Sunday, September 25, 2011

Food Reward: My Thoughts and Experiences

The latest debate in nutrition is food reward vs. low carb. The argument goes something like this: low carb works in practice, but Gary Taubes et al have the science of it wrong. A cause of obesity is getting a reward from eating certain foods, and overeating them. At least, that's how I understand it. And I find it puzzling.

Do people hit their mid-30s and suddenly start finding food more rewarding? That's when most people start putting on weight. 

How is it that the French and Swiss, whose diets are well known for their wonderful taste, are thinner than Midwestern Americans, whose food is as bland as the Kansas prairie? And if food reward isn't about palatability, how do you know it's rewarding--because the subjects ate more of it? If they ate more of it because it's rewarding, then the argument is a tautology. Maybe I don't understand this part.

It seems that most of the "high-reward foods" are the ones that spike blood sugar--even in people without a metabolic problem. Falling blood sugar two hours later can make you hungry, tired or both. I see this all the time, even in young, thin people. Another thing: if you want more high-reward food like cookies or chips, all you have to do is grab another handful or put 75 cents in a vending machine. If you want another helping of so-called lower reward food, you'll probably have to spend some time and effort making it or more than 75 cents buying it. Eating real food and whacking out the junk carbs prevents mindless snacking. It also provides more nutrients--remember the part in Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes about obesity being a disease of malnutrition?

When I do find that something tastes good and eat past the point of being full, I usually have a few more bites. (Far more often, I get full and put away leftovers.) Since being on a low-carb diet, even when I'm hungry, I can usually put off eating for a few hours without discomfort. But back when I ate a high-carb diet, I was ravenous every few hours. 

Finally, a tasty diet is easier to stick to. I've had enough canned tuna, cottage cheese and boneless, skinless chicken breasts--foods I ate when I was putting on weight--to last me the rest of my life. And if I started packing away the potatoes and pasta again, no matter how bland, I'm pretty sure I'd pack on a few pounds as well.


Exceptionally Brash said...

Well, I have to wonder why seasonings and spices are also off the food reward diet. It seems more like a punishment for being fat than a solution. The whole theory is just an elaboration of the idea that we get fat because we eat too much. Taubes is saying that we get fat because of a fat storage dysregulation. But, really, they can argue all they want about why we get fat. How we can lose it is very simple, and probably not related to how much pepper I use.

Lori Miller said...

Unless someone has a medical condition that prevents them from eating a high fat diet, I don't know why anyone would prefer choking down plain roots and unseasoned meat to limiting the carbs and enjoying everything else.

I don't cook for other people or eat a restaurants much, but it seems like a FR diet would be hard to do under those circumstances.

Exceptionally Brash said...

Actually, it is pretty easy to eat this unseasoned stuff. It just takes a couple of weeks and the palate is totally reset. Another reason why his theory is wrong. Check out my story. (By the end of the experiment, it was n=11. Insignificant weight loss, in spite of everyone getting used to the food.)

Lori Miller said...

I read your post about the locavore experiment. Yes, if people get used to certain flavors (or lack thereof), it seems like the FR diet wouldn't work after a while (if it ever did). But I imagine you and your friends combined, say, sweet potatoes and butter instead of eating them separately as Guyanet recommends.

I grew up on dull Midwestern fare and never learned to like it. (BTW, my mom became obese and diabetic on this bland diet, and I never observed her to overeat. Just too much starch and too little insulin.)

In any event, what works in a lab or looks good on paper doesn't always work in real life. And I love the term "ratscapades."