Friday, December 9, 2011

60 Minutes Report on the Flavorist Industry

A reader sent me a link to a recent CBS documentary titled "Tweaking Tastes and Creating Cravings", reported by Morley Safer.

Safer describes the "flavorist" industry, entirely dedicated to crafting irresistible odors for the purpose of selling processed and restaurant food.  They focused on the company Givaudin.  Dr. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, makes an appearance near the end.

Here are a few notable quotes:

Safer: You're trying to create an addictive taste.
Flavorist: That's a good word.

Safer: Strawberry and vanilla flavor can come from the gland in a beaver's backside.

Chef: It makes you want to eat this again and again and again.  It's like sex.  
Safer: [walking down a grocery store aisle] Almost every product on this aisle has been enhanced artificially or with so-called natural flavors.
Kessler: We're living in a food carnival.
Teams of highly trained professionals are working around the globe to create foods that exploit our natural food preferences, resulting in hyperpalatable and hyper-rewarding products that drive our reward circuits beyond what they are adapted to constructively handle.  Our preferences served us well in a natural environment, but in today's world, they are exploited by commercial interests.  Common sense suggests that this would contribute to obesity, and the scientific literature strongly supports this notion.  The public's awareness of this is gradually increasing.


Todd Hargrove said...

It is ironic that the food reward hypothesis has received such a cool reception from the paleo community, given that it can so easily be understood in terms of paleo style logic, as you show in this post.

As Kurt Harris might say, food reward is a good candidate to be considered as a major neolithic agent of disease. And it may be the key NAD for obesity and related metabolic problems.

I am convinced that "gourmet paleo" is a contradiction in terms.

Paul Jaminet said...

Todd, I guess I'm one of those who doesn't see a contradiction between "gourmet" and "paleo."

Is there any evidence that Paleo peoples were not aware of all of our modern spices/ingredients and most of our methods of cooking? We know they engaged in communal feasts from 200 kya. Might they not have been very good at creating palatable "gourmet" meals?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Paul,

My reading on non-industrial cultures, particularly hunter-gatherers, suggests that they ate (as far as I know) very simple food on a day to day basis almost invariably. I only say "almost" because I don't like to speak in absolutes, but I have never encountered a "gourmet" non-industrial culture. They did have feasts where more care was taken in food prep, but that was not typical. They just didn't have the technology or ingredients to do the kind of cooking we do today. They couldn't even sauté onions.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Todd,

I think certain sectors of the paleol community took to the idea quite well. Staffan Lindeberg was very receptive after my AHS talk. Cordain went out of his way to compliment my talk and shake my hand. Eaton was also very positive. I think the only people who have been really negative are some (but not all) of the dyed in the wool low carb crowd

Todd Hargrove said...


I will admit I had you in mind a little with my comment:) Thanks for being part of the conversation.

I am not a scholar on the novelty of gourmet cooking, but I do recall being influenced by a previous post by Stephan discussing the low reward value of traditional diets. Also, whenever I see modern hunter gatherers eating in some documentary, it looks like some pretty simple food.

It seems pretty reasonable to guess that our tastes are not well designed by evolution to lead to good food consumption choices when exposed to foods that are specifically designed to act as a supernormal stimulus. Reminds me of Richard's phrase "food porn." Porn gets us aroused for pictures and videos, which is not what our sexual attractions were designed to consume. Perhaps food porn is similarly manipulative.


That's good to hear that some of the leaders are listening to what you have to say about reward. I agree that most of the resistance is in the low carb crowd.

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Ed said...


I'm quite skeptical that my great-grandparents cooked with hydrolyzed soy protien, and even further skeptical that my evolutionary ancestors incorporated the industrial flavorings found in cheetohs.

I think there is a meaningful difference between the steak grilled with salt and pepper at home and the doctored version found at Chili's, in terms of culinary excitement. Salt and pepper are trivially sourced nowadays, not so for our evolutionary ancestors.

Home cooks today can prepare food with a higher reward factor today than at any time in the past, for example tomato paste with it's concentrated sugar and savory elements is cheap to buy at the supermarket and keeps easily for any-time use, and to Stephan's example, I can buy sweet onions year-round. I believe that you could carry a higher level of body fat while only cooking at home compared to 100 years ago, but that level would probably still be around a not unhealthy range (just my wild opinion). But, eating commercially prepared food (e.g. Chili's, McDonalds, Papa Johns pizza, anything from Frito-Lay, Nestle group, etc etc) exposes you to flavorings and cooking techniques that even a modern home cook would have a difficult or impossible time acquiring and using.

For Paul and other skeptics, I think it's important to think about the broad range of reward value, and reflect on the level of technology and budget required to achieve that what you find in a bag of cheetohs or Oreos or Sun Chips. Paul, you in particular hypothesize that high-reward food is more satiating and nutritious than low reward food. I think that nutrition and reward may have strongly correlated over the last 2 million years, but I think that the correlation is now strongly inverse in today's supermarket. And, my intuition says that high-reward food would always inspire hunger, due to its typical rarity and the need for humans to take advantage of opportunities to consume dense nutrients.

Just my opinion and I'm wide open for feedback from all corners.

Aravind said...

Hello Paul,

Food as a source of daily entertainment seems highly improbable as being "Paleo". I certainly do not like engaging in re-enactment fantasies, but the practicality of being a "foodie" in ancestral times seems unlikely, but of course that is speculative.

Perhaps the fundamental issue here comes back to something I've mentioned on your blog, which has to do with the definition of the word "reward". At this risk of oversimplifying or misstating, you have written about reward from the perspective of providing adequate micronutrition, thereby not leading to overconsumption. Stephan has elucidated reward from the perspective of properties including but not limited to palatability that leads to over consumption. So high reward for you implies satiety due to nutritional needs being met, whereas for Stephan high reward leads to excess calories. The definition of reward is not aligned.

My own personal bias is that it is possible to overeat on a toxin free, highly nutritious diet. There are countless stories in Paleo land of people stalled on their weight loss in spite of strict dietary compliance and I don't think we can simply dismiss them as being permanently metabolically broken.

Food Reward as defined by Stephan seems to be a reasonable factor as the cause. To be clear, I do not think it is the only factor.

Warm regards,

perishedcore said...

Thanks for posting this, Stephan. Concomitant with this, another recent studay done by statisticians demonstrated a strong (very strong) correlation with the ingestion of combination high fat/high processed carb food and BMI in the US. Only that particular combination had the relational robustness. I would hazard an educated guess that those food products are flavorized.

SamAbroad said...

Hi Stephan,

Do you think there might be a 'food-reward'-stat, like there is an adipostat?

Just because when we introduce a culture to high-reward food, it's an awful lot more difficult to get them to go back to low-reward long term.

I suppose I'm still struggling with keeping food simple. Breakfast is not a problem because it's always been a functional meal to me. But come dinner time I'm looking at my simple plate of plain potatoes and meat and vegetables and the feelings of deprivation are so much more intense.

I've been adding in flavoured sauces to dinner and not only am I losing weight, but my likelyhood to 'cheat' on something else is vastly reduced.

I think there may be a compliance/weight loss line upon which everyone must find their 'sweet spot'.

I also still think that tasty rewarding healthy food can lower the adipostat just fine in most people. The difficult cases may need to take it up a notch, maybe focus more on the level 1 and 2 and I think most people can get on board. Tell people their food can no longer give them pleasure and you are going to be met with denial and resistance.

Alex said...

As a low to moderate carb paleo dieter, this food reward concept just doesn't resonate with me because every single thing I eat is palatable and rewarding, yet mysteriously, I don't gain weight. The only paleo food that I will mindless consume to excess is nuts, so I generally don't buy them. Besides nuts, the only other foods that drive weight gain are starchy foods of any kind, because they dysregulate overall appetite, and fatty carbs because they are highly addictive.

Aravind said...

Hello Alex,

You wrote that overconsume nuts. Since nuts are mostly fat, not carbs, how do you explain that?

Reward is not synonymous with palatability though correlated. What's rewarding for you may not be for me and vice versa.

What do you mean by "fatty carbs" - fat added to carbs or carbs making you fat due to DNL and the CIH? Regardless, your own words of being "highly addictive" actually is consistent with Stephan's concept of reward.

FWIW, I have lost 25-30 lbs this year on a high carb (50+%) diet without deliberate caloric restriction. My personal bias is that it is attributed to NAD avoidance coupled with low reward as defined by Stephan.


Alex said...

I don't have an explanation for why I'll mindlessly eat fatty nuts but not overeat bacon, steak with butter, etc.

By fatty carbs, I mean things like fried potato or corn chips, French fries, bread slathered with butter, ice cream, cake with icing, etc. And, the organic versions from the healthfood store or homemade are no less addictive, so it's not a matter of some added chemical flavoring. I can make fries in the convection oven with organic potatoes and duck fat and stuff my face with them. It's specifically the combination of fat and carbs that is addictive.

Aravind said...


Stephan has also written about this topic of combinations of carbs/fats as it relates to reward. So again, I would argue your experience is consistent, not contradictory, to what he has written.

Moreover if you watch his AHS11 presentation, I explicitly asked him this question about macronutrient combinations....after Gary Taubes cut in front of me to ask his question :-)


Mrs. Ed said...

Great post. I would love to see more about this. It would be both interesting and disturbing, to see a source list for all these additives. I find the war on drugs quite humourous in light of the food additives and all the pharmaceutical commercials on during prime time.

Gretchen said...

1. Hunger is the best sauce. If you're living on the edge of starvation, any nourishing food will be rewarding.

2. I don't think any reasonable low-carber will disagree with the idea that people eat more when the food is novel or delicious than when it's boring.

The disagreement concerns whether reward is the *only* factor and is responsible for the so-called obesity epidemic. I think it's clearly not.

Paul Jaminet said...

Hi Stephan, Todd,

I would agree that Paleo *diets* were generally boring and repetitive. Because who wants to devote a lot of labor to cooking, day in and day out? Although it is easier to cook with modern technology, few want to do that today either.

