Placebo effect: Lose weight through words!

Koepchen, J. (03 2015).

Langer, E. J. (2007 (18)). Mind-Set Matters. Psychological Science, 165 - 171. Refer to Koepchen.

In case of a placebo effect activated by language, a word or a sentence causes a positive effect in a person because that person associates the language stimuli with positive expectations. Ellen Langer studied this effect on room attendants working in hotels. The women of the test group were explained that their work corresponds to an ideal fitness training and is very healthy. 

The writer Rudyard Kipling – author of the world classic “The Jungle Book” - once said: “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” An impressive proof of this thesis is the well-known placebo effect, which can only be activated by language. A person afflicted with headache is given a simple sugar pill and is told: “Here, take this especially effective painkiller” – and the pain disappears. “Placebo” is a Latin term and, translated, it means: “I shall be of use.” Solely a sentence with just a few – but the right – words causes the positive effect because the person connects the speech stimuli, by the power of thoughts, to a positive expectation, which then triggers a soothing echo in the bodily experience: pain-relieving endorphins set themselves free in the nerve connections, muscles relax, the vessels respond with a balanced volume – and already the pain flows away from it. We are speaking of “Neuro Linguistic Coaching” when we use our vocabulary to achieve our objectives.


There are many impressive placebo experiments on this subject. Thus, the American psychologist and Harvard Professor Ellen Langer developed a simple and effective study design, which dealt with the work of room attendants working in hotels (Langer, 2007 (18)). Her research team contacted these room attendants, who were divided in two groups: a test group and a control group. Before the actual experiment, all the participants in the study were medically examined, and both the groups achieved comparable values here. In the actual experiment, the participants of the experimental group were then informed that their work corresponded to ideal fitness training and, therefore, – medically observed – is very healthy. This information was not given to the control group. In this regard, doctor Johannes Koepchen reported in an online magazine “Mentalmed”:
“The results after 4 weeks for the study group:

  • Significantly more room attendants saw their works as a training (increase from 29 to 45, in the control group only 15%)

  • The weight reduced in 4 weeks on an average by approximately 2 lbs

  • The body fat decreased significantly

  • The waist circumference decreased significantly

  • The systolic blood pressure decreased by approximately 10 points”.

Thus, in comparison to the control group, this significant difference resulted in the participants solely because of the use of the terminology “ideal fitness training” – these words not only changed the mindset towards the performed activity, but also influenced, specifically and measurably, the physical health-related data of the researched women. Ellen Langer has published a number of studies on this topic – for example, even in case of the elderly people -, all of which demonstrated similar specific, measureable improvements in the physical health of the subjects.