6

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Food Reward and Anhedonia

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 03, 2012 at 6:09 PM

So I've been trying out Stephan's "Food Reward" approach, and have had great initial success with weight loss and hunger control. My only problem so far has been a general feeling of anhedonia. I'm not depressed exactly, but I'm having trouble caring or getting excited about things. My creativity has also plunged (I work in a creative field). I've tried throwing myself into various projects and activities as an alternative way to fire those reward pathways, but the result is just... meh.

Curiously, I went back through some old journals I kept when I did the low fat thing back in the mid-90s, and discovered that I suffered from anhedonia with that approach too (although it wasn't specifically focused on reducing food reward).

Anyone else having trouble with anhedonia?

(I should also clarify that I've been LC/VLC paleo for three years now, so this isn't just some sort of general adjustment to the paleo diet.)

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 03, 2012
at 07:46 PM

Seems like your brain is similar to Stephan's. It's often hard for neurotypicals to understand that non-neurotypicals can't just willpower/meditate their way out of their problems, at least in the same way neurotypicals can. Extensive hacking might be required for non-neurotypicals and success rates for most programs that treat reward issues is low (like Alcoholics Anonymous).

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 07:37 PM

I'm around 3 and a half weeks into low reward. It's gradually gotten worse, so it doesn't really seem like withdrawal? I've mostly just cut fruit and cream (I used to use a LOT of cream), chocolate, nuts, and any "excessive" use of fat.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 03, 2012
at 07:04 PM

Well, if the food can't get you "fired up" ,there are still drugs and sex with very unstable people to keep you from homelessness. :)

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 06:55 PM

It's true that I usually have to work myself up into something of a state to be creative. I do love my career, though. A hell of a lot more than I love potatoes...

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 06:51 PM

Just downloaded "Compass," thanks. It's interesting to connect this with addiction. I've always found it odd that I gain weight when I quit drinking. I must be looking for reward in food instead of booze.

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6 Answers

5
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 03, 2012
at 06:22 PM

Yes, this was my main problem when I tried a starch-based low-fat "paleo" diet, which is the equivalent of a low reward diet. I cried a lot. And didn't want to do anything. It's the main reason I quit the experiment. I think everyone's brain is different.

A book I'm reading that I definitely recommend is The Compass of Pleasure. I have MANY addicts in my family and I've had some addiction issues myself. THe brains of people like me are defective in terms of dopamine signaling. We want things more, but we don't enjoy them more than normal people. The way I have managed to curb eating is to recognize this novel-seeking behavior that lives within me, and work with it. Primarily I do this by eating very small amounts of expensive luxurious novel foods at least every other day or so. Extremely high quality ice cream, pate, or good sashimi for example. Seth Robert's Shang Ri La diet operates on similar principles, but uses a cheaper method, which is drinking oil.

Someone like Stephan can be happy independent of the level of pleasure from food he gets from his life. I'm not like that.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 06:51 PM

Just downloaded "Compass," thanks. It's interesting to connect this with addiction. I've always found it odd that I gain weight when I quit drinking. I must be looking for reward in food instead of booze.

3
96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on March 03, 2012
at 07:21 PM

I have the "addictive brain" gene/gene expression for sure. Now that I'm not binge eating I need to be creative in how I rotate/prepare foods to achieve healthy reward levels.

For example, for some time I've been slicing a banana and some cinnamon into my home-made yogurt. This morning I took a frozen banana and cut it into chunks and pulsed it in my blender with yogurt and cinnamon. Exactly the same foods, but a cold and yummy experience. I can tell you my reward center did a jig and I'll do this again some time.

I don't just make leafy salads any more, I play games with myself on how I prepare the greens--sometimes large chunks, others almost shredded--and the textures/colors of the veggies I add.

When I've been too long without food reward, as in I'm bored, I don't go flat or depressed so much as sullen and pouty. It's not pretty so I make an effort to keep myself serene by (in addition to sipping yummy coffee with cream and honey) making sure I think about what I want to eat and how I'm going to fix it.

One interesting development is that by trying ADF (alternate day fasting) I've discovered that, unlike what's been reported by many, I DON'T get sullen or crabby on fasting days. I don't understand what's actually happening but on my fasting days I tend to be almost manic, with very high spirits and high energy. And that's fine with me as long as there's no crash--perhaps it's that I'm not going longer than 48 hours?

