Recently, Stephan Guyenet ended his food reward series by suggesting that, as a hardcore weight loss strategy, persons could try eating the same three foods every day. His idea, presumably, is that one will get bored with these foods and thus they're reward value and thus consumption will decrease.
Seth Roberts - whose ideas inspired Guyenet's series - offers the opposite (prima facie, at least) advice. He says that eating the same foods over and over again is what makes them comfort foods. Since all foods register some kind of food reward (glutamate, fat, etc), our brain will recognize the foods that we are most familiar with as distinctly rewarding. Thus, to lower our weight setpoints, we should seek out increasingly novel foods, and NOT establish patterns of familiarity.
EDIT: My treatment of SR was somewhat misleading. He originally noticed that eating novel foods suppressed his appetites (one example he provided was drinking unfamiliarly flavored sodas while traveling). And he explained this with his food reward/set point theory, from which he extrapolated the stuff about comfort foods.
Do Guyenet and Roberts really disagree? Are they both sort of right? Is one of them wrong, or maybe just less right? To quote Dr K: What say you Paleohackers?
asked byEric_S (5002)
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on June 30, 2011
at 04:13 AM
I'm going to answer Dr K as an answer because I require extra space and don't want to create an annoying string of comments.
I think there is a levels-of-analysis issue here that reflects your background as an MD and the type of research that drives MD practice and training. Levels-of-analysis is also a pretty standard topic in the philosophy of science, so we're dealing with a classic problem (so humanities types might even find this interesting, not just science geeks).
The food reward concept focuses to some extent on what we might call the behavioral level, which is the level of analysis on which social scientists - including cognitive psychologists like Roberts - typically work. Neurons and other components of biochemical mechanisms and processes are on a much smaller level of analysis, which is the general focus in med school, and of the hard sciences that med students are tested on by the MCAT.
Obviously, the two levels are always present and true: all behaviors co-occur with brain or neural activity. Thus, when we develop and discuss a concept like food reward we can do so on both - and presumably many other - relevant levels of analysis. If people are inclined to respond to foods as rewarding, then this will be evident on the neural level - and indeed obese people show different brain activity patterns than non-obese in fMRI studies - and on the subjective phenomenal levels - i.e., they will experience and describe their experience of food differently than non-obese people.
It is thus odd to begin your response with:
Food reward is just the outflow tract of this system...[of] neurons that drive the dopamine receptors.. (emphasis mine)
I don't think we want to say - or imply - that food reward is just or reduces to the system that you discuss. You may be correct (and I think that you are) that those neurons are important, and that leptins (and probably lots of other stuff) affect them. It is less clear, however, that this serves as evidence that the best treatment of obesity will be one that directly affects this system and the relevant components of the processes you mentioned. That may lead to one set of dietary or medicinal interventions.
However, since the behavioral or phenomenal level or manifestation of the processes you are talking about also co-occur, then focusing on them, at their level of analysis, might lead to another set of interventions that largely overlaps with the former set (especially the dietary ones) but not completely. So, for example, the research you are discussing is probably not likely to result in, say, a new type of behavioral therapy, at least not in a direct manner. Also, on the phenomenal level, when we Paleohackers read Guyenet's series, it gives us some simple conceptual tools that help us make sense of our experience when we make food-related evaluations and decisions. A bio-chemical description can provide this too, but it would require more mental energy and theoretical extrapolation.
One big concern with reducing higher levels of analysis to lower levels is that significant and successful treatments can be discovered and studied on the behavioral level absent any knowledge of the underlying biochemical processes. The best example of this is just about all of Seth Roberts' experimental findings. He has ideas about what is going on beneath the hood, but he doesn't really know, & in some sense he does't care, either. And there's nothing wrong with that.