But I think Paleo technology was quite capable of making gourmet meals when they chose to do so.

Also, these definitional issues of food reward keep my head spinning. The food that is contributing to the obesity epidemic, like Twinkies and Doritos and Coca-Cola, is not what I would characterize as "gourmet food." What I would characterize as gourmet food - a meal in an expensive French restaurant - would not, I believe, contribute to obesity.

So if "hyperpalatable" is really the right word for the obesogenic foods, is it appropriate to link that term to gourmet paleo?

Aravind said...


I think throwing out palatability from the discussion would make the reward definitional issues less problematic (not necessarily problem free though). I've never written that here before :-)


bopes said...

So, to avoid excessive food reward one should avoid highly processed, "flavorized" food?

Seems like a no-brainer. But I think most paleo-ish types tossed out their bottles of beaver ass-gland sauce long ago.

Paul Jaminet said...

Hi Ed,

I'm inclined to think it's not the sophistication of McDonald's and Chili's that's the problem but the low quality ingredients.

I would agree that the correlation between nutrition and palatability is broken in the center of the supermarket - but not around the edges.

Hi Aravind,

I agree, food was the primary source of daily drudgery and hard labor in Paleo times (and remains a significant source of such today).

I think you're right that Stephan and I are working from somewhat different conceptions of the food reward system of the brain. I think of it in terms of its evolutionary coordinating functions of modulating diet to meet the needs of the body subject to constraints input from other parts of the brain - and thus it must be influenced by the state of the body as well as by the diet - and it must have both innate and learned components. Although Stephan's view is similar and we might have a hard time generating specific statements we would disagree on, it seems that there must be a difference in perspective, because the way he phrases things often strikes me as a bit "off." Probably I strike him the same way.

There are many reasons why people may stall on weight loss. I don't think "overeating" is a good explanation for it.

Gretchen said...

Paul said, "I would agree that Paleo *diets* were generally boring and repetitive. Because who wants to devote a lot of labor to cooking, day in and day out? Although it is easier to cook with modern technology, few want to do that today either."

I think a lot of discussion about Paleo cooking and eating habits is people talking about things they really don't know anything about.

We have no real idea of how paleolithic people ate.

But on the basis of more recent history, I think cooking the food pales in comparison to the work involved in raising the meat or hunting it down, butchering it, digging the tubors, or cultivating the garden and canning the extra produce.

As long as people want the easy way out (eating all their meals out), they're going to be eating toxic food.

I once read an article about some African hunter-gatherers who spent all day hiking long distances (the reporters had difficulty keeping up) to dig tubors and then hiked back again, threw it all in a pot, boiled it, and ate their only meal of the day. The next day they did the same thing.

Another article was about some Australian aborigines, who spent only 15 minutes a day gathering what they needed and spent the rest of the day sitting around gossiping.

Clearly, paleolithic habits must have differed just as much.

pbo said...

I have been eating paleo w/ diary for the past 8 months. I have been able to maintain weight pretty effortlessly. As for most paleo eaters, I tend to be on the lower carb side. Days I workout I might be more moderate carb levels.

For me it seems, that restricting foods in general (carbs, fat, meat, etc), will obviously result in a reduced amount of calories, and hence a loss of weight.

As anyone who has started a new diet knows, you have to stop eating your "goto foods". These are probably foods that are highly rewarding, and foods that you enjoy in general, and probably tend to overeat.

You start to try new foods, which at first might not be as rewarding or palatable. Over time, this can change as you learn to fit it into your daily diet (you learn how to season these new meals better, what foods go well together).

I was vegetarian for 10 years (up until 8 months ago). When I first became a vegetarian I had lost some weight too. At first I was eating very bland salads and other boring meals (tomato sandwich... yum). I did not get how to eat properly without including meat. As time passed, my meals became more and more favorable, as I found new sources (morning start products, boca, any fake meat products). Weight gradually came back.

Now that I am eating paleo, I am learning what meals work for me, how to properly cook meat, etc. I see my self looking up paleo recipes sites, looking at food porn, etc.

What I still struggle with is overeating, and wanted to eat when I am not hungry. I have noticed that I have been adding more salt, pepper, spices, and hot sauce to my dishes. This might be me trying to compensate for my reduction in carb sources (which are rewarding).

I have since tried to not add as much spices and hot sauce. I definitely noticed a difference in that I am more satisfied after eating, and not looking for some treat or small snack after dinner.

It seems obvious that we do seek out food that gives us the most reward. I do agree with Paul that this is natural and something that nature has given us to find out nutrients and eat the right food. That being said, in a society and culture where we can eat anything we want, our body reward system is being bombarded, and this could signal to our body that food is abundant and to store excess fat as a safety mechanism.

In times of famine and food scarcity, food reward is an adaption to ensure we eat the right foods and energy (Pauls point). To make sure it is worth it go out on the hunt (or gather some tubers). Otherwise we would probably starve ourselves (Our bodies have adapted to this too via ketosis, in case a bit too long to gather food).

I think food reward in times of feast or famine is a survival mechanism to make sure we have enough energy. In times of abundance, storage, in times of scarcity, helps us eat the most important foods.

Keenan said...

I think another major problem is that food reward isn't a constant. When I did the 811 diet(salt free/very low fat diet) anything with salt or fat was extremely rewarding, stuff that wouldn't even be that appetizing on my current eating regimen was seriously like crack in my 811 days. The same can be said for the other side of the spectrum, I tried overfeeding with highly rewarding baked goods for awhile and eventually they lost there appeal. This is just my personal experience though.

@paul- How can you be so sure coca-cola is contributing to the obesity epidemic? I've never ever met anyone who was fat from drinking nothing but cola, have you? Twinkies and Doritos are highly rewarding foods, I know in my SAD days I had no problem eating a box of twinkies or bag of chips. Your french gourmet example isn't that great either considering that most people usually have to learn to like those foods and most kids will shun them(I know I did).

Medjoub said...

Paul, et al -

"Gourmet" by definition refers to certain civilized eating practices in and beyond the 19th century. French haute cuisine is older, but by no means paleo, and has shaped the nature of our Western concepts of high culinary art more than any other tradition. Of course these concepts are distinct from the wide range of common fast foods, as high cuisine necessarily requires leisure and high-quality ingredients. Conversely, high culinary traditions have historically been unconcerned with the effect on such cuisine on health. A good chef uses whatever ingredients are necessary to make the best, most complex range of tastes in a beautiful presentation. This often requires NADs such as neutral oils, wheat, sugar, etc. One could certainly argue that there are peripheral, perhaps incidental, positive health effects of eating good quality food, even if it contains some NADs, but I'd say even that line of thinking is undermined by the historical fact that it wasn't until the 20th century that the "poor" have started getting fat. As I understand it, even Taubes agrees with this.

Echoing Aravind and Stephan, I'd venture that it's basically an impossibility that any non-industrial society has ever had the leisure time and ingredients to make anything even approaching our contemporary notion of either palatable fast food or gourmet food of any tradition. It's misguided to look at eating as though it's somehow divorced from the essential nature of the culture that produces it.

It shouldn't have to be pointed out again that "spice" or "flavor" don't necessarily equate to reward. Low carbers are always talking about their delicious food, but to a chef worth his salt, the idea of almost entirely removing a class of macronutrients is simply antithetical to our prevailing concept of high culinary art. Low carb, in comparison with fast food or gourmet culture, is quite obviously low reward.

spughy said...

I think a lot of the debate around susceptibility to food reward is because people aren't taking into account the bell-curve nature of pretty much any human trait.

Susceptibility to food reward is likely no different, even though we currently have no means of quantifying it. There are a few people who are extremely susceptible, a whole bunch ranging from pretty susceptible to not so much, and a few people who have zero reaction to food at all and eat only so they can function. (My mother-in-law is one of these, and it's pretty bizarre.)

What I think all the industrialization of food and flavourization and whatnot does is simply increase the overall food reward so that more people under the bell curve experience enough food reward regularly to tip them into a consistently overweight status. That doesn't mean there aren't going to be folks who will be overweight simply by virtue of having access to unlimited amounts of good, whole foods and having the skill with which to prepare them. I'm an awesome cook and perfectly capable of making myself chubby with nothing but "non-industrial" foods. It's harder if I cut out grains, but still entirely possible. Sauteed onions may not be fattening in and of themselves, but they sure make it easier to eat a pile of whatever they're in or on. Onions boiled in a stew? Not so much.

So everyone's right, in a sense. Some people will be just fine, body-fat-wise, if they simply avoid industrial food. Some are resistant enough to eat industrial food all the time and not gain weight. Some of us, though, are susceptible enough that we CAN gain weight or at least have difficulty losing it on a diet of whole foods, cooked at home.

It's kind of like saying that a particular training regimen will enable humans to run 10K in a certain amount of time. It'll probably work well for a bunch of people, will almost do the trick for a bunch more, some will already be able to run 10K faster than that anyway, and some people will be unlikely to finish a 10K in under 2 hours no matter what. It doesn't mean the training regimen is bad or worthless, it just means that there's a wide range of normal in pretty much any human trait.

Jin said...

Our food is not bland, but it is simple. Soups, stews, roast chicken, chili, poached eggs over rice, pot roast....same stuff over & over. It's good, satisfying, but not very exciting.

I've noticed that as I've put more pressure on the household to take meals at home, and to cook from scratch, family members balk that "there's nothing to eat".

Well, yes, there's food in the house, but sometimes you have to actually COOK something if you're hungry. Imagine what would happen if I threw out the microwave!

There seems a tendency on all of us to want new, exciting foods that are (almost) instantly available, at minimal effort.

This has a direct affect on whether we eat or not, and how much. It seems so obvious to me now, after reading Stephan's series on FR, and observing my own eating habits & changing appetite, plus that of my family.

Jim said...

I want to echo what SamAbroad said. Lower reward (or, really, "paleo-normal" reward) likely leads to faster weight loss, but can make compliance more difficult.

