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The Milkshake Study

In my blog post about How Much Can Brain Retraining Really Do, I talked about the power of our perceptions. I quoted a study that showed how we view ourselves and a situation can have a big impact on our brain and our health. Today I want to touch on the importance of core beliefs and our expectations.

In 2011, Stanford Associate Professor of Psychology, Alia Crum did a study to investigate the impact of core beliefs and expectations on our health. After spending years studying the placebo effect, she was curious to see if food labels could also impact our physiology. To do this, Crum made a big batch of vanilla milkshake and then divided it into two batches.

One batch was put into bottles labeled as a low-calorie drink called Sesishake. The label stated it had zero percent fat, zero added sugar and was only 140 calories. The other batch was bottled and labeled as Indulgence. The Indulgence label stated that the shake had 620 calories, along with plenty of fat and sugar. In reality, both shakes had 300 calories each.

Before and after people drank the shakes, they had their levels of ghrelin measured. Ghrelin levels rise when we need to eat and drop after we eat a big meal, for example spaghetti and meatballs. But ghrelin levels don’t decrease the same amount if we have a small snack that doesn’t have a lot of fat and calories, such as a small salad. That is what is supposed to happen and had been consistently observed prior to Crum’s study.

What Crum found however did not match up with this and instead was a reflection of what people thought they were drinking. The ghrelin levels in the group that believed they were drinking the Indulgence shake dropped three times more than the group who drank the Sesishake. Their bodies responded as if they had consumed much more than they actually had based on what they thought they were drinking. Their physiology was impacted in a very significant and measurable way by how the shake was labeled. The label tapped into their core beliefs and expectations about drinking a shake that is high in fat and sugar.

Most of us have different core beliefs about spaghetti and meatballs vs a small salad. You can probably notice some of those beliefs coming up when you just look at a picture of each or the milkshake. Those core beliefs then lead to expectations about how those different foods will impact our bodies. Those expectations can have a powerful impact on our physiology.

Take a look at your core beliefs and expectations, not just with food, but anything that your brain is reacting to. Are there some negative core beliefs about that thing? Do you expect a certain outcome when you engage with that thing? You have more power to change your reality and physiology than you likely realize.

Want to learn more about how to work with your core beliefs and expectations, instead of against them?

Come join one of my upcoming Recovering Together groups.

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In a recent recovering together class of yours we drew a circle within a circle. The inner circle being what we can control and the outer circle representing what we can't control. After this class, I had a great mediation where I was considering taking the things I can't control out of my inner circle. Removing what I perceived I could (but could not) control out of my inner circle. It was a cluttered process to pick things out one by one. So, I took everything out of my current perceived circle of control and then considered what I could truely put into the circle of what I can control.

Out of everything I took out of the circle of…

Connie Boczarski
Connie Boczarski
Nov 13, 2023
Replying to

Oh Dawny, this is so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this. What a lovely way to work with this concept. I love this! 💜


Nov 11, 2023


Amazing...your blogs are incredible and so informative.

Thank you so much.

Linda Stacey 😀

Connie Boczarski
Connie Boczarski
Nov 13, 2023
Replying to

I'm so happy that they are helpful, Linda! You are so welcome. 😊


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