January DECISIONS? Good and bad ones (Placebo Effect on diet):

Mind over Matter

I recently read an article that said that January is the month where you and I would most likely spend (waste) money on bogus health products, so watch out!  This is the season of getting our lives in order, of losing those extra Christmas and New Year holiday pounds, of starting new self-improvement programs, and the like.

When I put cynicism aside about our over-zealous resolutions to improve, I realize there is some validity in these efforts and ideas and we know that we can indeed change. Or is it really the placebo effect at work?  

Is there a Placebo at Work?

My medical-student daughter says that the placebo effect is real and very helpful in a lot of cases.  This means if you decide to spend a lot of money on a bogus home remedy of sorts and you believe it’s going to work, it probably will.  This means of you follow x diet for so many weeks, it is likely to work if you really believe in it.  

So, what do you believe in? What’s your go-to remedy for x, y, or z? 

My nephew is a convinced user of mega-vitamin supplements with zinc, etc. to enhance his immune system.  I have got to admit that I use something similar when I travel or feel a cold coming on.  The big question is what is at work, the vitamins and mineral, or a placebo?  The other question is if it matters or not.

And does the placebo effect continue to diets and such?

My next thoughts lead to eating habits and diets, as this is the season of shedding our extra holiday pounds, or at least attempting to do this.  I have to admit I really don’t believe much in diets, as I have seen friends and family do the diet yoyo – and I, myself, have been rather stable in weight for the past several years, even during chemotherapy.  And I don’t really diet. As and aside, I had hoped to shed a few pounds during chemotherapy, but alas, it was not to be, sigh.

So, at least for a time, does the placebo effect work for diets?  And what is healthy, anyway?  Are carbs all that bad, and is sugar a “drug”?  Now, here is my layperson, non-expert opinion:

Diets don’t work, instead we should eat, move and live healthily.

According to Mayo Clinic, this is what you should be eating for a normal 2,000 calorie eating plan: 

·      A variety of vegetables — dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other

·      Fruits, especially whole fresh fruits

·      Grains, at least half of which are whole grains

·      Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt and cheese, and fortified soy beverages

·      A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds and soy products

·      Oils, including those from plants, and those that occur naturally in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados



2 1/2 cups a day

Dark green

1 1/2 cups a week

Red and orange

5 1/2 cups a week 

Legumes (beans and peas)

1 1/2 cups a week


5 cups a week


4 cups a week


2 cups a day


6 ounces a day

Whole grains

≥ 3 ounces a day

Refined grains

≤ 3 ounces a day


3 cups a day

Protein foods

5 1/2 ounces a day


8 ounces a week

Meats, poultry, eggs

26 ounces a week

Nuts, seeds, soy products

4 ounces a week


27 grams a day

Limit on calories from added sugars, solid fats, added refined starches

270 calories a day (14% of total calories)

Thus,I would have you note that grains and starch foods are BIG on this list, and I find it interesting that so many people I know are scared of those foods.  It’s not those foods, but the processed versionsthat are really bad.  Another aside, for those who know what they are, Twinkies still exist.  I saw some last week in a Target store in Seattle.  I know that many of you are off all sugar, but unless you are diabetic, this could be a bit extreme.  A little sugar is not going to hurt you, unless you are addicted to it, as I am to coffee and salty foods.  BUT, so you know, the Mayo Clinic only allows a normal snickers bar worth of sugar a day. That’s all.  Luckily, I don’t like many sweets and can forego this, but many friends have sweet-tooths.

One other thought on bias

Our biases are rampant and the best goal is to become aware of them (and our assumptions) and take them into consideration when we make decisions.  When we make un-considered biased decisions or even worse, decisions based from fears we are most likely to make poor decisions and mistakes.  So, we need to ask ourselves, or better get the help of others to ask, what are our biases, our assumptions, our fears.  We must move beyond t these to find the solution and make the best decisions.

Whether it’s diet, activity, health, or future, let us make good sustainable decisions based on truth and not a placebo effect.

Have a healthy rest of the week and weekend!

Patricia Jehle