I've discovered that when I'm having difficulty with compliance on a low reward diet, I can get back on track by increasing the allowable reward slightly.

For instance, after a recent compliance-related stall (Thanksgiving kind of kicked me off the wagon a bit) I started adding more salt to my otherwise fairly bland food. I've found that this still provides good results weight-wise, and results in better compliance for me right now.

We each have to optimize the level of reward for ourselves to strike a good balance between speed of results and compliance.

Overall, I want to add, this has been the most effortless weight loss I've ever experienced.

Gretchen said...

Medjoub said, "Low carbers are always talking about their delicious food, but to a chef worth his salt, the idea of almost entirely removing a class of macronutrients is simply antithetical to our prevailing concept of high culinary art. Low carb, in comparison with fast food or gourmet culture, is quite obviously low reward."

I find it odd that people think LC diets are carb free. Low carb is not no carb. I happen to adore broccoli with olive oil and lemon juice. Offer me a choice of that or chocolate cake or a slice of artisanal bread with Nutella, and I'd take the broccoli in a heartbeat.

Plus it contains more nutrients and hence rewards my nutrient-sensing organs.

So the "obvious" low reward of a LC diet is not obvious to me.

I also like tasty meat and fresh fish and organic chicken, and the money I save by not eating processed foods I spend on those.

Any chef worth his sodium chloride should welcome the chance to show his/her creativity in creating great dishes without starches and sugars.

Anyone stuck wanting to follow "prevailing concepts" can do so. Some of us are looking for something better

Beth@WeightMaven said...

I tend to agree with both Paul and Stephan. We have food reward systems for a reason. That the food industry is exploiting these systems seems a given to me.

But on the other hand, I don't think that that necessarily means that we need to eat the plain, simple diet of a Kitavan either.

As far as obesity goes, I think it's fair to look at both non-industrial hunter-gatherers *and* neolithic cultures. Cultures with traditionally palatable foods (e.g., the French, Italians, and Asians) typically have far less rate of obesity than those who are consuming modern, industrial, hyperpalatable foods that, as Stephan says, "drive our reward circuits beyond what they are adapted to constructively handle."

I think there's clearly a difference between pinging your reward system with nutrient-dense foods without neolithic agents of disease (highly palatable or not) and those absent of the former and full of the latter.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi SamAbroad,

I don't know the answer to your question, but I can speculate. I think people become accustomed to a certain level of food reward, and therefore it does require some effort to change. For example, I know that if I let myself slip and eat sweetened foods a few times, I crave them and it takes some effort to break the craving.

On the other hand, if I don't expose myself, I don't get cravings. So I do think these things can be "reset" to some extent. The basic difficulty in changing the diet's reward value is that the reward system is designed to make you keep doing certain things that the brain has deemed to be in your best interest (the problem is that in the modern environment, there's often a mismatch between what your brain thinks is in your best interest, and what is actually in your best interest). So there will necessarily be some internal resistance to changing the diet's reward value, just as there is resistance to smoking cessation, which is another example of extracting yourself from a runaway reward process. This will be true of any diet change though.

But as with smoking cessation, you can adjust to it and your life goes on, and perhaps you even end up feeling better overall after the change.

Hi Mrs. Ed,

Unfortunately, you will never see these ingredients on food labels because the FDA doesn't require it, and they are proprietary. It will simply say "artificial flavor" or "natural flavor". I covered this briefly in my AHS talk which should be fully posted soon. I think this lack of transparency is really disturbing. There is no justification for it beyond protecting commercial interests.

Hi Paul,

I agree that some non-industrial societies had the ability to create good tasting food. However, it was time and resource intensive and was reserved for occasional feasts. One example is the "puddings" that Polynesian islanders made. These were basically grated starch (taro or breadfruit) mixed with coconut milk and baked. I've never tried one, but I'm sure they were tasty. However, they were not eaten on a daily basis by most people. The chiefs ate this kind of food more often, and were also commonly obese (they were also often deliberately overfed by the community to signify their abundance, so you can take that how you will). But this is an example of obesity caused by what I consider to be natural, wholesome, nutritious ingredients.

I think gourmet food is capable of causing fat gain. Hundreds of years ago, obesity (and its co-morbidities) was restricted almost exclusively to the royalty in Europe. They didn't have HFCS, MSG, etc, and their food was all organic and grass-fed, but they did have highly skilled professional chefs. Traditionally in France (until recently), people only ate at restaurants once every few weeks because they were so expensive.

I agree that coke, hamburgers etc. is not gourmet. I think there is a distinction to be made between food that engages the "lowest common denominator" gustatory desires (high energy density, easy to chew/swallow texture, fat/sugar/starch/salt, lack of bitter or off flavors, etc), and food that engages higher-order aesthetic desires (visual presentation, interesting/complex aromas, etc). There is some overlap between them, but I do think it's useful to make the distinction. I think the former category is probably more involved in overconsumption and obesity, although the latter category can contribute somewhat as well, particularly in combination with the former.

Sanjeev said...

I agree with Stephan's use of palatability.

Where the researchers used "palatibility" in their papers, that word should be maintained.

Doing otherwise could be nis-construed as an attempt to recast the literature to imbue it with a coherence that's not there.

Not to say the idea is not coherent, just that different researchers from different fields (from experimental psychology to neurotransmitter researcers to clinical neurologists) using different vocabularies have contributed over the course of 40 years (since the 70s).

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Medjoub,

Thanks for your insightful comment. This in particular:

"the idea of almost entirely removing a class of macronutrients is simply antithetical to our prevailing concept of high culinary art. Low carb, in comparison with fast food or gourmet culture, is quite obviously low reward."

Hi Spughy,

You bring up a very important point that I think is critical to keep in the discussion. Nearly every human trait varies between individuals, and reward sensitivity is no different. Some people will be highly susceptible to it, others not as much, just as some people have an "addictive personality" and not others. Some people will be more sensitive to the reward coming from sugar, others starch, others fat, etc. Flavor (i.e. aroma) preferences are highly individual.

I think homogenous energy-dense mixtures of starch, fat, sugar or salt, a soft texture, and some pleasant aroma are some of the worst offenders (e.g. pastries, donuts, cookies, cake). That's the main reason why flours are so fattening IMO. They are simply extremely malleable. But people who eat a large proportion of plain bread like we did in the US 150 years ago don't become obese, so IMO the context is critical.

Some people have argued that these differences make the concept not useful, but that line of reasoning would invalidate almost any concept related to human behavior or physiology so I find it rather far fetched.

We all have reward centers that respond to food, and the systems respond similarly to certain basic food characteristics in most people, but the fine details can vary quite a bit between individuals. The effects on body fatness can also vary, but it is my opinion that most people are susceptible to food reward related fat gain to some degree, and these are the same people who tend to be overweight/obese.

Sanjeev said...

Samabroad, the problem with humans applying these ideas is, we can always choose to go for the high reward food.

What you describe really sounds like what the "executive function" (EF) or willpower (WP) researchers call depletion.

we're still applying WP after all, we're just moving the application to another point, one we think will be a more efficient and/or effective use of WP.

making decisions and resisting temptations depletes EF. It's lowest for most people at day's end.

To test if this is what's happening to you, try using tricks to remove decision-making around and after dinner.

Some of the standard stuff is to make dinner on Sunday for the rest of the week, remove all tempting stuff from the house and make a clear rule (what a few EF researchers are calling "bright lines") to not eat extras after 8pm (whatever an appropriate time is).

After a while of this maybe/hopefully your setpoint will come down enough that even your current residual cravings will go away.

bingophil said...

Gourmet Paleo and Closure. Part I

I propose a distinction: I will call Paul Jaminet’s sense of reward Rightfully Rewarding (RR) and Stephan’s a Pathological Trigger for Overconsumption (PTO). The interesting debate regards the notion of “gourmet paleo” and whether or not this is a PTO. This is due to the conflation/ relationship between palatability and PTO. There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not you can separate palatability from PTO. While Stephan is quite explicit about palatability not being synonymous with PTO, palatability often looms large as perhaps the dominant factor in PTO. This leads to the hypothesis that “gourmet paleo” might potentially be a PTO. As the home cook cultivates greater and greater palatability in their food, they correspondingly increase the likelihood of producing a PTO, or so the hypothesis goes.

I have two thoughts about this: First, we should keep in mind the fact that there is a crucial difference between a home cook crafting food that tastes really good and the flavorist who explicitly aims at crafting a PTO. Namely, the home cook explicitly aims at palatability, usually without regard or intention to produce a PTO. In fact in many cases I would guess that a home cook and/or gourmet chef aims for “satisfaction” or “closure” rather than PTO (more on this below). On the other hand the flavorist explicitly aims at creating a PTO using whatever (legal) means at their disposal. This means they will calibrate all of the features (including palatability) in order to encourage overconsumption to produce greater profit.

This brings me to my second point. I wonder if this debate would go better if we paid some attention to the idea of “satisfaction” or “closure.” For example, let’s compare a high quality highly satisfying film that ends with a closure of the narrative to a low quality soap opera. I think it should be a common observation that most soap operas are generally of low quality, and cultivate a version of PTO. One of the ways they do this is by offering very little closure; episodes generally end on a cliffhanger, reinforcing consumption by creating a craving to tune in next time to gain closure, which, of course, they continuously deny. This to me is a clear example of a PTO that does not have a corresponding high palatability. By this I mean that we don’t usually judge the soap opera to have the same degree of aesthetic quality as the well-crafted film. But in our example we are also stipulating that the film is satisfying and offers narrative closure. Not all good films do this for various reasons, but there are plenty that do.

We might say that the film is an example of what Jaminet is calling Rightfully Rewarding (RR) in my terms. Now I am clearly drawing a parallel between our evaluative judgments about the qualities of a film and palatability and that may be controversial. However, I will argue that we evaluate foods on many aesthetic grounds (appearance, smells, taste) and that palatability refers to our basic assessment of the quality of the food. Good food, in this aesthetic sense, tastes good and is more palatable than food that tastes less good or even tastes bad. I would also say that we can extend the parallel to many works of art including, in particular, music and literature.

bingophil said...

