Monday, October 17, 2011

Losing Fat With Simple Food-- Two Reader Anecdotes

Each week, I'm receiving more e-mails and comments from people who are successfully losing fat by eating simple (low reward) food, similar to what I described here.  In some cases, people are breaking through fat loss plateaus that they had reached on conventional low-carbohydrate, low-fat or paleo diets.  This concept can be applied to any type of diet, and I believe it is an important characteristic of ancestral food patterns.

At the Ancestral Health Symposium, I met two Whole Health Source readers, Aravind Balasubramanian and Kamal Patel, who were interested in trying a simple diet to lose fat and improve their health.  In addition, they wanted to break free of certain other high-reward activities in their lives that they felt were not constructive.  They recently embarked on an 8-week low-reward diet and lifestyle to test the effectiveness of the concepts.  Both of them had previously achieved a stable (in Aravind's case, reduced) weight on a paleo-ish diet prior to this experiment, but they still carried more fat than they wanted to.  They offered to write about their experience for WHS, and I thought other readers might find it informative.  Their story is below, followed by a few of my comments.

In the summer of 2011, Aravind and Kamal were intrigued by the possibility of achieving a healthier mental and physical state based on ideas presented by Dr. Guyenet in his Food Reward series. Both wanted to lose weight and disconnect from the Internet. Additionally, Aravind wanted to address long-standing sleep issues and a severe diet soda addiction, while Kamal wanted to explore the potential benefits in dealing with chronic joint pain issues (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). After attending AHS11, we embarked upon a Low Reward Lifestyle experiment on August 15, 2011 to unscientifically test the ideas discussed with respect to Food and Technology Reward.

Kamal Patel
     Age – 31
     Target weight              – 150 lbs
     August 15, 2011          – 169 lbs
     September 12, 2011   – 159 lbs (Week 4)
     October 10, 2011        – 157 lbs (Week 8)

Aravind Balasubramanian
     Age - 42
     Target weight              – 160 lbs
     August 15, 2011          – 180 lbs
     September 12, 2011   – 172 lbs (Week 4)
     October 10, 2011        – 168 lbs (Week 8)

Food Reward
Prior to the experiment, both of us were eating a “Paleo” diet with occasional cheats. Aravind started 2011 at 195 lbs and lost 15 lbs within 6 weeks, transitioning from a SAD vegetarian diet to an Archevore vegetarian diet. For the next 6 months, he remained weight stable at 180 lbs. Kamal started Paleo in 2009 at 170 lbs, and was fairly weight-stable during the past two years.

Using the concepts outlined, we essentially implemented Levels 1-4. Elements of Level 5 were implemented to the extent there was monotony day over day. Within any given day, however, there was variety. We kept a food diary of everything eaten, though did not count or deliberately restrict calories. You will note that we followed radically different protocols in terms of diet composition and macronutrients. Metrics have been calculated ex post.

Representative Daily Diets
- Kamal
     Breakfast - Berries, Milk protein isolate (unflavored)
     Lunch - Beef stew (beef, carrot, celery, salt, pepper), Banana
     Dinner - Steamed fish (fish, salt, pepper, lemon juice), plain spinach, plain squash, Tiny bit of walnuts
     Snacks - None. Started eating sushi during re-feeds later on. Ate more seasoned Paleo foods with added fat on rare occasions (e.g. BBQ, travelling, hot date)
     Calories ~ 1100-1200 per day, 3000-4000 on 1x/week re-feed days with added rice
     Macronutrients ~ 50% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 20% fat (high % protein was to minimize muscle loss due to extremely low calorie consumption)

- Aravind
     Breakfast – boiled eggs, sweet potatoes (or whole milk with whey protein if rushed)
     Lunch – White rice with ghee, green vegetables (okra, spinach, broccoli) cooked in little ghee without spices, full fat (homemade) yogurt
     Dinner – White rice with traditionally prepared lentils, white potatoes, green vegetables, and yogurt; Or spinach salad with mixed veggies, boiled eggs, and “ghee vinaigrette”
     Snacks – 85-90% dark chocolate, macadamia nuts, bananas (eliminated once diet soda addiction overcome)
     Calories ~ 1700-1800 per day
     Macronutrients ~ 55% carbohydrates, 25% fat, 20% protein (pre-experiment ~45% carbs, albeit higher overall calorie consumption)
     Dietary staples remained unchanged, however seasonings, salt, spices, added fats significantly reduced. Diet soda eliminated. Very limited alcohol consumption

Adaptation and Satiety
After adapting to a lower reward diet, satiety was not at all a problem. However the time to adapt was radically different for the two of us.

Kamal was able to transition almost immediately, and in spite of running a significant caloric deficit, was not hungry at all. Kamal ate essentially the same thing every single day (except for a day of re-feed every week or two that consisted of 3000-4000 kcals for leptin resetting, with extra carbs in the form of rice). Prior to the experiment, he did not have any liquid addictions-- only consuming one cup of coffee in his whole life, and drinking alcohol once every couple of months. Perhaps most important was the use of a slow cooker. Every three days, he would make a simple beef stew, which anchored the following days meals without exerting any effort at all. Occasionally, a turnip or taro would be thrown in to add some “excitement” but would prove to be too disgusting or irritating to the gut.

Aravind, however, had a very serious addiction to diet soda (3 liters per day) prior to the experiment. The week before starting, he titrated down to address caffeine withdrawal symptoms. The first 10-14 days of the experiment, Aravind was RAVENOUS, much to his surprise. Compliance was maintained strictly though willpower. Perhaps the extreme hunger was similar to chain smokers that stop smoking. However, after the psychological withdrawal subsided at the end of week 2, hunger levels returned to normal in week 3 and satiety was no longer an issue. Snacking was eventually eliminated as well given reduced hunger. Aravind has not consumed any diet soda since August 15th after a decade+ addiction.

After physically and psychologically adapting, adherence has been easy as long as the environment is controlled. In our typical daily lives (home/work), the ability to cook simply-prepared food made it easy to comply. However social settings are particularly challenging since rewarding foods and drinks are EVERYWHERE, along with overcoming the many years of conditioning where emotionally challenging situations result in stress relief via comfort foods, even if high quality “Paleo approved”. It should be noted that for all intents and purposes, we did not cheat over the course of the 8 weeks.

Notwithstanding social and emotional pressures, our experience is that it is very difficult to overeat on a truly low reward diet. Paleo diets irrespective of their macronutrient composition can still be very rewarding and while we do not wish to engage in a debate about the tautology of calories in / calories out, the bottom line is that the First Law of Thermodynamics still applies. Physics is not just a good idea, it’s the law!

The other key component to adherence was the support system we had in place. We spoke to each other daily and kept a shared Google Doc diet log. Co-sponsoring one another was the start of Rewardaholics Anonymous. The majority of the support was to address Tech Reward (see below), but in the early on, this was beneficial all around. We realize that having a support system has nothing specifically to do with Low Reward, but wanted to point out that both of us have derived a lot of strength from “RA” so as to not cheat.

Additionally, during the course of the experiment, there was a notable shift with respect to the role of food. Food has transitioned from a source of entertainment to fuel. Some people have commented that they find this highly objectionable. Being “epicurious” or a foodie seems inherently incongruent with an ancestral dietary approach. This is not a re-enactment argument being made. Perhaps those that have plateaued after a substantial weight loss (but above a healthy set point) consider this if additional weight loss is desired. It has worked for us. YMMV.

