Friday, September 18, 2009

Placebos, Nocebos, and why you've got to believe

Most everyone has heard of the placebo effect. Essentially, if a doctor gives you a sugar pill and says it's going to make you feel better, you'll end up feeling a bit better, even though the pill did nothing at all. When you think your body is going to get better, you're likely to get better. In recent years, the placebo effect has actually been getting stronger, to the extent that even a few old standby drugs, like Prozac, will sometimes fail to prove their effects are statistically significant. (A really cool article on how the placebo effect is getting stronger is here.)

The placebo effect has a lesser known, decidedly evil cousin: the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect is just what it sounds like. When you're told something won't work, it won't work. If you're told you're going to die, and you believe it, you might even die. Scary stuff.

Those of you who read my blog know that I'm pretty damn into science, math, and reason. So I say this not in a bullshit pseudoscience The Secret sort of way.

You've got to believe.

You have to do this, too, all the working out and the hunger and the drinking water and building up calorie deficits day after day. But you have to believe you're doing it too. Believe what you're doing will work, and it seems that, on the margins, it's more likely to.

For reasons science hasn't yet figured out, people who genuinely believe they're going to get better are more likely to do so, and people who believe they won't get better sometimes end up doing just that. So go ahead, drink the koolaid, and tell yourself you are going to lose the weight. It's not going to be quite as effective as a guy in a white coat telling you his sugar pill will cure what ails you, but it very well might end up helping out.

You can do this. I can do this, too. And you know what? I think we both will.

And in other news, yesterday I started wearing my size 18 pants as my standard work pair. The size 20s we're just too big. I'm wearing them again today and they feel great. As someone who spends most of my time these days in oversized clothes, getting to wear a pair that really fits is a nice treat.


  1. I am on the same page with you, you believe it you can do it! that's all it takes! congrats on the size 18! I know it feels GREAT! Look at you gettn' your skinny on! <3

  2. Congrats on the smaller pants!!!

    I really think that believe is one of the most powerful words in the English language. So many things truely are "all in your head"

  3. Kudos on the NSV with the pants.

    And excellent post. Very thought-provoking.

  4. Ok this rocked my world! So often I believe Im going to fail but now Im thinking Im going to go ahead and be E X C E L L E N T! TY, Hadley, for another wonderful post!

    Congrats on the size 18s, girlie :)

  5. I can always use a good motivational post, but my favorite kind are the ones that incorporate science. Seriously!

    And yay for smaller jeans! I have a pair of size 18s that I can't wait to wear. (I have about 3 sizes to go, though!)

  6. You are always making me think Miss Hadley and I love it!

    Great job on the 18s!

    We can do it! We can do it! We can do it!

  7. You are always thinking, girl! :)
    This is a good one - thanks for sharing.

    Congrats on the NSV & the size 18s. I know how good that had to feel.

    Have a great weekend!

  8. Great post! As a former psych student, i'm facinated by this kind of stuff...

  9. There's something so satisfying about fitting comfortably into a smaller size. Congrats.

    And you're right about needing to believe. Although cliche, the quote "Whether you believe you can or can't, you're right" is so very true.

  10. Hadley I just bought my first size 18's and my FIRST EVER BELT IN MY LIFE! WOOT WOOT GO us!

  11. Woohoo for smaller pants that fit! Great job.

    And I totally agree with you - there is power in positive thinking. Perhaps it comes from the fact that if you think it will work, you want to try. And if you think it won't, then what's the point in trying. I've seen people bemoan the fact that "no matter what I do, I can't lose weight." And if you start from "I can't" then you are probably right.

    We all can do step at a time. You are doing fabulously!

  12. Congrats on the smaller size! Isn't it amazing? I too am going through my closet removing the unflattering bigger clothes. Hard to believe it but I am seriously going to have to get some new clothes very soon! Not much will be left. Hard to believe that when I started my weightloss journey I was in an 18/20, but now.... I am going to be shopping for all single digit sizes!! WOOHOO!

    And yes, believe it ... it can be done.

  13. Yay! You get to wear size 18 pants again! Great job on that one! I haven't gone shopping lately to see what size I really wear yet, my clothes are getting a little loose too.

    It really is amazing how much positive thinking can do. I can do this and so can you! :)

  14. Congrats on the pants!!! (:

    Before I started to do something to lose weight I had to make a research on this topic, because I used to eat to gain. It was some emotional screwup why I chose this way so when I started to eat better a month ago I had real issues with food. I mean, bigger issues when I was 'simply' gaining. The thing is that in my mind when I started to look after what I put in my mouth every bite, even the most healthy bites were like 'I would gain weight eating this and that ... etc'. And I gained ... indeed. I'm still working on this mind and food relationship thing but I think I still have a similar fear of food.

    Crazy what our brain can do!!!

  15. Good job on the size 18.
    I'm with you on this post, you do have to believe it's possible. It's really a matter of convincing your mind.
    You're going to do it, Hadley.