Gourmet Paleo and Closure. Part II.

To bring my discussion back to food, I have had this experience. Before I went paleo (first low-carb, then archevore, PHD), about once or twice a year I was fortunate enough to have a high quality gourmet meal at a restaurant in Chicago. The restaurant is one of those restaurants owned by a chef that specializes in local, organic high quality food, but the restaurant isn’t aiming for to be paleo and I was not evaluating the food on those grounds at the time. My general experience upon finishing my plate there was one of satisfaction and closure. My wife noticed the same experience herself. This was in marked contrast to any meal I might have had from your typical mid-level restaurant (Chilis, Applebees, Unos, etc) where the experience is one of food that is sometimes reasonably palatable, but not ultimately satisfying. In fact it was quite common for me (usually due to excessive saltiness) to finish my meal and either still be hungry, or feel full but still crave more food in an effort to get a feeling of closure and satisfaction. This to me is a clear case of PTO.

Again, few people would say that the generic processed fast food tastes better (is more palatable) than gourmet food and yet it is conceivable, and I have experienced this myself, that low to mid quality processed food is more likely to be a PTO. I certainly don’t deny that processed food must taste at least good enough to eat or else people won’t eat it, but it certainly does not need to reach the highest level of quality/taste/palatability in order to be an addictive PTO. (Of course, even that has exceptions as people say that the first experience of alcohol or smoking is often bad (low palatability), but the taste is latter acquired and can certainly foster a PTO.) I think it is a mistake to conflate high palatabilility with high addictiveness, as Stephan sometimes seems to do when he uses the phrase, “resulting in hyperpalatable and hyper-rewarding products that drive our reward circuits beyond what they are adapted to constructively handle.”

Most of the studies and examples discussed in the debate about this issue are of average-tasting yet highly addictive food, not of gourmet, homemade food. I think that it is easy, as a consumer, to mistake something that you are compelled to continue eating due to addiction, with something that tastes better. The logic goes something like, “well, it must taste better because I can’t stop eating it.” The next step of the logic, which is where we step in, goes something like, “Therefore, the better tasting a food is, the higher the risk of addiction, because addictiveness (and compulsive overeating?) is correlated with tastiness.” The confusion comes from a conflation of desire for food with palatability, when in fact the two do not have to correlate (though they sometimes might). This is a classic example of a logical fallacy, and one which I think may be distracting the conversation into an unnecessary disagreement.

So, to be clear, what is at issue in the gourmet paleo debate is whether or not food created using only non-toxic plaeo friendly ingredients would be more likely to be a PTO. First, I should say that I do think it is likely that if we put a flavorist on the case to produce paleo-friendly foods (no toxic ingredients, limited sugar or no sugar, etc), that would also be PTOs (in order to reach the paleo “market”) I have little doubt that they would be able to do so. How easy it would be it’s hard for me to say. The real question is would a home cook trying to make healthy PHD food that tastes good to them and one-up themselves (or their friends and neighbors) over time be likely to accidentally stumble upon a PTO creation that stalls or reverses weight loss if eaten too frequently?

bingophil said...

Gourmet Paleo and Closure. Part III

My suspicion is that the answer is yes, it’s possible. But it’s not clear that it’s necessarily likely. I think it makes sense given what we think we know to be aware of the possibility, and if someone’s desired weight loss stalls, to be ready with the advice that one thing to consider is whether you’ve been trying to go out of your way to craft very palatable food. If that is the case, then maybe you should scale back your efforts and see if it helps. I also believe that this advice is probably more helpful than the much despised “there is nothing wrong with the diet, the problem is with you” response from some quarters.

But having said that, I think it’s also vitally important to separate palatability from PTO (or Stephan’s sense of reward). One thing that low-carbers and Paul Jaminet’s PHD have in common is the sense that you can be healthy and lose weight (if necessary) and still eat tasty (highly palatable) food. In both cases the move from SAD involves some degree of sacrifice in the forms of foods you can no longer eat, but at least your sacrifice will be rewarded with moderately to highly palatable foods that are Rightly Rewarding (RR). Low carbers and Jaminet have varying proposals as to the causal mechanisms for why their respective diet plans should be healthier and cause you to lose weight. Stephan, of course, is going to look at the foods they are sacrificing in the move from SAD and say “aha! they have just relinquished foods thereby reducing the PTO (reward) factor of their food.” He might also attribute this to reduced palatability in the diet when compared with SAD, but without solid evidence that qualifies how and in what respect palatability has been reduced, this response begs the question against Jaminet and low-carbers who favor foods that are RR because of their palatability.

For instance, it would strike me as bizarre if we were to say that a person who lost weight by spending a month eating gourmet PHD foods, which they thought were some of the best tasting food they have ever had and certainly as better tasting than their regular SAD of fast food meals, is now eating meals that are less palatable than what they were eating before. I have no problem saying their new PHD diet has fewer PTOs1 (and is therefore less “rewarding” in Stephan’s sense). The harm I see is in needlessly turning people away from diets that are RR and highly palatable. It seems likely that most people would benefit from such a diet(s) both in terms of health and weight loss. If/when people have issues maintaining their weight with such a diet, only then does it seem reasonable to investigate whether or not scaling back factors such as variety or palatability might help given the role they can sometimes play in creating a PTO. I think that people will be much more likely to stick with a way of eating that can offer highly palatable foods that are RR.

bingophil said...

Gourmet Paleo and Closure. Part IV (last one!)

Also, by neglecting the potential factor of closure in a meal we needlessly cut ourselves off from a range of potentially productive meals. Namely, if there really is such a factor as “closure” that one can practice cultivating in the preparation of meals, this would go some way towards creating the best possible diet plan that could counter the efforts of flavorists. This would allow for the possibility of skillfully prepared meals that are highly palatable, but are also explicitly crafted to check their PTO potential by providing closure and satisfaction. These meals, I’m sure, would be preferred over a strategy that primarily combated PTO by reducing palatability. If highly palatable meals can be constructed without increasing their PTO factor it is important that we not close off this possibility by conflating or aligning too closely the notion of palatability and PTO (reward).

There are two uses of the word “reward” (Stephan’s and Paul Jaminet’s) and both are plausibly connected to common sense notions of the word “reward.” Part of the problem stems from ambiguity inherent in the word’s different uses. For example you can “reward” or reinforce bad behavior (but you shouldn’t!) and this is analogous to Stephan’s use, but on the other hand you can find hard work “rewarding.” In the latter case we don’t merely refer to the reinforcement of the hard work rather we refer to the satisfaction and benefits we have attained as a result of the hard work. This latter sense is in tension with Stephan’s use and is the kernel of Jaminet’s use. We should strive for clarity in our terms and we should be mindful of the misunderstandings that can result when our specialized use of a term conflicts with its common sense use. (Witness the confusion that has resulted from reporters reading the word “significant” in studies on salt intake and blood pressure). Therefore I propose a distinction: I will call Paul Jaminet’s sense of reward Rightfully Rewarding (RR) and Stephan’s as a Pathological Trigger for Overconsumption (PTO).

Footnote 1 Stephan might also say that by reducing the variety of foods you are reducing a factor in PTO, but this would depend on how we define variety and how many different foods one’s SAD diet consisted of when compared to the roster of PHD meals. But, again, I would have no problem advising someone whose efforts have stalled to consider reducing the variety of foods they are eating as an option.

Beth@WeightMaven said...

bingophil wrote "The harm I see is in needlessly turning people away from diets that are RR and highly palatable."

Rightly rewarding? All I can say is ... word ;).

Moldy Salami said...
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Moldy Salami said...

@bingophil - very interesting series of post, thanks (like 'inthewoo' but actually interesting ;-))

I like the RR vs PTO idea. However on the topic of obesity (like in the topic of smoking cessation for instance) I think there's a need for complete removal of problematic agents for a certain time before one can find the actual level of food reward that can be tolerated/enjoyed and still have success at fixing the problem.

Compare this to a 2-pack-a-day smoker that instead of quitting completely smoking, tries to smoke 'socially' - 2-3 smokes a day. Failure is more likely and dismissal of the whole concept very likely (I used to smoke...)

Just saying shock treatment has its advantages...

Richard said...

As a low-carb Paleo, Archevore dieter... My only problem with the food reward "idea" is the lack of definition but, as I reflect on this, maybe that is because food reward consists of several factors, not just one.

My approach, in the practical Archevore context, was to eliminate all wheat and wheat products from my diet as a first step. End of issue. I also reduced carbs in general, and greatly increased saturated fat consumption.

I think delicious foods, even from a restaurant, can easily avoid the reward issue and be just fine with some careful choices, and one helpful approach is to go to various "ethnic" restaurants and avoid anything that is a franchise.

Second, or is it third(?), what I find interesting, and amusing, is the idea that reward is an issue. How did food come to be such a center of pleasure? Admittedly, delicious food is desirable, and I think of curries when I say that. But I think what we are seeing is a cultural boredom coupled with factors that encourage over-consumption, with no easy way out. It is very much like an addiction. What I have come across, when I push low carb, are comments like, "Oh, but I couldn't live without rice...." And that is part of the problem. Rice is not particularly delicious.

Float said...

Aravind wrote,
"Reward is not synonymous with palatability though correlated. What's rewarding for you may not be for me and vice versa."

It finally dawned on me why I find the discussion on this site increasingly bothersome. The manner in which this theory is being conceptualized is virtually nonfalsifiable. One person reports how they gained weight on delicious food. Good evidence for the effects of high reward. Someone else claims to lose weight on delicious food. Well that's because reward and palatability aren't necessarily the same thing. And if they lost weight on a low carb diet, despite how delicious they claim it to be, well that's because low carb is low reward. And how do we know it's low reward? Well, they lost weight didn't they? That's practically the level at which this theory is now being discussed.

