Not So Great Expectations: The Nocebo Effect

Not so great expectations

We hear a lot about what we should or shouldn’t be eating.

About how healthy something is. Or how we should absolutely avoid ‘evil’ foods of the moment like gluten or dairy or sugar.

But what if these expectations actually cause more harm than good?

Research illustrates how a group of people who were given meals without gluten but were told that it contained gluten complained of digestive issues after eating this meal – even though they had felt fine eating the exact same food when they knew the food was gluten-free.

We hear a lot about the placebo effect and what this research shows is just as powerful: The nocebo effect: The expectation that something will harm us becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And we all do this.

We eat that ice-cream…and a serving of guilt.

We eat something with gluten…and also our fear of the harm it will do us.

Because we don’t only eat physical food – we also eat the ideas we have about those foods.

So does this mean we can just eat junk food while chanting mantras about how healthy it is? That there’s no point in even trying to eat healthy?

Of course not. And I am not denying that gluten intolerance is a real problem either.

I simply want to suggest that healthy eating and living starts with your mindset.

Instead of eating ideas of doom and gloom about food or guilt, try this.

Replace judgement about food with open-minded curiosity. Turn “I’m sure I will feel like crap after eating this because it contains ________” into “I wonder how my body will feel after eating this? ”

Food is neither good nor evil and it very much depends on when you are eating, the quality of what you are eating and even how much of it you are eating. It depends on the season and even what stage of your life you are in – so the same food’s effect on us is constantly shifting. No external expert or diet will ever tell you what works best for your unique bio-individuality. Only starting a dialogue with your body to find what works for YOU will.

Most importantly, fully enjoy EVERYTHING you eat, regardless of how ‘unhealthy’ it is. There is no point in eating something healthy you really don’t enjoy or in eating something unhealthy without truly enjoying it. The pleasure we get from food has even been shown to affect the amount of nutrients we get from food.

Finally, don’t bother trying to be a perfect eater. Aim to eat ‘healthy’ food about 80% of the time. Remember that 80% is perfection.

The ultimate mindset for healthy eating? Eating with a serving of curiosity, mindfulness and intuition instead of fear, obligation and guilt.

Sources: Here and here

Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes: Boot Camp vs Club Med

Bootcamp or Club MedDo you find yourself oscillating between two extremes when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes? Being super hard on yourself in order to eat perfectly, then completely letting yourself go and eating whatever is there? Or exercising obsessively for a few days…and unable to get off the sofa the next few days?

I call these two extremes Boot Camp vs. Club Med.

When we’re in Boot Camp mode, we expect everything to be hard

Boot Camp mode sounds like:

If it isn’t hard, I’m not doing it right

I have to deprive myself

I am never good enough

I have to eat/exercise perfectly otherwise I am flawed

No pain, no gain

Only by criticising myself can I move forward

The problem with Boot Camp is that it isn’t very pleasant to be there. So when we can’t take it any longer, we swing over to the other extreme and go into Club Med mode.

Club Med mode sounds like:

It shouldn’t be so hard

I don’t feel like making an effort

I deserve a treat

Who cares if I don’t achieve my health goal – I just want to feel good right now

I don’t want to make any decisions – someone else should decide for me

It feels comfortable right here even if I’m not moving forward

Do you recognize yourself in these extremes – perhaps more in one than the other?

Boot Camp mode helps us step out of our comfort zone and move towards our health goals…but it is often motivated by fear and is tough to keep up in the long-term.

Club Med mode feels good in the short term and keeps us safely ensconced in our comfort zone…but doesn’t move us any closer to our health goals.

So is there a third mode that is more effective to making change?

I call the in-between mode Yoga Retreat mode. In Yoga Retreat mode, you push yourself past your comfort zone and you do it from a place of love and wanting what is best for you.

You realize that a certain amount of discomfort is necessary for moving forward in life…but that this doesn’t have to be extreme and painful (Boot Camp) or something to avoid altogether (Club Med). You start becoming a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. You realize that the discomfort of a craving or a workout won’t kill you and can actually move you towards the person you want to be.

You notice that you don’t need to live in extreme control and willpower – you can actually trust your body to make the best decisions for you. You don’t have to throw away the chocolate because you think you lack willpower (Boot Camp) or let yourself go and eat the whole bar (Club Med). In Yoga Retreat mode, when you eat chocolate, you do so mindfully, savouring every bite and taking true pleasure in the experience.

Yoga Retreat mode is motivated by self-compassion even when there are set-backs – even when you forget to eat mindfully 10 times and remember once. Instead of an attitude of “I already ate two cookies – what the hell, I’ll just finish the packet”, Yoga Retreat mode is about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, reminding yourself why you are doing this and taking action towards your goal.

Yoga Retreat mode is about loving yourself into change.

It is motivated by a desire to live more fully instead of a fear of never being good enough (Boot Camp) or a fear of stepping out of your comfort zone (Club Med).

I know that for a long time, I swung between the two extremes (spending more time in Club Med mode) and that it is only by applying the principles of Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating that I was able to create a much healthier relationship with food and find exercise I actually enjoy instead of having it feel like punishment.

Can you relate to this? Which camp do you find yourself in most of the time?