6

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Dr. Guyenet's "Seduced By Food" article: What is your take?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created March 10, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Stephan Guyenet just had an article featured on Boing Boing called Seduced By Food: Obesity and the Human Brain, which he mentioned on his blog is "more concise than all the writing I've done on this blog" on the food reward concept (he also said he didn't know what was up with the image they used at the top - it definitely is a tad strange).

I've read his blog posts about food reward theory and find it incomplete as laid out thus far (hat tip to J. Stanton) yet intriguing enough for me to remain open to the concept. The kind of research Guyenet and others are doing along these lines is very well-intentioned in my opinion and may prove invaluable to the long-term big picture of trying to solve (or at least lessen) the prevalence of obesity.

I didn't really extract much that he hasn't already expounded on more in his blog (as he mentioned), but this paragraph did stand out a bit:

So if we have this built-in system to regulate body fatness, how does anyone become obese? Some researchers believe the energy homeostasis system defends against fat loss more effectively than fat gain. However, most obese people regulate their body fat just fine, but their brains ???defend??? it at a higher level than a lean person. Going back to the thermostat analogy, in obese people it???s like the ???temperature??? has been gradually turned up. That???s why it???s so hard to maintain weight loss???when body fat stores decline, the brain thinks it???s starving even if fat mass remains high???and it acts to regain the lost fat. If we want to understand how to prevent and treat obesity, first we have to understand why obese people defend a higher level of fat mass than lean people.

I actually relate to this in my own experience with being obese over the last 15 years. I recently charted my weight from 1997 to 2012 on a graph, which started at 160 in 1997 to reaching a peak of 264 lbs this past summer. Over the last 15 years, my weight did seem to increase rather steadily until I was hovering in the 220's for a few years, then on up to the 230-240's for awhile, then when I started to get into the 250's I freaked out a bit and really tried to get it under control. On six separate occasions from 2000 to 2010 I made concerted efforts to lose weight, but the long-term trend shows that I not only gained the weight back rather quickly each time, but that my overall weight range continued to increase.

Here's the graph of my weight fluctuations over the last 15 years:

alt text

June 1997 - graduated high school, 160 lbs
Aug 1997-Aug 2001 - SAD college years
August 2000 - brief Slimfast stint, lost 10 lbs
Aug 2001-Jan 2002 - dollar-menu food, hot pockets, ramen, push-ups, sit-ups, lost 10 lbs
January 2002 - started desk job, gym 2-3x per week, SAD but without pizza, fried foods, mayo, cheese and soda (all problem foods at the time)
July 2002 - still hitting the gym regularly, lowest weight as an adult of 172 lbs
October 2002 - stopped gym, added bad foods again
August 2003 - started new outside job, began drinking and smoking
Aug 2003-Aug 2005 - unrestricted SAD with lots of binging
Aug 2005-Nov 2006 - started trying to lose weight by Counting Calories and increasing walking activity in order to help get a job in real estate (then the market crashed)
April 2007 - began the "Fat-Resistance Diet" at 232 lbs (all whole foods but with grains, limited red meat, moderate fat, lots of snacking and focused on leptin), lost 25 lbs, ended by pizza relapse
December 2007 - lost my job
Dec 2007-June 2009 - sedentary, unrestricted SAD with heavy alcohol and smoking
June 2009 - hit 258 on the scale and started Walking and Counting Calories again along with eliminating alcohol, lost 20 lbs in 1 month
July 2009-September 2009 - kept mental track of food portions and hit the gym again for about 2 months
Jan 2010-Aug 2010 - sedentary SAD again while looking for jobs
Aug 2010-October 2010 - got a temp warehouse job, ate full SAD but worked 12 hrs a day, lost 25 lbs
November 2010 - got another desk job but couldn't get into the gym like last time
February 2011 - quit smoking for good
June 2011 - hit my max of 264 lbs, quit the desk job
August 2011 - quit alcohol for good, started "juicing" raw veg and fruit, lost 10 lbs
November 1st, 2011 - started Paleo (Kurt Harris' Archevore outline) at 255 pounds
March 8th, 2012 - current weight of 198 lbs

I definitely see a pattern in the overall progression of my own obesity that is similar to what Guyenet is describing when he talks about our brains defending a higher level of fat mass when we're obese. Another interesting aspect is that exercise/activity did seem to play a significant role at times (particularly when I actually did some), most noticeably when it was gym-based or when I restricted calories or problem foods vs. when I was sedentary.