I mention this as someone who thinks overeating is a major problem, but the silly manner in which food theory is now being thrown around is ridiculous. It's also become apparent that, despite earlier claims that food reward is only one factor in the obesity epidemic, people on this site are starting to think of it as absolutely the most important factor.

Todd Hargrove said...

I just noticed that the Wikipedia page on supernormal stimuli includes junk food as a primary example. It states: "The idea is that the elicited behaviours evolved for the "normal" stimuli of the ancestor's natural environment, but the behaviours are now hijacked by the supernormal stimulus."

The article also mentions a book by
Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett called Waistland, which argues that junk food is a supernormal stimulus and key player in the obesity epidemic.

StanM said...

For me it used to be simple. You eat because you hungry. What to eat - food that tastes good (as less processed as possible). When you are not hungry you do not eat. The food tastes good but not that good to put the extra effort (and that is not so much effort nowadays) just for the pleasure of eating. How does the brain inform us when we should eat? By hunger or because we want to feel pleasure by eating? Or when we feel pleasure by eating certain foods the brain tells us only that it is the right food (before we learned to lie to our brain)? One food that I can eat anytime is roasted, soaked and peeled, unsalted nuts. Should be paleo right?

Deirdre said...

I watched this segment on 60 minutes and was incensed. Why we sit back and allow our biology to be exploited for profit is beyond my comprehension. What this new food science could unleash is beyond scary. What I've come to learn in my (very novice) understanding of our brain is that once these pleasure thresholds are established, it's very hard to go backwards because we're not wired to go backwards. We don't need food to be *MORE* addicting.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Float,

It is easy to confuse "complex" with "non-falsifiable". The food reward hypothesis is readily testable and falsifiable, and it has already been tested in many different ways. The researchers who test and expand the hypothesis every week don't seem to be too concerned about it not being testable or falsifiable.

A conceptual problem I see people running into frequently is that anecdotes are not a way to test/falsify a hypothesis. That's what controlled experimentation is for.

allison said...

Food reward makes perfect sense from the perspective of a corporation, considering the fact that there are a finite number of consumers (factoring in population growth). The corporation must either cut into its competitor's market share by producing more rewarding food or pursuade existing consumers to consume more. The result is profit for the corporation and obesity and diabetes for the consumer. If you want to witness the power of engineered foods, simply take a small child to McDonald's and watch their reaction as they eat.

Pharmaceutical companies have adopted a similar growth strategy. The least profitable drug is one that actually cures the condition (think about a successful vaccine) because it shrinks the market. A really profitable drug is one that never cures the condition and must be taken for life. If the company can continuously redefine the condition to cover an ever-increasing slice of the entire population, even better. Statins anyone?

DLS said...
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Marwan Daar said...

Thanks for the link Stephan, it was interesting to see candor on display from industry insiders.

I've a question, and this concerns the recent battle of ideas that has been taking place between yourself and Taubes.

Can you think of a study (of any sort) for which you would predict an outcome that is distinct from the outcome that Taubes would predict?

This question should really be posed to the pair of you, and I think it would go a long way to actually resolving what your disagreements are.

Paul Jaminet said...

bingophil, excellent discussion! Thanks.

Deirdre said...

@Allison, yes - I agree. After all, we live in a capitalistic society, and Big Food (and Big Pharm) are doing what it takes to build - and maintain - brand loyalty. What I find unforgivable are the tactics that are taken to pursue this agenda. However, this bleeds into food politics - an entirely different subject than this blog - so out of respect, I'll leave it here. :)

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi bingophil,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Two points. My use of the terms "reward" and "palatability" is according to the accepted scientific definitions of those terms. It is important to stick to these definitions when discussing reward and palatability. If people want to develop alternative concepts, that's OK, but these should not be termed "reward" and "palatability" for the sake of clarity.

There is only one reward system, and one hedonic system, and I would submit that the difference between "right reward" and "pathological trigger for overconsumption" as you have defined them is simply one of degree. In other words, a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference. I have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Cocaine is a good metaphor. Coca leaves contain it in small quantity, and they have been used constructively in traditional South American cultures for thousands of years. Refine it into powdered cocaine, and now it's a drug of abuse with a high potential for addiction. Further modify it into crack, which is a faster-acting more potent form, and all of a sudden you have people stealing TVs and selling sex for a hit.

Food is the same way. Reward and hedonic systems evolved to guide us toward calorie-dense and nourishing foods in a natural environment where reward/palatability factors were naturally more scarce. Fast forward to 2011, when we can constantly max out the food properties that stimulate these systems, and we have a problem. It's simply a matter of degree.

Hi Marwan,

Yes, there are many such studies. I have written about several of them on this blog, for example the study comparing fat accumulation in humans given fructose or glucose sweetened beverages. That study showed that both caused equivalent fat accumulation, despite the fact that the fructose beverage increased fasting insulin 3X more than the glucose.

I'll be posting a couple of studies shortly that are a direct test of the insulin hypothesis of obesity. You can judge for yourself whether they support it or not.

Stephan Guyenet said...

One more point that I think is important. Any diet that restricts many or all of the classic hyperpalatable foods: pastries, cookies, cake, donuts, pizza, ice cream, fast food, chips, etc., is a reduced reward/palatability diet. Any diet that restricts a macronutrient class is reduced reward/palatability diet.

That doesn't mean it's necessarily low in palatability and reward value. Maybe it is very satisfying and even tastes quite good. Still, I would submit that it is lower in palatability and reward than a typical diet. What's more tasty, a well seasoned steak, creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables, or a well seasoned steak, creamy mashed potatoes, vegetables and a fat slice of chocolate cake?

I think this is a subtle point that is often overlooked. Reduced reward/palatability does not necessarily mean reducing them to zero. It just means reducing them to a point that suits your personal weight/health goals. For many people, maybe even most, simply eating wholesome home-cooked food that is seasoned to satisfaction will accomplish this goal. Others may require a more disciplined approach to meet their goals.

Food reward is the only concept I know of that can explain why virtually any restrictive diet causes spontaneously reduced calorie intake and fat loss in the average person, even if it is not deliberately calorie-restricted (low-carb, low-fat, vegan, paleo, Ornish, Zone, banana diet, potato diet, fruitarian diet, etc). It is also the only concept that offers a compelling stand-alone explanation for the rapid increase in calorie intake and obesity in the last 30 years in the US.

Again, I'm not claiming it's the only factor involved, but it does have a lot of explanatory power, and the literature indicates it is a major factor governing food intake under experimental conditions.

vladex said...

What do you say to the notion that it's more about novelty than palatability?
Food is processed much like sex in the brain(hypothalamus) and the novelty is what gets people addicted instead of mere palatability because we can all get fed and sick of any food item. I know for me that I can get addicted to one food item for a few weeks and then be repulsed by it for a year while returning to the basics. Also all of these processed foods like ice cream, peanut better, donuts and juices taste good at first but have obvious artificial chemicals in them that leave the disgusting aftertaste so I don't eat them afterwards.

vladex said...

Also comparing food to sex, anyone enduring anxiety producing chronic stress is almost certain to become food or sex addict to relieve that anxiety and stress. Whereas someone that is emotionall stable and physically fit and in tune with nature can look at the most tempting food or sex object and turn away easily.

Techically speaking this is done by corticosteroids and catecholamines which potentiate neuropeptide Y feeding impulse, insulin resistance and craving for carbs in particular because of their quick metabolism rate. Then dopamine/reward pathways get dysregulated and the person gets to binges of food driven primarily by anxiety and chronic stress. If one is emotionally stable he can't get addicted no matter how palatable the food is.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi vladex,

Food variety is a major factor. I lump it together with reward/palatability. Whether a true hard core food reward researcher would agree with that lumping or not, I don't know, but they are related concepts and variety is commonly discussed as a palatability factor in the scientific lit. Sensory-specific satiety is a related concept that I also include as a palatability factor.

Float said...
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Float said...

Stephan wrote:
"It is easy to confuse "complex" with "non-falsifiable". The food reward hypothesis is readily testable and falsifiable, and it has already been tested in many different ways. The researchers who test and expand the hypothesis every week don't seem to be too concerned about it not being testable or falsifiable."

I was referring to the "discussion on this site," specifically the arguments being used to counter claims by visiting low carbers (and I'm not one of them, by the way) that they perceive their diet as highly palatable, yet they readily lose weight. The standard tactic, which your supporters have picked up from you, is to point out that reward and palatability can be dissociated and the low carb diet, no matter how palatable, is almost certainly low reward. It's a perfect tactic. In the absence of a brain scan, no one can disprove it so everyone here can carry on thinking that they've taught those pesky low carbers a lesson.

In fact, actual food reward researchers aren't quite so glib. People should have a look at Remco Haverman's "You Say It's Liking, I Say It's Wanting" article .
At a minimum, they'll get a sense of how complex the issue really is and that food reward theory isn't a tidy little package of congruent findings all pointing in one direction. Some notable quotes:

"Food ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ do not likely diverge with normal reward driven eating, but it may in the case of abnormal eating behavior." [Is low carb abnormal?]

"Overall, human research results suggest that obesity is associated with a blunted dopamine response and not the hypothesized sensitized response to food cues. These results could be interpreted as a decrease in brain dopamine promoting food intake, which is diametrically opposite to the animal findings (see Berridge, 2007a)."

"According to Berridge (1996, 2009), there is cumulating evidence that separate neural structures and neurotransmitter systems are involved in the respective processing of incentive salience and food hedonics. One may doubt whether such a conclusion is warranted given the data, but that is a discussion outside the scope of the present article."