Aravind’s current diet is expected to the core of his long term diet. The only expected change is occasional cheats (mostly alcohol) but has no intention to go back to a substantially higher reward diet as he feels it is completely sustainable. He structured his experiment diet as such to avoid a difficult transition later and possibly regain the weight. Kamal’s future diet is unknown. He embarked on this experiment to both lose weight and adapt to a simpler lifestyle. Kamal is not a natural at Paleo though - he is not a big meat or vegetable fan. This diet has notably improved on the vegetable part though. Kamal is now satisfied eating plain spinach, broccoli, and squash. His future diet will likely be similar to the current diet but with added fat and starches and much less protein. The amount of seasoning and cheats is still up for pondering.

Reward is not synonymous with palatability, though correlated. Aravind finds his diet rather palatable or it would not be his long term diet. Related to this, previously unsatisfying low reward foods have become satisfying after the adaption occurred. This is not to say that hyper-rewarding foods have become unsatisfying or undesirable – it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Therefore, there will be always be an element of willpower to step away from the cake, cookies, pizza, etc. However, this is no different than any other diet where previously desirable foods need to be avoided.  Like an alcoholic, the rewardaholic needs to consider his/her trigger foods and abstain, or be willing to accept the consequences. 

Technology Reward
To the extent that reward centers in the brain are not food specific, we thought it made to sense to address other aspects of reward in our lives. The technology component was added to address the excessive number of hours we were spending on the Internet. These hours included reading nutritional blogs, social networking sites, and other surfing. We hypothesized a synergistic effect with Food Reward.

Some key aspects of the Tech Reward experiment, also tracked in our Google Doc log
     In bed by 9:30 PM - to eliminate the late night surfing, which also compromised sleep
     Meditation – this was to assist with both facets of the experiment
     Removing ourselves from Facebook and Paleohacks as active members, and also scouring the various nutritional blogs

Adherence to a low reward diet is a (Paleo-friendly) piece of cake compared to Technology Reward!!! It was incredibly difficult to be without the social “rush” of the Internet. We had varying levels of success over the course of the 8 weeks.

When we did truly disengaged, it was very liberating. Life did not come to an end when we were no longer was abreast of each post on the various websites. Aravind was off Facebook for 3 weeks and completely off the Internet for 7 straight days (excluding utilitarian things like going to his banking site). Until recently, he was off Paleohacks for approximately 6 weeks. Regarding his chronic sleep issues, the elimination of the late night surfing and consistently going to sleep early (in addition to dietary changes and meditation) neither positively nor negatively impacted his sleep. As of week 9, he started magnesium citrate supplementation, which initially seems to be positive, but the jury is still out.

Kamal’s Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome issues were not noticeably different during the experiment. It should be noted that when his joint pain flared up, there was a tendency to get on the Internet (sometimes excessively) for stress relief. Perhaps this is similar to emotional situations leading to consumption of rewarding comfort foods. Kamal will continue to test his hypothesis that over time with a Low Reward Lifestyle, the nervous system might become better equipped to deal with noxious stimuli and chronic pain cycles. As pain researchers say, “All pain is in the brain”.

The bottom line is that we tasted some of the fruits of a low Tech Reward “diet”, but have a lot of work to do before declaring it a “lifestyle”.

Next Steps
“Focus and simplicity” is our current mantra. We intend to continue the dietary component indefinitely until we achieve our target weight and likely beyond. Regarding technology, as noted we are far from declaring “mission accomplished” and need to increase our efforts.

We would like to thank Stephan for giving us the opportunity to share our experiences from the last 8 weeks, as well as the off-blog support provided. Stephan asked us to be very candid and not “fructose-coat” our experiences even if the assessment was unfavorable. We are completely sold on Food Reward as a therapeutic measure to address weight issues (coupled with an Ancestral diet for general health). The debates regarding the usage of the word “dominant” and causation of obesity are an academic exercise from our point of view since we are not biochemists, nor do we play one on TV. Our objective is simple – to show up Mark Sisson at AHS12 with our abs of steel. You’ve been served!

Stephan's Comments

Both Aravind and Kamal lost fat eating simple food without deliberately restricting calories (calorie intake declined naturally due to a reduction in appetite).  Kamal's simplified diet was high in protein and relatively low in carbohydrate, while Aravind's centered around carbohydrate.  Although weight loss was modest (12 lbs each), keep in mind that a) they were scarcely overweight to begin with, b) they are now within 7-8 lbs of their ideal weight and may continue to lose, and c) they broke through a weight loss plateau that they had reached eating a paleo-ish diet.  Given those caveats, I think their weight loss is actually pretty impressive.  Point (c) is highly significant in my view, because it offers hope to people who feel that their fat loss efforts have stalled out on other diets prior to reaching their target weight.  

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to devalue or replace the paleo diet in any way-- I'm trying to refine it.  "Paleo" is a useful concept, and it can benefit from incorporating simplicity, an important aspect of ancestral diets.  

Both Aravind and Kamal adapted well to the simplified diet, however their experiences differed considerably.  Aravind had to overcome a major diet soda addiction and this may have contributed to his initial difficulties.  Kamal adapted immediately.  After adaptation, both consumed fewer calories than they required for weight maintenance, spontaneously and without hunger.  Aravind was able to eliminate snacking due to a reduction in hunger.  It's very common for people to have trouble adapting to simple food for the first 1-2 weeks (which I think is very informative because it shows just how attached we are to high-reward food), but most will adapt and grow to be satisfied by it.  A less painful alternative to the "cold turkey" approach is to gradually simplify your food over a period of weeks or months.

I also want to be clear that I never made any claims about the reward concepts being a treatment for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a heritable connective tissue disorder.  I suggested that a simplified diet may help with fat loss, and a simplified lifestyle may help with clarity/calmness (and perhaps sleep issues). 

The technology reward aspect of their experiment was interesting as well.  Although they benefited from the change, it did not help Aravind's sleep problems.  I still think it can help some people sleep better, particularly those who don't sleep well due to stress, an overactive mind, or light exposure from a computer screen at night. But not everyone sleeps poorly for the same reasons.

I'd like to thank Aravind and Kamal for offering to share their experiences with the WHS community.

Does anyone else have a food reward experience they'd like to share (positive or negative)?  Please post it in the comments!


mactheweb said...

I'm waiting for the book - "Bore Yourself Thin: Losing Weight With Tasteless Foods"

Indrid Cold said...

Long time reader, good work stephan

I must disagree with your Food reward hypothesis.

I have lost a lot of weight and kept it off eating as much junk food, spices fat an carbs as I cared to eat.

I followed advice from another blogger, changed my lifestyle and ate very tasty food :) weight came off easy. never to return

(last meal from taco bell )

David Pier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
New York said...

I might try something like this to get past my low-carb plateau.

Shangri-la was bad for me when I attempted it. I seemed to get short-term appetite suppression for a day or two followed by strong hunger as well as strong cravings for sweets.

Anya said...

I'm experimenting with a approach that is somewhere between Low Reward and Shangri-La.
I'm skeptical about replacing calories with less nutritious alternatives, so here is what I've been doing.

I have replaced my evening dinner with fresh, instant made vegetable juice (not fruit juice as that IS rewarding).
I throw together vegetable combinations that are generally not recommended which makes for strange tasting calories and zero palatability (it's liquid).
When I get accustomed to a taste, I change (rotate vegetables).

It is super easy to digest and very nutritious.

The rest of the day I pretty much eat whatever I want, only, I don't (seem to eat much).

4,5 kg lost in 3 weeks.

The first 2 weeks, night hunger IS an issue and willpower is required.

Jo said...

Interesting. I have lost 25 lbs on a paleo/PHD style diet and kept it off for several months now. I would really like to lose an additional 10 lbs--look good but I'm in my 60s and still have some excess fat around my middle. Gradually cutting back to a simplier diet sounds like it might be doable. The hardest part will be cutting back on that delicious butter.