Since I started Paleo though, I've remained fairly sedentary with just one set of push-ups once every week or two, and I only walk for any length of time when I leave the house for something (I work from home now). I'm going to kick up the activity with sprints and body-weight exercises a couple times a week once I hit the 6-month mark and move forward/up from there. Less than 2 months to go...

I'm curious to hear what anyone thinks of the article if you are willing to read it, and also if anyone has any similar experiences along these lines.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 17, 2012
at 03:31 PM

Trhy these and you'll be oinking to hog heaven. http://www.fritolay.com/our-snacks/baken-ets-traditional.html

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on March 15, 2012
at 02:15 PM

That's why, to me, "food reward" is just redefining terms. Instead of "carbs (perhaps certain carbs) drive higher insulin response and make you fat," it's now, "highly palatable foods (which just happen to be loaded with carbs) do something (which has to raise insulin at some point, since it controls fat storage) that makes you fat." With a few exceptions like diet soda, we're still taking about the same lists of good and bad foods, and low-carbers 10 years ago already knew artificial sugars could be a problem.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on March 15, 2012
at 02:10 PM

Well, no, I don't think pork rinds are addictive in the same way that potato chips are. I *have* tried to binge on pork rinds. It doesn't work. I just have no desire to eat more than my fill of them. (Of course, coat them with a Dorito-like substance and it'd be a different story.) That's N=1, of course, but I don't think I'm an outlier, considering the tiny selection of pork rinds at my grocery store alongside the entire aisle of crunchy high-carb products.

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 15, 2012
at 01:56 PM

Some interesting thoughts, thhq. It would be interesting to know the % increase of drive-thru fast food joints during the 80's.

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 15, 2012
at 01:52 PM

@Matthew: Thanks...it was a bit 'revelatory' for me once I put it together, to say the least. Makes me wonder how similar it might be for other people. @raydawg: I'm with you on everything you mentioned. I know I lived off fast food quite a bit growing up, so even something as simple as McD's and others switching from lard to vegetable oil ~1984 could have had a big impact in the long-term for us ex super-size fry lovers.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19473)

on March 11, 2012
at 04:47 PM

Also, the food pyramid nonsense started in 1992, not quite 1980, but close enough: http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall02/greene/history.htm

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19473)

on March 11, 2012
at 04:45 PM

1980s? High Fructose Corn Syrup, and a switch from animal fats to pushing more hydrogenized oils, and other seed oils, also canola. Low carb craze, "carbo loading", and cardio/jogging, more crap in a box sales too.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 10, 2012
at 09:51 PM

Like most things in life, it all kind of came together, gaining momentum on its own. It was a chain of events. They all contributed to the epidemic. But there was no active collusion on the part of the food companies, medical establishment, the Big Pharma, and consumers. And once the status quo is set, you can't remove it except with a crow bar.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 10, 2012
at 08:25 PM

What is confounding the theory, I feel, is that brains are different. For instance I don't find fat terribly palatable. I do find starch uncomfortably palatable but not fruit or sweets. I can go to town and eat (literally) 8 cups of unflavored white rice, or an entire loaf of bread (1 lb) in a sitting but if I eat 2 small Granny Smiths I'm done.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on March 10, 2012
at 07:30 PM

Great graph Caveman :)

7d01d86c539003eed77cf901bf037412

(1076)

on March 10, 2012
at 06:55 PM

DFH: I was born in 1970, and in my neck of the woods (New Zealand) marketing trends from the US come a few years later. The mid-80s brought a huge increase in the availability of preprepared food, a huge change in the composition of the food, the low-fat craze, and a deliberate strategy of marketing crap to children so they would nag their parents. I am old enough to remember these things happening and contrast my earliest years with the decade after. These things changed a lot of brains, yeah. MARKETING CHANGES BRAINS. If it didn't, companies wouldn't waste money on it.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 10, 2012
at 06:36 PM

You're looking for 1 villain in this. Sadly, it's doesn't exist, as much as your mind looks for a scapegoat to unload your venom. The food companies want to maximize profits. And the consumer want to eat palatable foods. And the medical establishment was driven by earlier studies that seemed to implicate fat in ill health. And then there are the conspiracy-minded who think it was all done with malicious intent.

