Food: Dogma, reward, and moderation

While sick this weekend, I entertained myself by reading about the Ancestral Health Symposium that took place at UCLA recently.  It seems to be Weston Pricers, low-carbers, and “paleo” eaters, many of whom seem to think the root of all bad health is fructose (including fruit), and/or gluten, and/or soy, and/or omega-6 mono-fats, and/or fiber, etc.  I found out about it from a blog I read regularly, written  by Stephen Guyenet, who has lately been writing about a theory of obesity, regarding food reward.  I don’t fully understand it, but don’t completely disagree, and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.   Food reward isn’t quite the same thing as taste or palatability, but seems to relate more to hyperpalatability and maybe dopamine receptors, foods that override satiety signals for whatever reason.  I’ll have to go read it again to try to understand it fully, but I’ve been thinking if it relates to me.  For example, why will I overeat some stuff, and not other stuff?  It’s not taste.  I like spicy Korean ramen, will add LOTS of veggies and a few shrimps, cilantro, and I’ll eat the whole thing, which is two bowls.   Soup I made yesterday, lots of veggies, shell beans, ham, ww orzo, I can barely finish one bowl.  Is it the ramen noodles?  Personally, I think it’s the MSG, I’m a big umame fan.  Similar to how I eat whole grain bread with my egg/cheese/bacon/spinch/mushroom, I won’t eat more than one.  If I ate white bread, I could probably eat two.  Same with pasta, I’ll never overeat whole wheat pasta, even with piles of cheese.   These examples could just be due to fiber, not reward, I’ll have to go read the series again (ugh).

Anyway, Gary Taubes and his acolytes don’t seem to like the theory too much, deviates too far from “carbs cause insulin spikes cause obesity” which is apparently the one and ONLY cause of obesity, despite billions who eat white rice or other starch based diets, and aren’t fat.   As a scientist, I am offended by GT**, and his cherry picking, conclusion jumping, tunnel vision, not to mention the arrogant attitude.  I could go on, but I’ll just say I don’t like evangelism of any sort, religious, nutritious, political, anything.  I’m much into the gray, not comfy with black/white or extreme thinking.  (**In all fairness, I will give him credit for leading me away from the idea that low-fat was a good thing, so thanks for that)

Which brings me to another misunderstood concept, that of moderation.  Obviously, moderation is subjective, but many don’t do it at all.  Overheard at party, some guy talking to my ex-landlord’s girlfriend–“Moderation is a glass of wine every other day or three, not a bottle per night”.  Not to her, apparently.  At a dinner party about a month ago, sitting at a table of about 10, fixed price meal (expensive, small portions, my new kinda restaurant but should be tasty), dessert time, and the chocolate cake is mediocre.  I take a bite, decide it’s not worth the calories, put down my fork.  The very skinny woman (of course) is surprised, so I tell her I used to be fat, I can’t eat cake often, and this one isn’t tasty enough to bother.  She looks at me like I just picked my nose and ate it, says she can’t imagine dinner without dessert.  The guy next to me asks her if she’s serious, really does she eats dessert every night, and she says most meals, doesn’t everybody?  It seems most of us eat it once/week or two.  Ieat chocolate cake maybe once a month, and usually I try to split it.  The skinny woman thinks that’s outrageous.  I eat fried chicken maybe 3 times/year, pizza every week or two, usually that I make myself (ww dough, I may overeat it a little but not like pizzeria pizza), at least a little white sugar and flour nearly every day, that’s how I do moderation, though not everyone will agree.

My weight has been stable now for about a year, settled about 55 pounds less than my highest weight.  I would still like to lose more, and I think I know how I can do that now.  In last post, I was wondering if I overcompensate for exercise by eating too much, and I do.  It’s not because it makes me hungry, it’s mostly because I think I should eat more so I don’t bonk in kickboxing class, or justification for a hard workout and being hungry afterwards.  When I don’t go to the gym, I don’t eat until I’m hungry, which isn’t very often.   My maintenance level is supposedly 2200 kcal/day, and I’m probably a few hundred cal below if I don’t go to gym.  Preventative, or prophylactic eating, if you will.    So, no more 1000 cal burritos after the gym on Monday nights, I’ll just save that for Saturday afternoon, if I don’t have dinner plans, as I won’t get hungry again, except for maybe some fruit before bed.