"Though separable, the neural correlates of this food ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ are not some loosely coupled systems, they are highly interconnected. What that means is that ordinarily any manipulation affecting ‘wanting’ is bound to affect food ‘liking’ in a similar way"

And as for the relationship of food reward theory to drug addiction:
"Apart from specific brain lesions, animal studies show that repeated administration of drugs of abuse can lead to a marked disconnect between drug ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’ with incentive sensitization expressed as strong ‘wanting’ without necessarily strong ‘liking’ (Robinson & Berridge, 2003). This incentive sensitization is thought to be a potential model for human addictive behavior. But one should note that apart from a few studies demonstrating an association between increased extracellular dopamine release in the ventral striatum and self reported drug wanting (Leyton et al., 2002) or drug use in patients with Parkinson’s disease (Evans et al., 2006), this is still a largely untested hypothesis. The empirical evidence for human drug or alcohol dependence being associated with (or even the result of) incentive sensitization is scarce and equivocal"

I'm not arguing here that food reward theory is wrong. I'm just suggesting that people on this site should start being a bit more circumspect about this theory and a bit more mindful of the kinds of arguments they are making.

I apologize for the long post.

vladex said...

I think there is a tunnel vision developing. All fruits are palatable and they have a great variety but it's hard to get addicted to them or maybe it's not. Basically our brains are built to seek variety only if we artificially overconsume food and sex because we are also built to be satiated by any natural stimulus. On the other hand what is ignored is things that are may not seem related to food especially emotional side where brain remembers what relieved it's depression, sickness and anxiety and will be seeking more of it as long as such a condition persists . We can also talk about packaging of the foods, refrigerator effect, breaking circadian rhythms , mass media, urbanization and other modern novelties that tend to lead toward food addiction and associated emotional .

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Float,

It is my opinion that low-carb diets in general, even if they are palatable and rewarding, are still less palatable and rewarding than unrestricted diets. You are restricting many of the most hyperpalatable/rewarding foods in the typical diet, as well as food variety. What I'm getting tired of hearing is the argument "my food tastes good, and I'm losing weight, therefore the idea does not apply". The FRH does not imply that your food has to taste like cardboard to lose weight-- how rewarding and palatable a diet you can get away with depends on your goals and your inherent resistance to fat loss.

Most people will be able to lose some fat simply by eating wholesome home-cooked food seasoned to taste, but again I consider that to be clearly lower reward/palatability than a typical diet, even if it's plenty satisfying and tasty, unless you are a pro chef with a lot of time on your hands.

I have read the article by Dr. Havermans you referenced. I agree with him to some extent that liking and wanting are closely interrelated and typically travel together to a large extent. However, his review was critiqued at length by Drs. Graham Finlayson and Michelle Dalton (who did much of the research he critiqued) in a subsequent issue of Appetite. They were harsh:

"However, the review itself is of limited value due to the lack of systematic criteria for study inclusion or exclusion. The resulting analysis is unfortunately based on a small number of confirmatory or otherwise flawed examples and gives an overly pessimistic interpretation of a field that holds a great deal of potential."

"One methodology (Finlayson, King, & Blundell 2007a, 2007b; Finlayson et al., 2008) drew criticism for not measuring ‘‘pure’’ ‘wanting’ because in the latter study it was reported that food preference was correlated with measures of both ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’. However, the studies cited were unfortunately either not understood or misrepresented."

"In summary, Havermans (2011) review of methodological progress in separating measures of ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ in humans is incomplete. Moreover, the implication that it is impossible to validate measures of ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ under normal conditions seems premature considering the mounting evidence supporting partial dissociation and their distinguishable roles in eating behaviour."

They then go on to discuss some of the evidence supporting partial dissociation between liking and wanting in human feeding behavior. This is not my field, so I won't claim to have definitive answers about who is right and who is wrong, but I found the arguments made by Finlayson et al. convincing that 'wanting' and 'liking' can be studied separately and do not necessarily travel together 100% in human feeding behaviors.

This makes intuitive sense to me, based on my personal observations. If I eat a donut, pastry or brownie, I will crave them later to a degree that feels out of proportion to the pleasure I derived from eating them. I would submit that this observation, although anecdotal, is consistent with disproportionate reward for a given level of palatability.

That said, I will grant you that just because it is possible, does not mean it happens in every case, and it is speculative (although plausible) to say that someone lost fat due to reward reduction when their perceived food pleasure did not change.


Marwan Daar said...

Thanks Stefan, I look forward to reading them.

This has been suggested before, but I will say it again: I think there is an invaluable opportunity to be had here.

As far as I understand, there have been two modes of discourse between yourself and Taubes.

The first was a brief and unfortunately hostile exchange during a Q&A session at a conference.

The second has been a lengthy and inefficient dialectic taking place on your respective blog platforms.

Neither of these modes of discourse seem to be successful in reaching a synthesis. What may help is a high resolution discourse, where arguments and counterarguments can be exchanged in real time, and specific details can be attended to in a thorough manner.

Ideally, this should take place in private, so as to avoid the polarizing influence of saving face in front of the rest of us primates.

Does this idea interest you at all?

Anonymous said...

Food reward is a no brainer, at least in my no brain mind. Our family eats zero junk food, save for the bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard to eat with some tea. Guess what, I eat handfuls until the bag is gone. I can't resist, or at least I find it hard to resist.

It's a lot easier to eat brainlessly when it's junk food, versus just another cooked potato in the refrigerator.

Denying food reward isn't an issue is just denial. It's obviously one of many components in obesity, but it's certainly significant.

Chris Wilson said...

Marwan, why are we so interested in developing a synthesis of Taubes and Guyenet? Why would Stephan want to spend his time doing that? Remember that this blog is his hobby, intended to help and inform the wider public, not his full-time job. It seems to me that Stephan has done a good job articulating his stance vis-a-vis Taubes. There is no need for a "synthesis" that would just muddy the waters...

vladex said...

This makes intuitive sense to me, based on my personal observations. If I eat a donut, pastry or brownie, I will crave them later to a degree that feels out of proportion to the pleasure I derived from eating them. I would submit that this observation, although anecdotal, is consistent with disproportionate reward for a given level of palatability

Question is why how and when did you eat that donut in the first place?
Usually people eat such foods because they are looking for a relief and because it is served and quick and we are evolutionary encouraged to take the food with the least effort . If you ate that as a quick pick up from stress,fear and anxiety then the brain will remember that and when that same stress and anxiety comes back it's gonna incite you to eat that same thing to relieve anxiety again even though you may not like it and will like it less in time with an ever increasing stress/anxiety/fear/tension. It's no different to drugs and sex from what I understand. It's not really palatability as opposed to how you perceive it.

I think you are really discounting the mental or general stress/anxiety aspect in this theory.

Float said...

Stephan wrote:
"I have read the article by Dr. Havermans you referenced....However, his review was critiqued at length by Drs. Graham Finlayson and Michelle Dalton (who did much of the research he critiqued) in a subsequent issue of Appetite."

But let's not forget to alert readers to Haverman's rebuttal

How to tell where ‘liking’ ends and ‘wanting’ begins☆
Remco C. Havermans,

Food reward is thought to comprise food ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’. The distinction between ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ is generally assumed to give a more detailed view on the regulation of appetite and to provide a better handle on determining what exactly is wrong in case of unhealthy dietary habits (e.g., binge eating). In response to Finlayson and Dalton (2011), I argue however, that after operationally defining ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’, one forgot to validate these measures. Such validation requires carefully formulating when and how ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ are uncoupled. In the absence of a priori predictions concerning when and how ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ should dissociate, interpreting any dissociation between supposed measures for ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ as evidence for the independent functioning of ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ processes is moot."

I won't pretend either to know for certain whose right or wrong. The only thing we can say for certain is that there are debatable issues here that even the specialists can't agree upon.

While were at it, have you seen the following? The authors seem to be major players in food reward theory but their results predict the opposite of what you predict with your bland diet approach. This in fact is the third such article I've seen with evidence that a tasty, rather than bland diet, is the key to appetite regulation.

"Susceptibility to Overeating Affects the Impact of Savory or Sweet Drinks on Satiation, Reward, and Food Intake in Nonobese Women
Graham Finlayson,*, Isabelle Bordes, Sanne Griffioen-Roose, Cees de Graaf, and John E. Blundell


Taste is involved in food preference and choice, and it is thought that it can modulate appetite and food intake. The present study investigated the effect of savory or sweet taste on satiation, reward, and food intake and according to individual differences in eating behavior traits underlying susceptibility to overeating. In a crossover design, 30 women (BMI = 22.7 ± 2.3; age = 21.9 ± 2.6 y) consumed a fixed energy preload (360 kJ/g) with a savory, sweet, or bland taste before selecting and consuming items from a test meal ad libitum. Sensations of hunger were used to calculate the satiating efficiency of the preloads. A computerized task was used to examine effects on food reward (explicit liking and implicit wanting). The Three Factor Eating Questionnaire was used to compare individual differences in eating behavior traits. Satiation and total food intake did not differ according to preload taste, but there was an effect on explicit liking and food selection. The savory preload reduced liking and intake of high-fat savory foods compared to sweet or bland preloads. The eating behavior trait disinhibition interacted with preload taste to determine test meal intake. Higher scores were associated with increased food intake after the sweet preload compared to the savory preload. Independent of preload taste, disinhibition was associated with lower satiating efficiency of the preloads and enhanced implicit wanting for high-fat sweet food. Savory taste has a stronger modulating effect on food preference than sweet or bland taste and may help to preserve normal appetite regulation in people who are susceptible to overeating."

Alex said...


You're saying a low reward/low pal diet can still be tasty (as a low carb diet is), but all the examples you've posted of people following FR ideas are basically eating the cardboard you're saying is not necessary. Can you build a low reward diet that will still taste as good and be as satisfying as a low carb diet?

Asim said...

If my sole source of nutrion is pizza, a highly-palatable food, everyday, will I eventually cut down my intake? If I do, will the pizza no longer be qualified as highly-palatable?

Stephen said...

The food industry creates combinations of fat, sugar and salt and stuffs them into prepackaged food-like substances (as Michael Pollan says) to get us to chow down (think of Twinkies as the poster child).

So what is it that is making us fat? Overeating these yummy creations? Definitely plays a role. That fact that these things are sugar bombs? Definitely plays a role.

