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SUGAR: trust your body, not your brain, oh and fat women can self-regulate too…

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in Blog Posts | 10 comments


Here is an interesting article about sugar, weight and internal regulation. This apparently replicated findings on a similar study done on ‘normal’ weight women.

Basically they took ‘overweight’ women (25-30 BMI) and fed two groups with a sweet beverage. One group had artificial sweetener and the other had a sugar sweetened drink. Neither group knew what they were drinking.
The coolest part? The women who drank more calories from the sugar sweetened beverage consumed less throughout the day. When their minds were taken out of the equation, their bodies regulated and compensated by consuming fewer calories. Those ‘fat’ women were able to self-regulate. They could trust their bodies.
(Different studies show that when women THINK they are eating low-fat yogurt for example, but it is high in fat, they actually eat MORE throughout the day. The so-called “halo” effect means people tend to eat more if foods are labeled low-fat or even organic.) The body does a better job than the brain. (Internal vs. cognitive control of intake.)
A few quotes from the article:
“The results show that overweight women do not suffer adverse effects, such as weight gain or mood fluctuation, if they do not know whether or not they are drinking a sugary or artificially sweetened drink. Instead women took in fewer calories elsewhere in the diet, to balance the calories in the drinks.”

“Widespread publicity about the supposed harmful effects of sugar may make such effects more likely, as believing sugar to be harmful may encourage negative emotions after eating sugary food and lead to the abstinence violation effect.”

Have you experienced the “abstinence violation” effect? In other words, the binge after the diet? The being ‘bad’ after the being ‘good?’ The “I’ve been starving all day and now I’m, stressed and can’t hold myself back anymore?”
The good news is we can trust our bodies. We just have to learn how to get our heads and all the crazy around food out of the equation…
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10 Comments

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  1. randldub

    I can absolutely believe that information re: calorie content, sugar/non-sugar, organic labels etc… over-rules any innate body cues. Most people in America (especially women) are so judgemental and anxious about their food choices and constantly in a "diet" mentality. We've become so moralistic and distrustful of our bodies.
    I think this study gives us great information about what can happen when the thinking brain 'gets out of the way', so to speak. I can see why it's intrigued you Katja :)

  2. wriggles

    It specifically said that even the label "organic" seemed to trigger people to eat more…

    That's quite funny considering the source, we are told to eat healthy foods, whether we desire them or not. Which you could argue technically speaking makes use of any capacity for greed we may have; eating what you don't want to eat when you don't need it.

    It doesn't surprise me that when people find stuff they can manage to eat that is associated in their minds with health; they load up.

    It's like going to a party and there's food you don't tend to get often 'cos it's a bit pricey, for me it's stuff like king prawns/ lobster seafood and you basically major on them while you have the opportunity.

  3. Mickey

    Very interesting. But I really don't understand how the women couldn't tell if the drink contained sugar or aspartame. I know I can tell the difference.

  4. familyfeedingdynamics

    I think I read a blurb about the organic label in a recent Rudd center newsletter. It specifically said that even the label "organic" seemed to trigger people to eat more… Is it the overriding thought of "this is healthy" therefore I can indulge/I deserve it kind of thinking? I just find the psychology of it all so fascinating!

  5. familyfeedingdynamics

    I agree rish. I don't like the taste… loveash, I get it that you were focused on the moderation piece. I agree that this is not news. I suppose I was focusing on the amazing ability out bodies have with homeostasis. None of these women had to think, "I'm drinking more calories, so I have to watch what I eat/take less in elsewhere," it just happened…

  6. wriggles

    It is hard to believe that people cannot tell that they are drinking artificial sweetner, although I've not tasted all of them.

    Apparently some of the more recent ones do taste more like sugar, one is an actual a variant of the sucrose molecule but cannot be absorbed by the body so has no calories.

    As for trusting the body, not the mind, that one's a bit tricky.

    It's more that the mind is a part of the overall process of eating and it can be used to enhance or derail the process, as shown by the study.

    I suspect this nocebo effect is not confined to sugar.

    I have to admit, I'm also not convinced by the halo effect, although the studies you mention sound intriguing. I think the eating more 'organic', probably has a different trigger from say eating more 'low-fat'.

  7. rishabree

    Is it weird that my first thought was to wonder how they thought the groups wouldn't know which they were drinking? There isn't an artificial sweetener in existence that tastes like sugar to me. Bleck.

  8. loveashley.net

    I see. Well I think I keep forgetting that what seems like common sense to me may not be for those calorie obsessed people. To me it makes sense that sugar and other "bad foods" are okay in moderation, but aren't in excess. Now if there was an article out that said, "Studies show that drinking 10 cans of pop a day doesn't contribute to any health problems." I would then be pretty shocked, as I think we all would be.

  9. familyfeedingdynamics

    I think this is big news for most people who believe in standard calorie counting, eating by points etc. Considering an MD said at a talk recently that AMericans are "incapable" of internal regulation, and most Americans I imagine believe that we "should" try to keep track of calories, and that we are larger as a nation because people eat too many calories and portion sizes are up, and soda and HGCS etc. Those who believe that making "small" changes, or cutting out just 100 calories a day will make you lose 10 pounds in a year etc… I think that most health care professionals and public health program standard thinking would have predicted that if you add 100 calories a day (which this srudy essentially does) that you would gain weight and take in 100 calories more, when in fact, the women compensated and ate less, even in small quantities. We don't hear major headlines about studies like this, that our bodies can in fact be trusted… We are always given the message that we CAN'T trust our bodies. That we have uncontrollable urges, can't stop at just one, will overeat if we have a larger plate, or if our glass is wide and short or if we keep the serving bowl on the table etc. I just thought it was an interesting little study that confirmed the notion that we are capable of internal regulation. Do you wonder if it would be different with larger quantities? Do you think most people would be surprised or accept the findings?

  10. loveashley.net

    I'm not seeing how any of it is news, considering it is all based on moderate quantities.