Anonymous said...

Uh... re-feeding day? Leptin resetting? Despite indulging in a lot of nutrition-related "technology reward" for about 1.5 years, I've not encountered this idea. Might you (Stephan) elaborate?

mrfreddy said...

Tried it for a week:

-lost 5 pounds (after maintaining a 40 pound weight loss via low carb for almost 10 years. This seems like too much, could it possibly have been water weight?)

-had a persistent headache. (lack of salt, maybe?)

-put most of it back when I went back to my normal low carb diet.

Not a good time for me to go full-bore (full-bore, heh heh, get it, heh heh? sorry) right now, but I will in a few weeks. Worried that I would have to stick to the boring diet to keep the weight off? That might be a deal killer for me.

Chris Masterjohn said...

Damn, Aravind is 42??? Lookin' good!


Alex said...

You said Aravind was ravenously hungry and didn't eat to satisfy that hunger, whether or not you targeted a number of calories, if he's hungry and he's not eating, that's equivalent to controlling them.

Anonymous said...

"rush of the internet..."

dang, thats a really reallllly good way to put it. this should be step one maybe, then eat simple food...

Kamal said...

The refeed (high calories) to reset leptin (hunger/setpoint hormone) was added in later because I wasn't eating very much. And I wasn't eating very much because eating plain foods does not make you want to eat more. It almost seems too simple, no?

I lost water weight the first few days, so I'm guessing that you did too. Aravind also faced the salt issue, although his adjustment to the diet largely involved avoiding his usual massive intake of diet soda. From our experiences, it seems that a couple weeks is the minimum it takes to get fully used to a low-reward diet. The first couple days, it certainly doesn't seem sustainable.

Don't play into Aravind's game! I think this whole reward experiment was just a ploy, leading to a big reveal on how young he looks for his age.

Aravind had to control his hunger for high-reward foods the first few days (e.g. Taco Bell), not low-reward foods. I don't think he wanted to overconsume plain sweet potatoes.

Aravind said...

@Chris - Thanks. It must have been my immaturity at AHS that threw you off. I had one friend at AHS say "I thought you were 25 based on how you acted". I think she overstated my mental age by at least 5-10 years!

@mactheweb - Reward is not synoymous with palatability. I cannot overemphasize that enough

Scott W said...

The 1 to 2 week adjustment period was true for me and very interesting. No matter how much bland food I ate (I was focusing on potatoes and boiled eggs) it was as if my brain did not believe it was getting any calories if they were not rewarding. This caused some relapsing but subsided over time.

Scott W

Alex said...

I guess I don't see a distinction between types of hunger? It sounds more like what you're talking about is a craving.

Cameo said...

Interesting study. Thank you all for sharing. The only thing that truly vexes me here is that you all are calling white rice an "unpalatable" food. I can't even begin to wrap my head around any refined food being "unpalatable" nor appropriate for daily consumption.

Other than that, sounds like an interesting experiment.

I am currently trying my own version of this sort of diet. Only I avoid any/all starches (once or twice a week I indulge in something 'carby'). I pretty much eat eggs, fish, some poultry, some organic beef, lots of green and non-starchy veggies, almond milk, coffee, and a bit of wine.

Working quite nicely!

Kamal said...

Alex- your first point was a good one. Aravind was only ravenously hungry the during a portion of the first week. We hypothesize that it might have stemmed from no longer drinking >4 liters of soda per day.

The hunger/craving was not for more low-reward foods like plain spinach and sweet potato, it was (if I recall correctly) for high-reward foods. Since neither of us could eat high-reward foods without facing the wrath of the other, the initial burst of cravings fizzled out fairly quickly.

TheGiantess said...

I guess I was inadvertently following a low reward diet. Recently, mostly because I like to self experiment and wanted to lose a few pounds before an upcoming trip to Vegas... I have been following Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss program. For those of you not familiar this diet is an extremely high protein and virtually no fat or carbs (aside from tag along carbs in veggies). According to my starting weight, gender and body fat percentage and based on Lyles guidelines I am aiming to consume 240 grams of protein a day and little to no fat or carbs. This is a short term diet for someone like me who is considered "lean," to start---I am female, started at 152 pounds and 20% body fat. I fall into category 1 in this diet which is lean and therefore am only to maintain this diet for 11 days. This is day 9...

I should note that I am mostly paleo, PHD style eater. I don't really eat highly rewarding food in the first place aside from butter and ice cream. My health has improved since adopting this eating lifestyle in the past year, but my weight never really changed. I have hovered around 150-155 pounds for what seems like forever. Although I am not interested in potato chips and junk food I do enjoy alcohol. A lot. So on to my diet experience. Like I said I am in day 9 and have been missing my protein targets every day by nearly 75 grams. I am usually able to get in around 170 grams per day. Just the idea of eating more protein by the end of day makes me cringe. I have been averaging around 850 calories per day which is about 1300 calories below my "maintenance," level. I don't aim for a calorie goal this is just how it works.

In addition to RFL diet I also practice intermittent fasting and have been for many months. So I only eat between noon and 10 pm every day. During this diet a typical day of food looks like this: meal 1--large scoop whey protein mixed in water. Meal 2--1/2 cup egg whites with vegetables and low salt salsa or a large salad of plain lettuce with 2 cans plain tuna. Meal 3-- usually baked chicken and steamed veg. Lots and lots of chicken. Meal 4-- usually dessert style, one scoop protein mixed in a small amount of water and frozen to emulate ice cream.

So thats it.. I never have the desire to eat more.. Usually when my plate is clean I am so happy to be finished. I recently found fat free cheese and added it to my egg whites with fat free turkey breast.. This was the best thing I had eaten in days! Can you imagine indulging in egg whites and fat free cheese?!

I weighed myself this morning and am down to around 148 pounds which is only a 4 pound weight loss, but my body fat is down almost a full 2% in 9 days. Outside of calculations my pants are very loose, my stomach is somewhat concave and my abdominal muscles are visible. So although I think my macronutrient composition has something to do with my results i do think the lack of palatable food has A LOT to do with my success. Perhaps Lyle should rename his date, high protein, low reward.

Thanks to Stephan for shedding some light on the issue and showing us that food reward is a major player in the nutrition game.

Aravind said...

@Cameo - where did we use the word "unpalatable"? White rice with ghee, but no salt, spices, etc is low reward. Again, reward is not palatability

Darrin Thompson said...

Has anyone taken the time to try and quantify reward/palatability for known foods?

Exceptionally Brash said...

I did not know you were collecting anecdotes. Here's another:

Galina L. said...

It is fanny, I argue with you about virtues of LC diet because I think I am eating according to it, but my diet looks like Aravind's with less carbs (my breakfast, for example, consists of 2 - 3 eggs with butter and unsweetened tea). I also don't snack, but eat less than him - 2 times a day pretty much the same food every day almost without spices. I salt my food to taste, but because I followed plain food diet as a child, I usually use less salt than other people.I thought it was LC Paleo. I am, unlike Aravind, is 50 yo female and I suppose my body functions differently than of a relatively young man,so I need less food.The only very strong tasting thing in my diet is the variety of fermented vegetables. Sometimes I even don't want to eat it after slightly coked lamb chops, but eat anuway for health reasons. Would it be the low FR diet if I remove that sauerkraut or pickles? After 4 years on different variations of LC diet my BMI is 27 which was my goal. I lost last 15 lb during last 1.5 years after I add not-snacking and IF to it(I also cut carbs more). I think it is a low-carb Paleo diet. I never thought about my diet as a low-reward one, just with reducing carbs and frequency of meals I started to be less interested in variety , also any food is very palatable after long interval of not eating.
So, I am , probably, agree with you more than I realized. As somebody who has never been a soda addict or a fast-food addict, I am not that interested in the problem people have with such kind of foods. For me it feels like watching TV program about extreme hoarding - it is obviously bad, but limited to some narrow group, has nothing to do with me, a freak show.It looks like it is the portraying FR as the opposite approach to LC that is ticking me off.