I have no problem with reward in the sense that our brain is wired to eat lots of sugary, fatty, salty stuff. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like doughnuts. But I would say it's the sugar that piles on the weight.

I think there is room for both the reward and sugar hypotheses of weight gain.

Ed Lee said...

I'm not here to knock the food reward theory... or pump up the
carbohydrate/insulin theory.

Ultimately, it seems logical different people become obese for different reasons... maybe food reward is the reason why some are fat and those predisposed to insulin resistance tend to be fat due to carbs.

I'm just here to share my personal story... and why I dont think food reward is the problem (at least for a significant portion of the population, our family included).

I started to cut my starches not to lose weight, but because I was exhasparated with certain chronic problems, most notably gout. So when our family cut way back on carbohydrates, we figured the only way we could make this sustainable would be to make the best, most delicious foods possible. My theory was that a "low-food reward" diet was the least sustainable, especially for a family of foodies such as mine. Since weight loss wasnt a goal (gout reduction was the primary objective initially), making smaller portions or less tasty food just wasnt part of the program.

But a funny thing happened... I started melting away, kind of like how the low-carb playbook is supposed to pan out. I learned about carbohydrates, the thesis, paleo diets, etc, long after the bulk of weight was already dropped (accidentally, actually).

I am certain that having hyper-food rewards definitely contributes to obesity, but after finishing our dinner last night (braised turkey thighs, chard/spinach, kobachi squash soup, reduced sugar pot de creme), and having everyone in our family rave about the freshness and goodness of the food from our recent CSA box, I just cant agree with the concept that food reward is central to losing weight.

We've been eating the most gourmet foods in our lives for the last 6 months. I've dropped 35lbs without starting with a weight loss goal (obese to normal BMI)... my wife is fitting into skirts purchased 20 years ago. Every night somebody is raving about the food.

How can this be all related to food reward?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi float,

It is simply not plausible that higher palatability would lead to lower food intake. I have never seen a study where 24 hr food intake increases with reduced palatability, but the reverse is typically observed. If you can find such a study, I'd love to see it.

As I wrote in my response to Taubes, it is important to distinguish between palatability studies that 1) measure within-meal food intake, and 2) measure subjective appetite or food intake following a meal. The results of the latter type of study, such as the one you cited, vary, such that you can support whatever hypothesis you want if you're willing to pick and choose studies. Collectively, these studies do not suggest that the palatability of a meal influences subsequent food intake in any consistent manner.

However, if you look at studies that examined food intake within meals of differing palatability, there is no variability in the results. Higher palatability = higher food intake. This is a highly consistent finding, even when palatability is manipulated in fairly minor ways that do not change the food's nutritive value.

Hi Alex,

I wouldn't go so far as to say their food is like cardboard, but it is highly simplified. Those are examples of people reducing reward/palatability to a great degree for the sake of rapid fat loss. Again, you just have to decide what your goals are and proceed accordingly. Most people won't have to eat a diet quite that simple forever, but it is a powerful fat loss tool.

Hi Asim,

Yes, the hypothesis predicts that.

Travis Culp said...

I had been really skeptical of this hypothesis, but as I've let it digest, I've come around and think it may actually be a dominant factor after all.

One question I have is about acclimation to simple food that results in that food tasting quite good. I eat an ascetic's diet (plain sweet potato/steamed rice, baked lean meat, etc.) just by choice (because I'm boring I suppose) but I really enjoy my meals and would say that they taste "good" to me. My girlfriend finds a bite of anything I eat to be inedible and makes a bunch of complex (and delicious) recipes for herself. Though my food may not taste as good to me as hers does to her, I wonder if enough time on a low-reward diet naturally increases the reward of the food. It seems to me that we begin to draw more data from our taste buds after eating simple food to the extent that though it obviously never turns into the supernormal stimuli of the average diet, it certainly becomes sufficiently enjoyable.

Asim said...

Is it really about "simple" food?

Based upon the response of Stephen in regards to pizza, which would qualify as highly-palatable, it seems to be all about the VARIETY. If I eat the same bag of doritas everyday, I would still lose weight, because eventually, the highly-palatable doritos would no longer have the same effect on the brain.

If I eat the same steak everyday, I would eventually get bored with it, and start to consume less.

Asim said...

This seems to be one of the may reasons why people are hung up on what qualifies as a 'rewarding' food or not. The judgment on a particular food by the brain is not static and part of what we eat and why we eat may purely be psychological.

Asim said...

"It is also the only concept that offers a compelling stand-alone explanation for the rapid increase in calorie intake and obesity in the last 30 years in the US."

Well, there is another explanation and that is the rise in INACTIVITY over the last 30 years, even with people exercising to lose weight.

Asim said...

If this is the case regarding sitting and fat cells collecting on the butt, this seems to approache obesity from another angle from both "diet and the brain"...

Marwan Daar said...


Perhaps synthesis is not the best word. I mean a resolution, where both parties come to an understanding (this could be arrived through concession and/or synthesis).

The reason I think this is important is because both Guyenet and Taubes are obviously interested in defending their own position, and their respective platforms have recently shown signs of entrenchment. It would be nice to move forward, especially with a resolution.

At the very least, it would be wonderful to arrive at some well articulated propositions that they disagree upon.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Asim,

Adding a bag of Doritos to lunch every day will not reduce reward/palatability or body fatness. Eating nothing but Doritos for an extended period of time probably would, but I wouldn't recommend it!

Hi Marwan,

If I appear to be entrenched, it is only because the more I read in the scientific literature, the more strongly I feel the food reward hypothesis is supported. I have provided many lines of evidence to support that position, and I feel that I have interpreted the literature faithfully, completely and from a position of knowledge. The value of the FRH is plainly obvious to people who are familiar with the relevant research, because so many mutually buttressing lines of evidence support it, and for that reason it is pretty much taken as a fact among obesity and food psychology researchers. That it lines up nicely with common sense helps as well.

I appreciate your idea, but I don't see the value of engaging Taubes further. He has intellectually isolated himself from the research community, and he continues to refuse to alter his wrongheaded ideas on obesity in the face of mountains of contradictory evidence, or even acknowledge that such contradictory evidence exists and is relevant. I can't change Taubes's mind, and I don't think anyone can.

vladex said...

It is simply not plausible that higher palatability would lead to lower food intake.
Higher palatability leads to higher satiation. You can't talk about palatability without talking about satiation Fruits are palatable and satiating . Eating green vegetables without any additions is not that palatable and it's not satiating. I fail to see any natural food item that is palatable but not satiating in great measure so this theory isn't standing up well and I am not sure why you push it and if anything it takes away from your argument with Taubes
Just because C/IH is totally flawed doesn't make "palatability" theory any better.
On the other hand , processed food items can't even count. People eat that when they are desperate or distracted and it's filled with ingredients made on a leftover factory floor that is completelly foreing to a human digestive system.

P2ZR said...

I'm beginning to think we should think of reward 'value' as ordinal rather than cardinal. In an extreme enough context, any food that is normally rewarding can become completely unrewarding (e.g., if one has just been force-fed five whole pizzas); and conversely, any normally unrewarding food can become rewarding if one, say, has been subjected to true starvation.

In the case of Jay Wright's wonderful weight loss journey (featured on PHD blog), I submit that Jay would have lost less weight if he had had, e.g., @spughy's amazing culinary skills at his disposal. Whatever the reward value of the diet Jay implemented, I think we could agree that it would have been higher reward if he could have gotten spughy to cook for him, in generous enough portions so that he would have stopped when he wanted and not when the portion was done (i.e., ad libitum). He probably would have eaten more and lost more slowly. So wrt. weight loss, our question becomes, "What is the 'right' level of consumption?" Is it one of moderate-low reward, with a given level of ad lib intake; or is it higher reward, with a concomitantly higher intake? Too drastically reducing reward would likely lead to problems with compliance; having negligible reduction in reward would likely lead to problems in moderating intake.

Stephan and others have floated the idea that fasting is the 'ultimate low-reward diet'. Theoretically, this makes sense, and if we take it as true (at least for people who fast successfully), then it seems that whatever the reward value of Jay's diet, it was modulated downward by the daily IF. While Jay mentioned that the fasting was far from painful, 'easy' is not the same as 'spontaneous'--the fasts were deliberately structured into his diet plan. It was not that Jay's meals were 'so rewarding' (per PAUL'S definition here) that Jay simply 'forgot' to eat every day till dinner; the abstaining from meals was a conscious choice--one that lowered the total reward value of his daily food intake.

@Aravind - I have followed your story and comments with interest, but I strongly disagree that we should do away with the notion of palatability, even in blog discussions. Reward probably tracks palatability quite well for 'normal' food stimuli, but what is perhaps most interesting is when reward and palatability diverge.

Stephan said, "Any diet that restricts many or all of the classic hyperpalatable foods: pastries, cookies...etc., is a reduced reward/palatability diet." This statement reinforces my belief that we are humoring researchers in their use of 'reward-slash-palatability' as an umbrella term, until we can elucidate the factors that make a food more rewarding than palatable, and vice versa. A diet that reduces/eliminates junk may not be lower palatability (if you or the better half is a true gourmet)--but without flavorist-created ingredients, it is almost certainly lower reward.

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion :)

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi vladex,

You said "Higher palatability leads to higher satiation". This is the opposite of what has been observed in every study I'm aware of. Higher palatability leads to lower satiation and higher within-meal food intake.

The mechanism of this is at least partially understood: opiate signaling in the striatum, which is known to reduce satiation and increase meal size. Opiate signaling is one of the main mechanisms of hedonic valuation.

Aravind said...

@Sarah - you wrote "Reward probably tracks palatability quite well for 'normal' food stimuli, but what is perhaps most interesting is when reward and palatability diverge"

I agree with this. To be clear, I am not suggesting palatability isn't relevant. Far from it. I was only suggesting the removal of it in the discussion because I think some people are struggling with the definition reward. When people say "I've lost weight and my diet is palatable", they are missing the boat.

I also understand that Stephan uses the term palatability because the studies he has cited (many of which I've read) also use this terminology.