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 03:02 PM

Agree. And what's missing in all this is the fact that people were systematicly lied to about what they should be eating. They stopped knowing the truth, if they ever really knew it to begin with. Truth got lost. I experienced this and it was maddening. Truth was my reward, not salt, fat, or pizza. Show me how FR takes into account the fact that people were lied to and I will be a FR fan.

Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:56 PM

DFH the evil food companies didn't force feed us. Constructionism vs deconstructionism. Ready-to-eat vs home-made. That's a social attitude shift. The evil food companies only gave us the loaded guns we asked for.

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:43 PM

Change the subject much? :)

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:43 PM

I think this is maybe the 3rd or 4th time you turned your comments from the topic to about me. I don't think the concept of ad hominem is sinking in. Again, an ad hom is when you argue the person and not the topic. If you don't like me as a person because I think FR insults fat people, you certainly may and should disagree, but for the nth time, leave me out of it!

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:30 PM

Otherwise, from here on out I'm not responding to your comments and will be flagging them as spam, as it's obvious after yesterday that's what you're doing. Peace.

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:29 PM

DFH: Contrary to the tone indicated by your comments, I did not post this to start a "food reward fight", which you seem bent on having. I shared an article in a public forum and stated my own view concerning why ("The kind of research Guyenet and others are doing along these lines is very well-intentioned in my opinion and may prove invaluable" etc), then shared my own N=1 experience with weight loss and how it relates to part of my interpretation of the article. If you'd like to put forth an answer to the topic, please do so (respectfully, if that's possible).

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:02 PM

DFH, how exactly did the food companies change the “contents” of meat, vegetables, rice, potatoes, bread, and fruit in the 1980s? People just started eating more crap-in-a-box. Maybe “healthy low fat” advertising helped push people in that direction a little (along with all the other societal changes and convenience options that have been mentioned), and maybe they would eat more of something because they were told it was healthy (like Jimmy Moore downing 25 chicken wings in one sitting and dipping them all in ranch dressing because the wings just didn’t have enough “healthy fat” on their own)

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:59 PM

Microwave ovens started to spread too.

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:58 PM

Ad Homs are comments that argue the person and not the topic. It's best to avoid them. I think all this FR makes sense if we look at The Epistemology of Determinism as it relates to experience. I just saw this written up and the writer has a phd and it makes sense, so it's true. I lost the link, so I will get back with you on that... :)

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:29 PM

Anything but "Food companies, under pressure to produce low fat products, significantly changed the contents of food." nah, couldn't be that. Never mind! :)

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:23 PM

Well, at least one anti-FR troll is up early this morning. What's the matter, did you forget to put enough sugar in your coffee?

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 10:31 AM

Did human brains all just change about 1980? I need to know because I didn't get the memo!

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3 Answers

6
3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

on March 10, 2012
at 06:56 PM

Stephan's article hit all points. He even mentioned food texture, which I argued in earlier posts has a lot to do with palatability. This is not to deny that fat mass accumulation isn't driven by insulin nor hunger by insulin. But the case for food reward is stronger than the simple "high insulin drives hunger drives obesity" theory.

If you doubt that, like I mentioned before, try having some pork rinds, which come with no carbs and will not in theory elevate insulin (it does have some protein, so insulin will rise, yes, but more slowly). You down 2-3 bags in a jiffy and you've downed a couple of hundred calories. You don't think they're addictive? You don't think you'll gain weight with them? But it is true that most hyperpalatable foods have procesed carbs in them, and starch is one such addictive ingredient, along with sugar, salt, and probably PUFA.