3
D8c04730b5d016a839b3c5b932bf59dd

on March 03, 2012
at 07:17 PM

How long have you been doing the food reward thing? I just heard of it with your post... but I did see that Stephan recommended meditation and that it takes a few weeks for simple food to become satisfying. I have always preferred simple foods, almost all my guests add salt. :)

I recommend Geneen Roth's Women, Food, and God. (yes, I observed your nick, and that you're likely not a woman) ;) She mostly works with women, and she is one, so speaks more to that. But her ideas are sound. She talks about the anhedonia. And meditation and awareness (mindfulness).

I did observe in myself, when first eating strict paleo, an amazing peacefulness. For me, it was welcome, but I can't say I've ever suffered from high creativity. I was very surprised by the peacefulness, as one hears about meat-eaters being more aggressive and all kinds of bs like that. I actually also started caring more about things I had not previously thought to care about.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 03, 2012
at 07:46 PM

Seems like your brain is similar to Stephan's. It's often hard for neurotypicals to understand that non-neurotypicals can't just willpower/meditate their way out of their problems, at least in the same way neurotypicals can. Extensive hacking might be required for non-neurotypicals and success rates for most programs that treat reward issues is low (like Alcoholics Anonymous).

2
A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

on March 03, 2012
at 06:32 PM

Yep, this happens me too, I just get a 'spaced-out' feeling like I'm not really experiencing life, merely existing. I think there is a reward set-point just like a body-fat one. If you go too low too fast you will experience consequences.

Like Melissa there is a lot of alcoholism and depression in my family so that may be a factor too.

I get around it by minimising other rewarding substances like alcohol and caffeine and eating food that is rewarding but not hyper-palatable. For me this includes ice-cream, a lovely treat but easy for me to moderate and a good amount of natural glutamate like tamari and tomato puree.

I really pity people that need to limit herbs and spices to lose weight.

1
E98d00c79f0e16e6fa0f50cd0e244977

on March 03, 2012
at 07:04 PM

Sounds almost as if you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms. How long have you been at it? And just how low in reward is the present diet compared to your earlier Paleo fare?

Incidentally, I endured a similar zestlessness shortly after giving up pornography, and it held for nearly three months. Because of the nature of the limbic system, a sort of 'sex reward' hypothesis of erectile dysfunction / relationship disharmony (check out Cupid's Poisoned Arrow and the website Your Brain on Porn) seems a corollary to the food reward hypothesis of obesity; it makes sense (to this non-scientist, anyway) that there might be similar short-term effects of reward deprivation in either domain.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 07:37 PM

I'm around 3 and a half weeks into low reward. It's gradually gotten worse, so it doesn't really seem like withdrawal? I've mostly just cut fruit and cream (I used to use a LOT of cream), chocolate, nuts, and any "excessive" use of fat.

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 03, 2012
at 06:21 PM

ANHEDONIA was Woodie Allen's original name for the movie ANNIE HALL. Check it out. Woody my have some clues. Also,...... My moods are in a slow continual process of evening out from Paleo/chelation. "Creativity" as defined in our Western society may be greatly influenced by being more or less "aggitated ". Think Larry David or Woody. These are not serene people! I'll take calm over creative if I have to make a choice. Better for the health. .... But, Let's assume Stephan's Plan actually works.! It may be bringing you to a deeper "Paleolithic mind set" That mindset probably doesn't allow for a lot of" mental fussing" over Neolithic trivial bullshit. As long as you're fed, warm and safe from preditors, your Neolithlic based art and career will suffer. You will get fired and start to starve, and beome homeless, when suddenly you will start to be creative again. :) After watching ANNIE HALL , try all 93 pages of Freud's CIVILIZATIONS AND ITS DISCONTENTS.You are in the midst of the pendulum swing between Freud's security/numbing -creativity/vulnerability poles. Who knew those dammed bland tubers would be so powerful?Good luck. You'll be fine!.......... And yes, I do believe those dammed tubers are that powerful.

2e060a5edde44c1fe77abcf8d3997e01

(865)

on March 03, 2012
at 06:55 PM

It's true that I usually have to work myself up into something of a state to be creative. I do love my career, though. A hell of a lot more than I love potatoes...

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on March 03, 2012
at 07:04 PM

Well, if the food can't get you "fired up" ,there are still drugs and sex with very unstable people to keep you from homelessness. :)

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