That said, I find your comment characteristically interesting, helpful, and informative. I just think it commits a theoretical error that could give some readers the wrong idea.
on June 30, 2011
at 04:02 AM
Guyenet's theory resonates much more with me that Roberts and I have used these techniques many times over and lost weight. I don't really find these ideas revolutionary or even new. This idea has been the basis of other diets although perhaps not expressly so. Limiting food choices to just a few is something I've seen with weight loss clinics, HCG, food exchange programs, and certain all the liquid diets that have come and gone. Some of these not as extreme as eating only 3-4 items but certainly an emphasis on bland, simply prepared, unexciting foods with little appeal or "reward". The problem is this technique ultimately fails to teach a person to develop a new relationship with food. I've lost hundreds of pounds eating exclusively eggs and chicken or beef and greens and apples or drinking just protein shakes. It does take the focus on food and the pleasure associated away. But each and every time I was left to my own devises to figure out how to live with all foods and keep the weight off. Huge FAIL. Yes I think it works and anyone can easily lose weight this way but I see it as yet another pointless exercise that only leaves a person thinking they are somehow defective when they gain the weight back.
The Quilt says this system doesn't change the underlying biochemistry and he's right. But even getting that all lined up perfectly doesn't mean much without one other piece. I would say Guyenet's system (like most weight loss plans) doesn't change the underlying person and that is the big problem. You have to learn to think differently, which makes you feel differently which lets you carve out a new life for yourself that can sustain the weight loss. No one is going to live on three foods day in and day out for the rest of their life. It would be foolish to think anyone would. At some point people still need to learn to live in the big wide world of real food in all it's variety (or at least a wider variety than 3 foods) Without that piece non of it amounts to a hill of beans IMO.
on June 30, 2011
at 05:09 AM
Perhaps both? I will use an analogy from my experience with weight lifting -
If I start a typical 12 week cycle, it will tend to focus on certain strategy or approach. Perhaps low reps/high weight vs high weights/low reps, split workouts vs whole body workouts, bodyweight exercises vs iron, etc. I know this is not the typical Crossfit approach of constant change, but for me, I find there is some benefit to staying the course for some period of time.
Over the course of the "cycle", there will usually some positive results. At some point however, perhaps due to CNS fatigue or whatever other biochemical reason, a plateau ensues. At that point changing it up to a completely different approach is usually the required action. The next cycle of positive gains continues until the next plateau.
So perhaps the answer to your question is - repetition until stagnation, then novelty.
My 2 cents...
on June 30, 2011
at 02:47 AM
For me food reward is just the outflow tract of this system. It has nothing to do with why we get obese. I do think the neurons that drive the dopamine receptors are critically important. These are the hypocretin neurons discovered by Luis de Lecea of Stanford University. There are some unusual things present we know about those neurons too. Leptin directly is stimulatory to these neurons and leptin resistance makes these neurons hypoactive in functional MRI studies. This diminished functioning or overt damage do cause obesity in all models. This points to them being the dominant factor in obesity. They are also now the number one target in addiction medicine and in sleep research. Dr de Lecea is actually a sleep researcher and very interested in how these neurons couple sleep and metabolism. I just recently blogged about how leptin and sleep are yoked. In mammals they are quite new phylogenetically and in humans there is an incredibly small number (50K) that project to every brain system. Moreover, they really drive the dopamine outflow tracts seen in reward behavior. So when one loses these neurons directly by damage (autoimmune or MSG) we see dramatic obesity effects. When we neurosurgeons see damage to the outflow tracts in Stephen series we don't see obesity. We see issue related to lack of motivation and defects in learning and exploring our environment. I enjoyed his theory but it is not plausible based upon my understanding of neuro-anatomy as it currently stands.
As for Seth theories.....I think he astutely points out that eating the same foods over and over again stimulates the same reverberating circuits in the brain and make those foods comfort foods and calming to us because of the modulating effects on the reward tracts. But these tracts don't cause obesity when they are damaged by tumor, surgery, or by trauma. Reward tracts are important but they are not dominant factors in obesity. I guess I just disagree with them and they may disagree with me. The neural tracts are quite well understood and worked out because of knock out and knock in studies done on numerous mammals. IT maybe that they are not aware of this work because it is relatively new. But it is big news in sleep and addiction research journals.