Medjoub said...

@ Aravind -

I'm really interested in your attempt to rectify sleep problems through low reward. I suffer from chronic sleep issues and was actually considering a "low reward lifestyle" as a potential means to improvement. Long-term LC, VLC, and (currently) high-starch Paleo have all failed for me in this respect. Low reward sounds like a bust for you, though! If you don't mind my asking, what is the nature of your problem?

Kamal said...


I have also done Lyle's PSMF (and UD2) in the past, and agree with you that it is very easy to combine those things with low-reward.

To take it a step further, Aravind and I have been discussing how well some of the "best in breed" eating strategies fit with each other. My current thought on what's best is...

1. Paul Jaminet's Perfect Health Diet-- best for evidence-based nutrition, hands down.

2. Stephan Guyenet's Low-reward-- best for "naturalizing" the brain's need for reward, through simpler food and lifestyle.

3. Martin Berkhan's LeanGains--
Best way to get a ripped body, via intermittent fasting and a basic but specific lifting and diet protocol.

These all fit in very well together. Intermittent fasting and whole foods are the core principles. Macronutrients differ, but who cares, as they can be tailored to your goals. All are very sustainable, as well.

bentleyj74 said...

You aren't going to like this but my anecdotal experience suggests that fasting trumps bland [for me anyway].

I am capable of eating [or at least desiring] passively beyond satiation supplied with boiled potatos and unseasoned meats etc although certainly not by as much as I could have with processed high reward food. It certainly does go down easier and it certainly contains more cals per bite in general.

Regular short term fasting seems to do something to the feedback making it undesireable/unpleasant to overconsume by even a few bites regardless of what constituted the food.

It's probably relevant that I'm not overweight and have never been seriously overweight and have no history of addiction of any kind and also no chronic health problems.

My experience may not apply to people predisposed to obesity/etc.

Cookies...the big soft ones preferably with a nice hot coffee have always been my soft spot so I decided to try them out as one of my post fast meals [they have considerable cal counts so they really are pretty much a whole meal for a woman my size]. I left the last few bites unfinished and about the bottom 1/3 of my coffee.

I do not understand the mechanism involved but that's impressive for a girl who didn't think the term "enough" applied to words like "cookies" and assumed they would always be a white knuckle and apply willpower walk away quickly food.

I know it isn't the road you are currently traveling but I'm still interested in your opinion on how fasting may affect reward.

spughy said...

I'm currently doing a low-reward food period, for weight loss reasons but also because I feel very burned out by the glut of food from late summer/harvest season. It's a bit tricky for me because I have a family to feed as well, but I'm blogging about it here: (the first post is Mimicking the Ebb and Flow of Nature). As mrfreddy found, there is an adjustment period and I had a headache for the first day or two, but it went away completely after I added some extra fat to my too-lean boring stew. I'm three or four days in now, feeling great, and while I'm not weighing every day, my clothes are already fitting more loosely (mostly due to lack of bloating I suspect).

Aravind said...

@Medjoub - I think for me it is the inability to turn off my mind. The few times in my life that I have been truly at peace (very few), I've slept like a baby. But generally I am a worrier, thinker, etc constantly. Disconnecting from the Net didn't help because there were still many other things (i.e. life) rattling around in my head including thinking about the fact I was disconnected :-)

I would not call Low Reward a bust with respect to sleep just yet. To be fair, I don't think I can undo 42 years of conditioning in 8 weeks. I actually want to ping Emily Deans on this because I think her input would be valuable.

I plan to increase the meditation since I feel I didn't give it the same priority as the other aspects of the experiment. We'll see how it goes. I think diet is important, but much like the Food Reward series with respect to diet, the problem is in my brain more than my body IMO.

Thanks for the question!

Aravind said...

@bentleyj74 - Kamal and I have just started this week with the inclusion of 16/8 fasting ala Leangains for the next phase of the experiment. Two days in, it has been pretty easy because I think coming from the already Low Reward diet has made it seamless.

I don't view IF-ing as mutually exclusive with Low Reward or any other protocol. Along those lines, the low carbers that have taken such offense to Reward theory should perhaps consider that low reward does not preclude low carb as a protocol.

My experience has been that in spite of being overweight my entire life, I've lost 27 lbs this year at well over 40% carbs (first with transition to Archevore, and now the Low Reward Archevore diet I've implemented)

Finally, AGAIN, low reward is not synonymous with bland, unpalatable, etc though correlated. My diet was not bland IMO, just not hyperstimulating like before. Starting to sound like a broken record.

Matthew said...

@Avavind: I think you are going to get bored of saying low reward does not mean with bland and unpalatable :)

Concerning IF, could this not be considered as extended periods of no-reward. Fasting with only water will provide no reward at all from your diet during the periods of fasting with rewarding stimuli being condensed into a much shorter period each day.

Alma said...

@Cameo I know what you mean with rice. Plain boiled rice is just as rewarding to me as a croissant. I can overeat rice very easily. I can't overeat plain sweet or white potatoes if I tried though! I also get very high reward from plain roast lamb and my brain laughs at the idea that it's impossible to overeat protein because it's so filling (ha!)

That's were individual variances come into play. There is no simple single food or macro nutrient level that will cause weight gain or weight loss, it's what is most rewarding to YOU. Of course there are foods that are almost universally rewarding like cakes, cookies etc but YMMV on natural produce.

Bottom line, if it makes you want to eat more of it when not genuinely hungry, you have no business eating it.

Aravind said...

@Matthew - I agree. I will stop now :-) I never thought about fasting as a period of Low Reward, but that is an interesting take.

@AC - Completely agree with the individual variances. Didn't mean to suggest otherwise. Thanks for the clarification!

Medjoub said...

@Aravind -

Thanks for your reply. It sounds like your sleep problems mirror mine exactly (I'm 29, though). I've always had a very switched-on mind, a bit anxious and perseverating. At night, all the day's events just keep on rolling through my head. Sometimes I'll wake in the middle of the night thinking about what I was thinking about 6 hours ago when I first went to bed. It varies, of course, with how exciting my day was - good OR bad - but I never sleep well. I assume this is not an uncommon experience, but absolutely nothing has ever helped (and in a moment of desperation a year or so ago I tried some conventional sleeping pills -- still no help. Not going there again.). I'd kind of given up at this point, but it'd sure be nice to get some relief...

Deirdre said...

There is no question that palatability is the crux of the obesity epidemic.

We are hard-wired for pleasure. Long before there were drugs, alcohol, shopping or gambling - there was the need to eat and reproduce. Palatability is one of these pleasures (**Although, I might argue that palatability might be better explained as 'how' food makes us feel; that the moment of "taste enjoyment" is simultaneous with opiod release, which overrides our natural satiety cues with the primal intention to store energy reserves.)

But palatability alone has not caused a soar in obesity rates over the past 20 years. In order for our biology to have become "unleashed" - it required the loosening of the 3 restraints that once kept it in check ...

1.) "HYPER" PALATABILITY: We have made our food hyperpalatable. What the sight of a blueberry once did to our circuits has since been replaced by a HoHo and a Big Mac. It's hard to go backwards.

