were given a chocolate milkshake labeled: “Sensi-Shake: Guilt-Free Satisfaction” with 140 calories and 0g fat.

As the participants drank the milkshakes, blood samples were taken.

Crum measured the levels of Gherlin, the hunger hormone you learned about in Episode 1 of this season.

Quick Ghrelin recap: When blood levels of Gherlin go down, you feel full. When Gherlin goes up, you feel hungry and look for a snack. Ghrelin’s opposite is Leptin.

Here’s how this hormonal dance is supposed to work: When you eat something high in calories or fat, Gherlin drops dramatically and Lower calorie or lower fat foods have less impact.

SO one would expect a decadent milkshake and diet milkshake would have very different effects on ghrelin levels and they did.

Drinking the diet shake led to a small decline in ghrelin, while the indulgence shake produced a much bigger drop.

But here’s the thing: it was all a sham.

The participants drank the same shake both times!

There should have been NO difference in how the participants’ digestive tracks responses and yet when they PERCEIVED that the shake was an indulgent treat, their gherlin levels dropped three times as much as when they thought it was a diet drink.

Did this just blow your mind up?

This means if you THINK something is super low in calories and won’t be filling, it won’t be.

If you don’t believe a meal will fill you up, it won’t.

On the other hand, if you expect fullness, your meal will have that effect.

BELIEVE you’ll be satisfied and you physically will.

This is one reason why I pay attention to volumetrics on the meal plans.

I make sure you have big portions so you’re halfway there.

Download your free volumetrics-based meal plan here.

Maybe now you’re starting to see why having “free” or “unlimited” foods can create harmful perceptions?

I think this also helps explain how tracking or counting calories can take an unhelpful turn.

Often tracking starts off as helpful educational tool, giving people context to make wiser choices… but the more you do it, the more people do it, the more they start to game the system.

They’ll think “oh look, I have 200 calories left! I can eat a cookie!”

Never mind that they’re not actually hungry and a calorie is not a calorie so that’s creating all kinds of sabotage. Or you look and realize you haven’t had all that many calories today, and talk yourself into eating or being hungry.

I used to have this bad habit of saying“I’m hungry. I’m so hungry!” until I realized that wasn’t helping me.

I didn’t need to dwell on my hunger even if I was hungry. All that did was make me suffer more while I waited for my dinner to finish cooking.

This is also how I became an overeater.

It wasn’t just all those false “eat all you want” messages, or that I became adapted to eating a ton of volume, it’s that when I did not eat as much, I believed, before the food even hit my mouth, that it wouldn’t satiate me because it was diet food, or less volume. Hunger by way of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Fortunately you can also flip this into a positive effect:

You can tell yourself something will satisfy you.

In fact, this why I tell my clients over and over “potatoes are the most satiating food, bar none. Eat a potato if you’re hungry.”

It’s not only true, potatoes are the most satiating food in the world, but this also creates a perception. They believe if they eat the potato they will be satisfied, and then they are. Power to the potatoes.

Going back to Crum’s milkshake study: This shows us that our expectations can alter something as concrete as how much of a hormone your body secrets.

Remember back in the first episode this season when Watkins said to be brilliant every day we had to be in control of our feelings, emotions, and physiology and all of us thought… Physiology? Homeboy is crazy! Ain’t no way Imma ever have control over something like my hormones.

Foot meet mouth.

Seriously though, this is pretty awesome.

In both of Crum’s studies, when people’s perceptions changed, their bodies’ responses changed too.

Viewing cleaning as exercise instead of “hard labor” helped the housekeepers bodies experience the benefits of being active.

Likewise seeing a milkshake as a high-calorie indulgence, even though it wasn’t, helped the body produce signals of fullness.

Crum’s next study was on stress.

Crum wondered if we changed our perception of stress from negative to positively enhancing, would the effects on our body be positive?

The answer is yes, and the effects are mind-blowing.

Your hormones completely change and this matters because so much about your weight and obesity is controlled by hormones. (I’ll leave some links below for more study on this).

Bottom line for now: Your perception can totally alter your biochemistry. That’s control!

I’m going to dig more into mindsets in the next episode, but where can you go from here?

What can you take away from this?

  • Expectation assimilation works in both directions.
  • Confirmation bias works in both directions.
  • If you expect a food to taste bad, it will.
  • If you don’t think your meal is enough, you’ll be hungry.

If you believe a food will satisfy you and you’ll love it and thrive, you will!

Set positive expectations.

Remember that you are already healthy.

Say that to yourself everyday.

This is episode 3 of Season 2.

Download your free 7-day research based meal plan here.

Leave the science and guesswork to me.


The Upside to Stress by Kelly McGonigal
Change Your Mindset, Change the Game | Dr. Alia Crum TEDxTraverseCity

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