I have spent a fair bit of time discussing reward with people and I have found by not approaching it from the palatability angle initially, the concept makes more sense to them. The example I typically give is beer - virtually no one likes beer the first time they drink it, but the behavior to (over) consume it is reinforced based on its rewarding properties.

Anyway, my 2 cents.


R. K. said...

Where could I read more about the following statement? . . . "Hundreds of years ago, obesity (and its co-morbidities) was restricted almost exclusively to the royalty in Europe."

Marwan Daar said...

Stephan, I appreciate your frustration. May I ask how you view Lustig's views on insulin's role in obesity?

In particular, Lustig seems wholly convinced that insulin plays a primary causal role in obesity (see this 15 min interview here : )

I've read your critique of the carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity and found it very illuminating, but do you think that giving any weight to the insulin hypothesis is a tenable position?

Also you should understand that I am a casual observer here, with no vested interests or deep expertise in this area.

P2ZR said...

@Aravind - Thanks for your 2 cents. You have such a great success story, but your approach makes me wonder about the success of your err, 'proselytizing'! I haven't tried, but I still imagine that for converting people from SAD, it'd be a lot easier to say, 'you know, you can have food that is at least as delicious [palatable]'. Because as long as they remove the *magically* delicious industrial items (pringles, hohos), they remove a (the?) source of artificially high consumption (no diminishing marginal returns to eating those items). I think this is like 'Level 1' of Stephan's diet outline, and I'm sure food does not automatically become less palatable at that stage--but less rewarding, unless people have vials of Castoreum/its savoury equivalents in their kitchen cabinets.

Also realized that I previously didn't make the entire point I wanted to make re: fasting and reward. Meant to say that whatever the reward value of a meal, fasting till dinner makes one at least somewhat hungry (even if one does not recognize the hunger till the fast is broken). So the fact that Jay was willing to eat yummy PHD meals every evening doesn't necessarily mean his meal was high reward, but that he was at least mildly hungry by dinnertime, which made the food taste good (back to my earlier point about the context of reward and ordinal vs. cardinal reward 'value').

Aravind said...

@Sarah - I am not proselytizing at all. First of all I am not talking to SAD eaters about this topic. I am an active member of other Paleo forums where this topic comes up. It was very presumptuous of you to state that I am trying to convert anyone. My discussions on this topic are with like minded people as an intellectual debate, nothing more. Not that I need to explain myself to anyone.

David Pier said...

From the company that first brought us MSG:
"Adds complexity and richness to a range of liquid and dry savory products,including beef,pork and chicken applications.
Gives meat sauces greater initial impact,a richer more complex taste and creamier texture.
Enhances initial salt impact and overall flavor characteristics.
Delivers a rich, lasting taste sensation.
Enhances spice derived flavor notes."

David Pier said...

Although there is a large part of me that wants to try this stuff... (As long as I could know the ingredients)

David Pier said...

Explanation of Kokumi, the younger sibling of umami:

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John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vladex said...

We are built to be satiated by any particular food item in order to seek variety to be what we are . In that sense we can like sugar, fat, salt, alcohol and anything else but be repulsed by it by going over limit and that's normal. And yet if we emotionally get involved with it we can drug ourselves with any of these basic substances. If one decides to use food as a drug , then there is much more possibility for it to become addictive especially if it's novel and the body is not used to it.

P2ZR said...

@Aravind - I meant 'proselytizing' and 'converting' purely tongue-in-cheek. If you had read any of my previous comments here, you would have seen that I have been eating a low-reward diet for the past few years and believe that there are many advantages to doing so.

P2ZR said...

@David Pier - Hmm, not sure how that would be qualitatively different from MSG (though I defer to the biochem pros here). I bet it comprises disodium guanylate & co. (, by labelling loopholes, allows manufacturers to say 'MSG free' when it has pretty much the same effect. (E.g., do you have MSG sensitivity? If so, these ingredients will likely make you feel the same way.)

P2ZR said...

P.S. Re: @David Pier's original link ( love how at the bottom, it says 'Login for more information'. Let the conspiracy theories begin ;)

Aravind said...

@Sarah - thanks for the clarification. I had not read your previous comments. Guess I misunderstood :-)


Catherine said...

Hi Stephan,
Just a question really.. a few years ago I was nearly a stone lighter and eating then a healthy natural diet. My dietary preferences have not really changed and I appreciate there could be multiple factors playing into this. One dramatic different however is that I have developed a caffeine addiction in last few years. I keep trying to give it up but keep craving it. I am therefore aware that I am in some sort of state of craving or addiction at the moment. Prior to this I had lost interest in food. My question is this.. do you think that being in a state of addiction (from caffeine) is perhaps perpetuating an interest in food / eating more?

robrob said...

i don't know when I am thristy and drink water it is very pleasurable(what does taste have to do with that), considering being very thristy is unpleasurable, and getting enough oxygen is very satisfying and of course when I get enough sleep that is really pleaurable to me.

now as for foods that are pleasurable and addictive, I have to say maybe. considering I have been doing a pretty good clip like around 6 or so months of low carb lifestyle as a whole, lost some weight, etc, I find that it takes alot more than taste to make me want something, for example it was not unusual for me to love a chocolate cake with icing at least once a month, usually just before tht time of the month, and for the life of me couldn't break that,I am talking a whole cake not a peice in like two days.

now that I look back understanding how my body works I craved it simply because I needed(to lengthy to explain why here) it taste was a less important criteria as far as my body was concerned. since following this lower carb thing (I still would eat fruit if I craved it, or some bread usually sourdough, usually once slice satisfied always buffered with real butter of course, sometimes brown rice but usually a 1/2 cup to a 3/4 cup with my meal was sufficient etc)

not saying I have not had bumps in my road, but considering my past dieting or eating thing it has been a real change.

but increasing my natural saturated fat (not manmade crap passed off as sat fat) which automatically lowers the gi of any carb you eat, and eating lower carb has stopped all the cake epidisodes and the craving for carb snacks like doritos or chips.

yes I am still obese but I am less obese, and the amount I lost (I cant say for sure but at least 20 pounds other people noticed) has not returned even tho my carb cravings increase some every since winter came. but now those cravings have dissapated.

my desire for fruit has been null for the past two weeks, about two or so weeks ago I was craving oranges, grapefuit and pineapple in my juicer, but now even that is gone, my desire for the past two days has been for veggies, so taste I believe is second banana to what my body needs and I won't eat something simply because it tastes really good when I am not hungry for it.

I believe it is glucose resistance not insulin resistance that is the problem, the cells are not full of glucose but devoid of it, and refusing to take any up simply because it would be cellular suicide to do such a thing without adequate cholesterol calcium etc to handle it. glucose is oxidative like gasoline.

anyway the mayo clinic found the best diet that lead to healthy weight loss or rather fat loss was plenty of fruits and veggies with whole dairy. either one alone was not, apparently you need sat fat to absorb the nutrients in the fruits and veggies.

so this is where I sit, wishing winter was over. alas must wait a couple of more months, will I survive without pulling my hair out or going into a coma? only time will tell. lol.


Alex said...


You wrote that overconsume nuts. Since nuts are mostly fat, not carbs, how do you explain that?

I figured it out. The nuts I binge on are almonds and cashews, which happen to be significantly higher in carbohydrate than other nuts. Although not as high in carbohydrate as potato chips, I would still put almonds and cashews in the addictive fatty carb food group.

Matt said...

High reward, high palatability by themselves causing obesity seems odd terminology at the very least, and an odd idea even then.

Surely the phrasing would be that low satiety is the problem.

In the Guyenet model, if I understand it, high reward, high palatability lead to low satiety and this causes high intake, which causes metabolic disorders and obesity.

I don't see any evidence that low palatability, low reward food is inherently high satiety (i.e. satisfies or reduces appetite). Or that delicious food is low satiety.

Part of this is that I do not understand what evolutionary mechanism would drive a creature to indefinitely undereat when it chances on unpalatable food - we would expect it to more aggressively seek out palatable food or if it does reduce its intake to reduce its expenditure. That is an increase in sedentism or appetite.

The relatively low obesity cultures (Japan, France) are not stereotypically marked by the presence of food that is unrewarding or unpalatable (rather the reverse) but by food that is satisfying and delicious.

You can say, "Ah well, but they don't eat it frequently" but then you have to ask "If good, palatable food being present causes you to want more good food" then why the hell do the eat their good, palatable food less often? Why hasn't their level of food demand risen as high as the USA or the UK, given that these economies almost certainly started from either similar or lower levels of good tasting food in the first place.

I mean the idea that "American food that is commonly eaten by the obese is "like sex" in its satisfaction while Japanese and French food eaten by the lean is "unpalatable" ". Does anyone actually find this plausible for a second?

And I don't think you can't point to the American Food Industry trying to make satisfying food as a unique problem, as if this was not what food and snack companies in France and Japan try do all the time. Japanese chemists, at the very least, are no slouches in inventing and adding flavour enhancers - Ikuda discovered MSG.

You say you've never encountered a "gourmet non-industrial culture". Uh. I've never encountered a gourmet culture period. And to the extent there would be one, I can't imagine it would look like North America or Britain.

Also why is it that the fattest people are not the rich, who should have access to the most unlimited access to highly palatable foods (because they have the most disposable income), and certainly not less access to highly palatable foods? I mean, the carbohydrate hypothesis, whatever it's flaws, at least presents the idea that this difference is in place because the poor have access to lower quality food. What is the idea here? Gruel is all that the peasants can take?

Saying "People need to eat unpalatable food" cannot be the answer, because unpalatable food is not necessarily satisfying and they will break the diet to eat satisfying food.

Taubes model whereby appetite is overstimulated and activity reduced by a metabolic disorder may not be correct, but I don't buy the idea idea that appetite is stimulated mainly or solely by increased palatability and increased sensory qualities of food.

. said...

Hi Stephan. Here is a veeery interesting Nature article: "Flavor network and the principles of food pairing" ->