2.) AVAILABILITY: Obtaining palatable foods, let alone "hyperpalatable" foods - has been a challenge throughout history. It was hard enough finding food, then we had to grow it and raise it, then we had to pay for it (which used to be expensive before we started subsidizing corn). All these speed bumps in availability were speed bumps in consumption. But it all changed about 20 years ago. We no longer need to hunt or gather anything more than a cell phone and a take-out menu to get these hyperpalatable foods. In the home food environment, hyperpalatable meals and snacks can be available in minutes thanks to microwaves.

3.) Opportunity: The opportunity to eat these tpes of food are driven by social norms. "Pigging out" in public was not always a socially accepted behavior, but reserved for occasions like Thanksgiving or maybe a pie eating contest at the county fair. But thanks to effective food marketers, we have come to expect descriptive words such as "king-sized", "jumbo" and "all you can eat" on menus and food packages. This has become the new "norm".

Many people probably can eat hyperpalatable foods and maintain a healthy weight, or even maintain a weight loss. But then again, many people who love wine can drink a couple glasses without becoming full blown alcoholics. But give them unlimited access without social consequences, their couple of glasses would soon start to add up.

Richard said...

okay, we know what to how do we stick to it? Everyone essentially 'knows' what to eat...I know I shouldn't eat ice cream or mcdonalds, or to eat berries plain without adding cream and sugar to them...but how can I decondition my, I don't know, taste buds, mind, cravings, for this stuff? That is the real question and the main reason diets fail.

James Kimbell said...


What kind of fasting are we talking about here? Leangains, or something more extended? (Sorry if you've mentioned this a million times, I remember your name as someone whose comments I like, but I can't remember anything about IF specifically.)


Right there with you on the sleep/brain issue. I'm not overweight or physically sick in any way, but I'd love to get my brain the option of a lower gear, one that's not all over the place all the time. I'm more lured in by the reward of reading than of rice, but it's no less annoying.

allison said...

The attached link is to an article describing a personal trainer who deliberately gained 70 pounds in a matter of weeks so that he could lose the weight as an example to his obese clients. Putting aside the fact that the trainer didn't need to contend with a broken metabolism, as is the case with the long-term and formerly obese, look at the foods this guy ate to gain the 70 lbs. (Hint: It wasn't lard.) He also describes the intensity of food cravings he experienced. Interesting.

bentleyj74 said...

@James Kimbell

I don't think I've ever mentioned it here before but I was toying with the notion of eating only when actually hungry to see what if anything it did to my appetite.

I didn't have a particular hour in mind but it ended up being pretty close to a full 24 hours before I was certainly experiencing hunger [suprised me how long it took too!] then I broke the fast with an unremarkable dinner of ordinary portion size rather than a binge [I still felt hungry for about 10 minutes after eating but then I felt satisfied...had the hunger persisted I would have eaten more].

I had heard of MB leangains before but did not get the same result from the 16/8 window [should be mentioned I am not a body builder...might work for them].

If I had to venture a guess it would be that trying to get my cals into an 8 hr window causes me to be eating outside of hunger in that window which does seem to make me "hungry" rather than not even if I'm uncomfortably full.

Brad Pilon site described my experience fairly accurately including lack of desire/compulsion eating even with the moderate inclusion of high reward foods.

I should mention also that our diet is generally fairly low reward/home cooked but low reward did not seem adequate to quench my desire for "more" of certain foods and I didn't want avoidance to be my only option aside from will power. No one likes an itch they can't scratch.

I tend to agree with FR theory in general and also tend to agree that fasting may be the lowest state of reward possible and that may carry over. I'm certainly not the expert.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of the post was them addressing the "social networking and technology" and spending time meditating (lowering stress hormones), and going to bed early.

We all know this, but lifestyle choices are HUGE in overall health, as well as weight loss. We, as a society, live incredibly stressful lives and pay little attention to it's health effects.

James Kimbell said...


Cool, thanks for the detailed response. I have been considering fasting - but it's one of those things where if I had read about one kind of fasting I would try it, but since I've read about different kinds I end up just reading more and more about them and never actually doing anything. Another example of the overactive brain that Aravind and I and many others experience.

To add another anecdote on the pile, though:

I have consciously been reducing the reward factors in my diet lately. I thought I might feel the way Scott W described - where the bland food feels like it "doesn't count" and isn't associated with calories - but the effect has been more of a deadening one. I eat, and I quickly feel full and bored. For the past few days I've stuffed myself (not many calories, but it feels like I'm stuffing myself) for breakfast and lunch and then I have zero desire for any food the rest of the day. (I guess this almost amounts to fasting, from one day's lunch to the next day's breakfast, but I didn't have that in mind.)

Harry said...

Eating a low reward diet should not mean that one NEVER eats high reward food.

Just as a sex addict may need to abstain from illicit sex (destructive high-reward activity), but not healthy sex (constructive high reward activity), so too an intelligent dieter can learn to enjoy high reward food in a structured, controlled and sustainable way.

For some, this may mean a small high reward snack at the end of each day, for others, it may mean a cheat day every week, and for others, it may mean system where high reward meals are 'book-ended' by intermittent fasts (before and after).

The take-home point is that abstaining from high reward foods 'for the rest of your life' is both unnecessary and counter-productive. It robs your life of one the truly great pleasures, and it may well lead to 'falling off the wagon' at some weak point in your life.

High reward foods do encourage over-consumption, but the poison is in the dose, and in the frequency. 40 gms of chocolate at the end of each day will NOT turn you into a drooling glutton; nor will one day per week of looser eating.

Moderation in all things, including moderation!

P.S. I employ this approach with many of my clients, and with myself; most find that the one day/week works best in allowing for some culinary largesse/fun and also supports normal social function (which is a pretty important part of life, folks). I should also add that many of my clients initially feared that any exposure to their 'trigger' foods would inevitably lead to bingeing. They have since been convinced that all foods can be a part of a weight managed life, so long as they are appropriately controlled.

Kamal said...


I respectfully disagree. Well, kind of.

What you say is generally true, and there is typically no need to abstain from rewarding foods for very long periods of time.

But this was not strictly a food reward experiment. Aravind and I wanted to attain a simpler and calmer mental state, first and foremost. Since we had each other to provide support, we shot for the stars. We analyzed our top "conditioned" actions -- overindulging on food, going to bed late, getting on the web dozens of times per day. This dense bundle of inter-related rewarding activities no doubt was messing with our heads (as for how these things affect reward pathways, Stephan would be more able to comment).

To get to our desired mental state, we decided that it would take some time avoiding the above things, with as little cheating as possible. After all, we've each over three decades of conditioned responses to highly-rewarding stimuli.

This plan has worked, for the most part. We are a little over two months in, and pretty much in total control of the food we eat, not to mention enjoying the lower-reward food much more than we could have imagined. Food as fuel is not a terrible thing, at least until one reaches one's goal. Having a compatriot/sponsor means I will not cheat if the low-reward thing makes me want to go nuts and snort cocaine off a prostitute.

The other non-food reward dominoes have to topple, but if everything plays out right, a long period of near-total abstinence may be the price of a sustainable clear mental state. And a small price to pay, at that!

Aravind said...

Kamal/NPH - you had me until the no "go nuts and snort cocaine off a prostitute". Now you've gone too far. I never signed up for that kind of deprivation.

Kamal said...

Fine. But everything in moderation. Only a moderate amount of cocaine off a moderately-priced prostitute, and no more than once a week.

David L said...

I've ben doing three bland things: 450 g protein (meat and fish) 1 small potato, lots of steamed spinach, plus whole milk. It seems to be a steady 3 to 4 lbs a week. Down 10 + now arter 4 weeks. Waiting to see how low I can go. Losing 20 would be great, more would be most excellent!

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks for sharing your anecdotes.