on June 30, 2011
at 02:23 AM
I would tend to agree with Seth Roberts - that eating the same foods repetitiously makes them a comfort food and thus rewarding. The reason I think this is becuase I tend to eat the same things constantly. I like to have my yoghurt for breakfast, chicken salad at lunch, fruit in the afternoon and a vegetable omlette for dinner, at least on weekdays so minimum 5 days a week. I didn't start out this way, but it has become a tasty convenience because these meals involve minimal preparation. But now I do definitely see them as rewarding. I LOVE what I eat and often when I mix it up a bit I still feel like I maybe want an omlette lol. Luckily for me, the things I'm eating are healthy!
on July 04, 2011
at 09:57 PM
I find it interesting that Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests no more than five ingredients for those with weight issues. My TCM practitioner even used the words "too stimulating" when describing my old diet, which most MDs would have characterized as "perfect".
The wisdom of the Ancients, yet again.
on June 30, 2011
at 04:44 PM
I don't really see any conflict. Bland foods are less likely to trigger reward pathways as are novel foods and I think all of the suggested foods sounded pretty bland.
In addition Roberts theorized that exact repetition was more rewarding and was "learned" faster. Most foods based on natural foods can't be exactly replicated like rat chow or McDonalds.
on August 24, 2013
at 07:08 AM
I've been applying Stephan Guyenet's recommendations and Seth Robert's oil shots in flavorless windows with MCT oil. This combination is crazy effective.
I already lost 8 pounds in the weeks before starting this, and lost another 8 pounds. This last 8 pounds was the easiest 8 pounds I have ever lost. I am now down 120 pounds having lost it incredibly slowly from 2005 to 2013.
I have lost interest in artificial sweeteners, stevia, coffee, and in the past week, now chocolate does not move me. I have read other cases of people stating that they have lost interest in addictive food, coffee, and even cigarettes.
Per Stephan Guyeent, I generally avoid calorie dense foods, I don't snack, I stick to a primal diet (potatoes and dairy included but I dilute milk or keifer out of caution re: caloric density), I don't sweeten foods, I eat a lot of bone broth soups, I don't add fat or salt to my food except for vegetables because they otherwise would not be eaten (Kerrygold butter), and since Stephan recommends having a couple of good meals per week....I eat out a couple of times a week, usually Japanese, Asian Fusion, or Vietnamese food, and I will have it as tasty as I can get it. I get plenty of fat through the MCT oil shots.
They are both right....this seriously works. I have a thread in lowcarbfriends. We are finding this works like nothing else has. I was afraid I was going to be trapped into using the potato hack or protein-sparing modified fasts (the only methods that have worked over the past year and a half).
I discovered it upon going through Chris Kresser's website, then moving on to Stephan Guyenet's blog, and Stephan mentions Seth Robert's method at the bottom of his list of recommended steps for weight loss as an alternate method. I highly recommend just applying them both.
on August 24, 2013
at 11:54 AM
Both of these approaches sound like useful tricks to add to thousands of useful weight loss tips people have ever discovered. Once the goal is accomplished and you move on, are they of any use for maintaining the loss? Not really. I'd rather maintain on novelty than three foods, since novelty is what presents itself today at every market. It's what we live with. To Guyenet's argument, in the ancestral sense living on anything available locally & seasonally that can be digested, there is nothing novel. For countless thousands of years the same set local pattern was eaten. However, this was not necessarily bland, and was composed of far more than three foods.
I think Shari has the best hack here. Life is for living, eating is a necessary part of it, and we have to put it in perspective. Life is not an endless series of weight loss diets.
on June 30, 2011
at 07:11 PM
We're probably more susceptible to Pavlovian training than we think, which may be why repetition of food that is hypertasty results in both increased desire for that food, as well as less desirable anticipatory responses (perhaps, secreting insulin as a reaction to taste). Repetition of food that is bland doesn't seem like it has the chance to cause these problems, instead resulting in an attitude towards food as fuel rather than pleasure.
Someone should rewatch Super Size Me with an eye towards this sort of thing. I don't think I could stomach it again.