I read somewhere that the studies that saw exercise doesn’t help weight loss are based on 250 kcal, maybe what a person can burn in an hour’s moderately paced, flat walk.  I do 3 cardio classes, 3 strengh training classes, 1 yoga class in a normal week (three sessions-not convenient to get to).   I approximate I burn 2500-3000 extra/week, just from the gym, not including biking/walking/shlepping up the stairs all day.  I think it helps me, or at least enables me to eat without uncomfortable restraint, not to mention serious mental/emotional benefits.  I’m not going to give up my cardio classes, I’m just not going to eat extra (unless I’m truly hungry).    I think this, and really limiting my alcohol (sorry, boyfriend, get used to it), will enable me to lose this last stubborn 10 (2o?) pounds.

Kind of a random post, but random thoughts have been brewing.  Those Weston Pricers and their “neolithic agents of disease” make me want to go eat some ice cream out of spite, but I don’t have any and would prefer some watermelon, thus disproving reward theory, just me and my n=1 experience!  Wait, it doesn’t work like that?  What?!?!

someone has a sense of humor!


11 Responses to “Food: Dogma, reward, and moderation”

  1. 1 RedPanda
    September 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Dessert every night? That’s just weird…

    I haven’t eaten dessert for years. When I eat a restaurant meal, I just don’t want dessert, and they’re usually disappointing anyway. When the waiter asks if I want to see the dessert menu, I always say, “Ooh – yes!”. So I read the menu, decide I don’t want any, then order a black coffee.

    Always pisses them off.

    And what’s with bringing out extra cutlery when my hubby orders dessert and I don’t? Do they assume I was only pretending I didn’t want any, but really want to eat half of my husband’s? If I wanted dessert, I would have ordered it – Duh!

    • September 17, 2011 at 6:27 am

      Why so much anger? In my view and exsperiences, the staff is just trying to be nice.

      • 3 RedPanda
        September 17, 2011 at 10:21 am

        Dr J. – I guess the staff are just trying to be nice, but since I have been dealing with food pushers all my life – even more so since I lost 90 pounds – it’s something I am sensitive to. I also resent people making assumptions about what I do/don’t want to eat. Unless you have previously been obese, you probably wouldn’t understand.

  2. September 14, 2011 at 3:15 am

    What an interesting post! It’s good to see a post from you, I really like your blog. I dislike diet evangalists too. I remember when Atkins was all the rage, I tried it for a day or two and my blood sugar fell through the floor. I need good carbs for energy, and I eat a lot of them every day.

  3. September 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    LOL!! You are doing great!! When I think back to when I first started following you 🙂 Don’t use that as a sound bite about doctor stalkers, OK?

    No question, whole grains and processed sugars are very different in how we react to them. I still believe in training the brain with consistent healthy habits and you have done a good job with that, Julie!

  4. September 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Red Panda – Waitpeople are trying to get you to eat/drink more to increase their business, especially tips. It still feels weird to not order dessert, I’m glad the current bf is not a sweet eater. When I go out with the girls, we tend to split a dessert or two amongst us, I do like the stuff, (when it’s good), just not a lot of it.

    ShrinkingBetsy – I don’t even think I would make it a day. Maybe from bread/grains, but no fruit? I could be wrong, but I’m under the impression that many low-carbers don’t seem to do endurance sports.

    Dr. J – Thanks! Retraining was a must, willpower has very limited effectiveness with me, though I do occasionally have to use it, especially wrt portion size of “rewarding” foods.

  5. September 16, 2011 at 2:07 am

    I used to think a day without a lot of brownies or cookies was a terrible day. Over time, I learned that those foods don’t change my day, don’t make a bad situation better and definitely don’t help my weight. I think my palette “evolved” away from needing and craving sweets all the time.

  6. 8 SM
    September 16, 2011 at 2:57 am

    Julie – I get that wait staff are trying to get me to eat/drink more, but when people try to push food on me, it just gets my back up. If I say I don’t want dessert, that doesn’t mean I’m secretly plotting to eat half of my husband’s.

  7. 9 RedPanda
    September 16, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Sorry – the comment from “SM” is from me, RedPanda.

  8. September 16, 2011 at 3:32 am

    I suggests that you check out Alan Aragon’s website at alanaragon.com and Lyle McDonald’s Bodyrecomposition.com without mentioning James Krieger’s weightology.net
    I am not affiliated by any of these websites but I think the information that you can find from their website are the most reliable ones.

  9. September 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Diane – It’s hard to kill off a sweet tooth completely, but it seems that it really needs to be controlled if we don’t want the weight to return (and we don’t)!

    OTB- I’ve read all of these guys, even subscribe to Weightology. Bought Lyle’s “Flexible Diet”, though I haven’t read it, from what I know, it’s similar to my lifestyle.

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September 2011

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