Hi Darrin,

Not that I know of. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what aspects of a food make it hyper-palatable/rewarding. There are clearly some major players (energy density, salt, sugar, fat, starch, MSG, certain aromas and textures), but some combinations of those factors are hyper-palatable/rewarding while others are not. It also depends on the individual.

Hi Galina,

I don't know who framed this as "low-reward vs. low-carb", but it wasn't me. The two concepts aren't opposed to one another, in fact I think they fit together quite nicely. People like a fight, so they frame it as "Guyenet vs. Taubes" or "Low Reward vs. Low Carb". But neither representation is correct.

Hi bentleyj74,

Fasting is the ultimate low reward diet! You can't get lower than zero. I'm just speculating; that may or may not be the mechanism by which fasting helps some people lose fat, but it does seem plausible to me.

Hi Deirdre,

I basically agree.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Allison,

Nice find!

Harry said...

@ Kamal

Within the context of your experiment, total abstinence makes sense (your program represents a sort of "monk attack phase" where maximum impact, rather than minimum effective dose, is the focus).

However, for most people that are looking for a sustainable way of eating (and living), total life-long abstinence (a la "the dietary monk") is not going to work in our super-stimulating environment. There are simply too many cues to avoid...sooner or later, people take a bite...and then, it's on for young and old!

That is why a certain amount of controlled enjoyment of rewarding foods is wise. It works like a release valve on a boiler.

In the short-term, total abstinence can be a good thing and can help to 're-set' our appetite regulation, to be sure.

But in the long-term, dietary compliance is king...and total abstinence is not a realistic goal for a person immersed in a bustling 1st world economy.

Of course, if you're still on this diet in 5 years' time (not having enjoyed any highly rewarding foods in the meantime) I will happily concede the point!


Laura said...

Very nice post. I have found that this approach will NOT work with me (or maybe I need to work on it - had a terrible low blood sugar headache tonight!) I have not have problems with the low reward diet, just HAVE to eat often enough to stave off the low blood sugar headaches. Just about to hit 140, down 15 lbs, although it has taken me 7 months. I do think I will hit my target, but it will take time.

Kamal said...

@ Harry

I totally agree with everything you said. And if I'm still eating plain steamed spinach in five years, something will either be dreadfully right or dreadfully wrong.

Beth@WeightMaven said...

I'm totally with Harry on the usefulness of "high reward food in a structured, controlled and sustainable way." I think this is the key to Tim Ferris' slow carb diet ... which is essentially what I do, though I've swapped the Jaminets' PHD for the 4HB diet. Been doing this since January; feels like something I could do for a lifetime, not for a short-term "diet."

Bentley, Matt Metzgar posted a link to this interesting study re training folks to balance their meals to experience hunger before eating.

Aravind said...

I agree regarding sustainability, which is why we noted that my experiment diet will be the core of my long term diet as I feel it is completely sustainable. Once in maintenance, I expect to allow for indulgences but the core will remain.

As noted in the post, I was weight stable for 6 months prior to the experiment, including liberal cheats but at a higher set point. Austerity is required to lose the last 10, 20, x pounds but my experience has been that maintenance is possible with some cheating. Time will tell if that is the case at a lower, lean weight.

I still stand by the notion that food is fuel. Low Reward as helped with the mental shift to not just intellectually, but experientially realize this. However, there most definitely will be some ice cream and booze in my future, just not yet :-)

julie said...

Mmmm, salt, sugar, starch, fat, MSG. Oh sorry, did I write that out loud? I'm still trying to fully understand this concept, and I would say at this point that I mostly agree, but my hedonist side would rather not give up salt, sugar, starch, fat, MSG. I'd rather just learn to control it, perhaps similar to what Harry says. Things I cook at home don't seem as rewarding as things I buy in a restaurant or industrially produced, even with similar ingredients (including MSG, sugar, salt, fat). Never as palatable, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the rewarding part.

JKC said...

I agree with the importance of viewing food as fuel rather than as a treat. Living in a first world economy does tempt one to view food as a treat rather than fuel, but in my mind, it is really a lie and is the thin edge of the wedge. I enjoy the food I eat, but it was the mental shift to food as fuel that allowed me to eat what I need to to be healthy and not to treat myself, and to lose down to the lowest weight I have been at in my adult life (BMI 18.8, female) and maintain it for months, even in the midst of thyroid issues, which can notoriously shift weight. If I feel the need of a treat, I am much better served to find some other way to treat myself, or to explore the underlying reason why I feel a treat is necessary (ie, anxiety, pain, stress) and deal with that.

To each his own, but I have found that my own experience (done before Stephan posted his "rules" but fairly similar to them) concurs fairly well with Aravind's and Kamal's.

Cheers, guys, and I have also done some internet weaning, and that comes in time too - I am finding reading trash fiction (escapism!) paper books from the library a lot more relaxing. For me, the anxiety thing requires daily "inward looking" to make sure my life lines up with what is really important to me.

Anyways - gtg - enough computer time for me now.

Roberto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamal said...


I used refeeds for a very strange reason-- I wasn't hungry enough on low-reward to get enough calories in my belly!

For the first few days I ate plain beef stew, fish with minimal seasoning, plain veggies, a plain tuber, and some fruit. Almost no hunger, which was totally unexpected. I stuck my daily intake into a calorie counter and it was barely 1000 kcals.

Suspecting that this would screw some things up (metabolism, mood, possible carb deficit ala Paul Jaminet, energy levels on trips, muscle loss, etc), I decided to use a refeed day.

Roberto said...

"Kamal ate essentially the same thing every single day (except for a day of re-feed every week or two that consisted of 3000-4000 kcals for leptin resetting, with extra carbs in the form of rice)"


The only time I've seen the practice of refeeds that (supposedly)boost leptin is in Martin Berkhans "Leangains" diet. That diet uses a deliberate calorie restriction much of the time, so it makes sense in that context. The refeed is meant to avoid or mitigate the effects of chronic starvation.

However, if low-reward diets cause weight loss, without hunger, through a natural adjustment of the set-point - which you state was the case in these examples - why would a leptin boosting refeed be necessary or desired in any way by the person?

The only "refeed" that would make sense to me,on a low-reward diet,
would be one of higher palatibility food - one meal a week as you suggested - to cut the edge off any psychological and emotional distress, or withdrawal effects, that could accompany the diet.

Kamal said...


Using my new-found power of precognition, I have answered your question in the space above it.

Rap said...

Although it's interesting to speculate on how widely applicable a new concept might be, it’s also possible to get carried away with it. While fasting might be “the ultimate low reward diet,” let’s not forget that it’s also the ultimate low calorie diet. I agree with previous comments that the benefits of low reward eating probably derive mostly from the lack of hedonic eating (overeating). If there is a more direct benefit from eating low reward foods, such as in lowering set point, I suspect even then that it would be secondary to the basic decrease in overeating. So it’s conceivable that the same effect could be found by eating, but not overeating, high reward foods, though that would be a more (or even more) difficult task for many people.

I came across a reference to a study (perhaps already cited by Stephan) showing that rats that over-ate on a highly palatable diet showed a significant decrease in serum ghrelin (in addition to a blunted leptin response). <>
This suggests that not overeating on a low palatable diet might (like intermittent fasting) result in a significant increase in ghrelin. I believe ghrelin is associated with a number of positive effects including increased energy/activity levels, enhanced learning and memory, reduced incidence of depression and anxiety, etc. It would be interesting to hear from Kamal and Aravind if they noticed any behavioral or psychological effects like this. Unfortunately, I believe that ghrelin is also associated with reduced sleep time. Could that account for the perceived lack of effect concerning Aravind’s sleep difficulties despite the improved sleep hygiene?

Aravind said...