Edit: On surface, the insulin and carb theory seem to be correct, as carbs (especially processed carbs) actively interfere with satiety. But then a more accurate view is to realize that it's addiction driven by food reward, not just carb addiction. By addiction, it's sugar, salt, PUFA, starch, even texture, ease of delivery, packaging, and even cost.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 10, 2012
at 08:25 PM

What is confounding the theory, I feel, is that brains are different. For instance I don't find fat terribly palatable. I do find starch uncomfortably palatable but not fruit or sweets. I can go to town and eat (literally) 8 cups of unflavored white rice, or an entire loaf of bread (1 lb) in a sitting but if I eat 2 small Granny Smiths I'm done.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on March 15, 2012
at 02:10 PM

Well, no, I don't think pork rinds are addictive in the same way that potato chips are. I *have* tried to binge on pork rinds. It doesn't work. I just have no desire to eat more than my fill of them. (Of course, coat them with a Dorito-like substance and it'd be a different story.) That's N=1, of course, but I don't think I'm an outlier, considering the tiny selection of pork rinds at my grocery store alongside the entire aisle of crunchy high-carb products.

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e

(3944)

on March 15, 2012
at 02:15 PM

That's why, to me, "food reward" is just redefining terms. Instead of "carbs (perhaps certain carbs) drive higher insulin response and make you fat," it's now, "highly palatable foods (which just happen to be loaded with carbs) do something (which has to raise insulin at some point, since it controls fat storage) that makes you fat." With a few exceptions like diet soda, we're still taking about the same lists of good and bad foods, and low-carbers 10 years ago already knew artificial sugars could be a problem.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 17, 2012
at 03:31 PM

Trhy these and you'll be oinking to hog heaven. http://www.fritolay.com/our-snacks/baken-ets-traditional.html

6
Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:27 PM

I like this summary. Thanks for posting it.

I also like your graph and diary of events. I have not done this and only have a vague idea what my weight was over 40 years of my life. I didn't care enough to write it down.

Seduced by food...what changed in 1980? I'm inclined to say that it wasn't the palatability and reward of the food, or the intensification of advertising. Something more like a breakdown in social inhibition seems more likely to me. Instabilities of various kinds - divorce, loss of distinct cultural identities, attitudes towards child rearing, greater permissiveness in every area - seem more likely. The deconstruction of the concept of "home", and the replacement of that concept with a drive-through version which is all-reward and no-consequences.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:59 PM

Microwave ovens started to spread too.

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 03:02 PM

Agree. And what's missing in all this is the fact that people were systematicly lied to about what they should be eating. They stopped knowing the truth, if they ever really knew it to begin with. Truth got lost. I experienced this and it was maddening. Truth was my reward, not salt, fat, or pizza. Show me how FR takes into account the fact that people were lied to and I will be a FR fan.

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:43 PM

Change the subject much? :)

E0250b1e6dc5ec1539ffb745042b4d80

(3651)

on March 10, 2012
at 01:29 PM

Anything but "Food companies, under pressure to produce low fat products, significantly changed the contents of food." nah, couldn't be that. Never mind! :)

Medium avatar

(10601)

on March 10, 2012
at 02:56 PM

DFH the evil food companies didn't force feed us. Constructionism vs deconstructionism. Ready-to-eat vs home-made. That's a social attitude shift. The evil food companies only gave us the loaded guns we asked for.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 10, 2012
at 06:36 PM

You're looking for 1 villain in this. Sadly, it's doesn't exist, as much as your mind looks for a scapegoat to unload your venom. The food companies want to maximize profits. And the consumer want to eat palatable foods. And the medical establishment was driven by earlier studies that seemed to implicate fat in ill health. And then there are the conspiracy-minded who think it was all done with malicious intent.

3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

(5152)

on March 10, 2012
at 09:51 PM

Like most things in life, it all kind of came together, gaining momentum on its own. It was a chain of events. They all contributed to the epidemic. But there was no active collusion on the part of the food companies, medical establishment, the Big Pharma, and consumers. And once the status quo is set, you can't remove it except with a crow bar.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19473)

on March 11, 2012
at 04:47 PM

Also, the food pyramid nonsense started in 1992, not quite 1980, but close enough: http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall02/greene/history.htm

0df0b1c6ae16bbb75b4a5efa3d876765

(2240)

on March 15, 2012
at 01:56 PM

Some interesting thoughts, thhq. It would be interesting to know the % increase of drive-thru fast food joints during the 80's.

3
1a98a40ba8ffdc5aa28d1324d01c6c9f

(20378)

on March 10, 2012
at 08:37 AM

I really like Stephan's work. This is a very well written article. It will help folks understand his more complex works and/or provide a framework on which to hang things...

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