@Rap - I would say I experienced some positive emotional results from the experiment, but much of it I suspect was the "reward" of seeing results from being on a low reward diet. Energy levels and cognitive abilities (like my sleep) did not noticeably change.

While I don't have the science to back it up, as mentioned before, I do believe the sleep (along with other issues like Tech addiction) is not of the body but of the mind. Nothing profound but after seeing such incredible physical progress this year as a result of diet changes with essentially zero change mentally/emotionally, I can only assume this.

The ghrelin connection is interesting and I will definitely check it out as part of the incessant Internet surfing when Kamal isn't being a fun governor and limiting me.

Thanks for the input,

Thomas said...

Stephen-as several others have asked, I'd also like to get your opinion on "leptin re-setting" via high cal/carb re-feeds. I asked James Krieger about this and he didn't see any evidence that it worked. What say you?

Jeevita said...


My husband and I are vegetarians (South Indians) who are trying to eat healthier, lose weight, etc. I find your experience very inspiring! Thanks for sharing.


Aravind said...

JR - I will speculate that as South Indian that you are Lacto vegetarian unlike me (Lacto-Ovo).

I am the white sheep (or perhaps brown sheep) of the family in that I have eaten eggs most of my life. If you are lacto vegetarian, additional yogurt and traditionally prepared lentils is a reasonable substitute for the eggs (though pastured eggs rock!). There were several days I did eat only lacto vegetarian. Coupled with some good ghee from pastured sources, you can do just fine both in terms of being Low Reward and relatively toxin free

Good luck to you and your husband

Kamal said...


Stephan would know more about this, but I've sporadically looked up carb-leptin-refeed articles. This is the only one I can remember off-hand:

During a three-day overfeeding, increased carb led to higher leptin but increased fat did not. I get the feeling that there isn't awesome evidence on leptin overfeeding specifics though. Mostly, I just trusted Lyle McDonald in his various books, when he recommended a refeed when one got to a certain level of leanness or a certain length of diet. And Lyle, Martin Berkhan, and Alan Aragon seem to be on the same general page on most things, so I am usually okay blindly following them :)

David Moss said...

Wow, the most striking thing here is that both the diets described sound much, much more rewarding than any diet I've ever eaten. That includes my diet throughout my childhood during my slightly overweight days.

Proper sleep does make a huge difference though. I wish we could have seen the results without that massive confounder.

Thomas said...

Kamal-thanks for the reference. I tend to put trust in Lyle's stuff as well, as he seems to be a straight shooter. I know I can do periodic "junk-outs" (once or twice a week) without any problem, although I am pretty lean already. I'm wondering if the high cal/carb re-feed improves a diet for those who haven't yet reached, let's say, under 10% body fat for men or under 20% for women? I think the effect may be mostly psychological-gives one a mental break from the diet grind, allowing hem to go longer, and works as long as they get right back in the saddle, so to speak.

Kamal said...

Yeah, I agree that much of it is psychological. On this low-reward diet though, I was doing a refeed purely for any resetting benefits --the adherence was guaranteed because I had a sponsor/buddy (Aravind)

I've done refeeds in three different stages in my life. The first two times, I was at fairly low bodyfat levels. Sub-10% bodyfat seems extremely hard to get, and I've never been that close even with decent abs. I'm not sure if you've ever been DEXA'd, but I got it a couple times several years ago. The first time I measured at 11.5%, and the second time I was at 17%. Half way in between those times, probably at around 13% bodyfat, I looked like this:

Refeeds "worked" during both the high and low bodyfat periods in that I lost weight without stalling for many weeks in a row. Before that, without refeeds, I would stall. It's not an exact comparison, but it did work for me. Have you done refeeds? If so, how did they go?

TreatPTSD - Cure for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder said...

I really appreciate with this post.Its very good and informative post. Thanks for sharing

Thomas said...

Kamal-I've done cheat days, but never considered them re-feeds. As long as I keep my calories relatively low otherwise (like around 2000 or less) my weight doesn't go up-I stay weight stable (not losing weight though). But I'm fairly lean-I don't know the % but I think it's under 10%. I weight about 145 lbs. at 5'11" (pics can be seen here In the past, I've weight almost 200 lbs (pic here
Anyway, I enjoy taking a cheat meal/day hear and there-usually when my wife and I go out to eat (the days calories usually ends up being between 3 and 4 K). I think the 80/20 rule works well for weight maintenance (although I think people who want to lose fat should probably stick to 90/10). I don't watch my carbs either, mostly just calories. It's worked well for me.

Jin said...

I've been trying simple basic foods, not bland, but eating many of the same things over & over. I'm taking most of my meals at home.

I've been paying close attention to what foods stir a desire for MORE, and avoiding them (ex: heavy whipping cream, nut butters, gluten free baked goods).

I'm astonished at how much my appetite has dropped!

Weight is slowly coming off, which is surprising because I'm only about 15# above target, female, and 49 yo.

jewiuqas said...

I don’t know much about the physiology of obesity, I only know what has worked for me. I had some 15lb excess weight, accumulated mostly at the abdomen (that ugly-looking layer of lard that hides your six-packs, crumples up when you bend down, and gets you slacken your belt when taking a seat for a journey or at your desk). I have always been doing some efforts to eat healthily, but I lacked knowledge. Then came a longer period of unemployment, and I did some research, read some books, things I ought to have done earlier. To make a long story short, in the course of the last two years I progressively switched to a paleo-like diet, a process that is still going on, as I learn new things (partly from this blog). The dietary change that has brought about a break-through in the issue of fat loss was the total elimination of added sugars (sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose and company). What is worth mentioning is that I hadn’t been using sugar for about 15 years even before, in the way of buying sugar as such and adding it to my food, but I was still eating consid-erable amounts of it indirectly, consuming pre-made foodstuffs, such as ketchup, canned fruits, meat products etc. So, for me the 100% sugar-free diet did it in a couple of months. It has also to be mentioned that I am on a diet that would be regarded as a high-fat one. I use butter freely for cooking, as well as, as toast spread, in addition I use olive oil, red palm oil, coconut oil, goose fat, or the combination of these. I drink exclusively whole milk, and eat full fat cheeses, and always buy 20% fat minced beef. In short, I don’t do the slightest effort to avoid fat. Another factor that, in my mind, might have contributed to my weight loss is that I switched from industrial breads to sourdough rye bread. I am not aware of the reason, but from this bread I need much less to achieve the same level of satiety. I estimate that this way I have reduced my bread consumption roughly by half. As to the food reward theory, I do everything to prepare my food so that it taste good. I don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying one’s food, or even with experiencing it as a reward for a hard day’s work done. The abuse of some spices may develop a sort of addiction, de-pendence, it has to be admitted. Here I would mention that the paleo-approach has the additional advantage that it almost exclusively uses raw, unprocessed foodstuffs, which, to be palatable have to be prepared. If you have a fridge jam-packed with tasty food ready to eat, and all you got to do is to get up from your armchair in front of the telly and put some of it into the microwave, you are much more likely to engage in “rewarding yourself”, than if you have to prepare even your ketchup yourself. So, paleo-style, in my mind is a solution to all overweight issues.

Rob said...

jewiuqas -

You're misunderstanding the food reward hypothesis, it's not about food being just tasty.

Read this:

Aravind said...

One interesting addition to the anecdote -

I ate Taco Bell this weekend after a long hiatus. I absolutely LOVE Taco Bell. I intentionally cheated after no cheats for so long and was really looking forward to eating my burritos. But when I started eating, it was not nearly as rewarding as I expected and actually was almost a let down. I do not think this is a trivial observation.

We had previously written that it would be disingenuous to suggest that hyper rewarding foods are no longer desirable. This was not a statement directed at anyone else, but Kamal and me and our experience. However perhaps I need to re-assess this based on my weekend experience. It's not that I didn't desire the Taco Bell, but the relative lack of satisfaction really causes me to think.

More to come...

maura said...

For several years in my 50s I developed a change in appetite and food preference tha I was unable to explain or control except with overewhelming willpower.
It was as though my brain did not register that I had eaten when I did eat. Many of my symptoms could have been described as an eating disorder and searching for high reward foods. All my symptoms disappeared within 48 hours of using a CPAP machine. I am not suggesting that all obesity is due to a sleep disorder but my experience suggests to me that the food reweward system is an effernt pathway, whose afferent arc determines eating behavior. I have no trouble with overeating any food, even my favorites, now that my sleep is normal. Stephan can you say something about what you consider the afferent arc of the food reward system?

psychic24 said...

Really confusing is this post. You're going to have rather fantastic displays of weight loss on almost any dietary intervention, whether it be food reward reduction ideology exclusively or a reduced calorie McDonald's diet. Unfortunately it seems that these two rather fantastic displays of weight loss are not something you want to go for....As it always manifests itself in some sort of binge and weight regain. A much more appropriate method, in my opinion, would be to attenuate whatever malnourishment is present and let the weight loss be rather subtle, such as 1-2 pounds possibly per month, and let that bring you to better health as well as sustainable weight loss. An inspiring example, though not as fantastic as mentioned in this article, is the transformation of Ned over at his healthcorrelator blogspot (

Anyways, that's my take on the whole matter...

Catt said...

I've gone a bit more low-rewardy the past few weeks -- despite my initial skepticism -- and I've noticed something interesting.

(By the way, I'm slim. But I do like to eat. I abstain from large amounts of palatable foods more than my desires would have me -- and really, I do it just for the sake of vanity.)

Anyway, after a few weeks of simplifying my foods -- more days of just veggies, yams, meat, and boiled eggs with some salt and pepper and not cooked in fat or sauces -- I now, when going ahead and eating higher reward foods, simply don't feel their reward very strongly. There is no 'man, this is good' feeling; they are almost as simple as my simple food. For example, I picked up some (pretty harmless but still snack-y and industrial) rice chips to munch on during a camping trip. They were dusted with some hippy, not-creepy flavoring (but flavoring, mind you) and were nice and carby, so I thought they'd feel really good going down. I haven't gone out of my own way to eat snack food like this in a very long time -- over a year -- so thought, what the hell: but I was very surprised that the 'going back for more' feeling was not really there. I've had that 'getting high off food' experience since being primal -- like with nuts or fruit or meatballs or rotisserie chicken -- but I could pretty much put these chips down even though they did, indeed, taste very good.

And this experience has repeated itself with other palatable foods as well, recently.

It has me wondering: does the pleasure center need some practice/training to really be perceptive? Have I essentially de-trained it to a certain degree, where I can't get the same 'high" as I used to, even with high-inducing foods? I must say, I wanted more from my snack food excursion!

- Kat

Catt said...

Just read Avarind's comment on his experience at Taco Bell, so maybe there's something to this.

You know what it reminds me of? After my first couple failed attempts at quitting (chain) smoking, I made a giant observation: those first puffs after five days and then two months, respectively, of no cigarettes, just didn't feel 'aaaahhhh' good.

But a cig in the morning after just a night's sleep of abstinence is amazing.


Unknown said...


Very Nice article has been shared. it was very nice article to read and also did get lots of good points from here. thanks for sharing such article here. it would be great if you can put some information related to North Sydney dental here in this article. keep on posting such article here in future too.


Anonymous said...

Eating properly is the key to losing weight. People nowadays fall tricked on the lose weight supplements and forget about eating healthy which is a good value for your money.


Sanjeev said...

Suspecting that this would screw some things up (metabolism, mood, possible carb deficit ala Paul Jaminet, energy levels on trips, muscle loss, etc), I decided to use a refeed day.
Lyle has expressed significant doubts that the re-feeds do anything beneficial for leptin or thyroid.

He writes that it's a hypothetical, POSSIBLE benefit.

(reporting from memory here) ...
The main benefits that he feels are well supported by the literature are under the UD2, where the refeeds prep the muscles for the power workout day (that workout can't be done in a glycogen-depleted state), and to get a possible further anabolic effect of physically stretching out the muscles (with hydrated glycogen and creatine).

Those extra calories would probably have a bigger effect on leptin & thyroid if they were spread out over the week. From everything I've been reading, Leptin really is looking like a long-term averaged hormone that would be minimally affected by short term spike or "square wave" dietary signals.

Recognizing this, Lyle recommends full-on diet breaks at maintenance calorie requirements, with more frequent breaks if one has low body fat.

Now, if you're consuming the extra calories during and after the week's hardest workout, that's another issue ...

for Kamal and Stephan, pros and cons of using a pressure cooker (much shorter cooking time) instead of the slow cooker?
I've been reading stuff about India here as well ... I spent more than 3 months in semi-rural India in 2008. You can google up Hoshiarpur to get an idea - I stayed with relatives in Hoshiarpur and centering around there - from Bhatinda and well into Himachal.

Very little obesity outside the cities; the only obese people I saw were sweets shop proprietors. The diet? Starch (corn, wheat, rice), fat (butter and vegetable), salt, sugar. very little meat. Every main dish had to have fried onions in it. Leftovers had to have MORE fried onions added.

The final meal I had before leaving, at one of my poorer relative's place - some hard boiled eggs (which I had to ask for ... they weren't offered), whole wheat chapatis and lentil soup (that sounds healthy, I hear you thinking) - the soup had 2 millimeters of oil on top, the chaptis were SWIMMING in butter and a chunk of "gurh" (pronounce the r more like a d but not quite) - basically a 2 inch diameter ball of brown sugar - unpurified cane sugar.

Except for the eggs, this wasn't a special meal made for the visitor - the whole family had been having that the several I was with them, and basically the same meal at some of their neighbors'.

This DOES differ from what you get at western Indian restaurants - no meat.

Sanjeev said...

The only meat I could get outside the cities was tough, stringy chicken, and it cost easily 10 times the cost of any of the other dishes ... spinach, rice, roti, lentils, beans, whatever ...

Forget about ever finding beef or lamb or goat (which are common in the western restaurants) .

Oh ... NOBODY drank raw milk. NOBODY. In several smaller cities people had a cow in the back for milk and they BOILED the milk WELL.

Every time. Even the ubiquitous yogurt was made with boiled milk.

Anand Srivastava said...

We are also on a somewhat vegetarian paleo diet with lots of rice and lentils. Since we don't eat refined oils anymore, eating outside is no longer tasteful. The refined oils kill all the taste there is. The McD burgers still have some taste for us though :-(. It could have been similar with you also.

@Sanjeev I guess boiled milk is not as bad as the pasteurization process. It may not kill off everything. In India due to the heat and much higher density of microbes, and less hygenic conditions, we do need boiling.

The less hygenic conditions probably provide us with higher immunity.

Sanjeev said...

> boiled milk is not as bad as the pasteurization

Pasteurization is boiling. In fact, the North American process is probably of shorter duration (but I would guess higher temperature)

In-home Indian milk processing however does not involve homogenization, which has nothing to do with pasteurization.

I suppose homogenization could be done along with, or in other words at the same time as, pasteurization, but the two things have distinctly different purposes and processes.

montmorency said...

Interesting that Kamal, the one whose diet was "relatively low in carbohydrate" was the one who did not feel "RAVENOUS" for 10-14 days.

[@Kamal: You said in a comment that he only had pangs in part of the first week, but the main text talks about 10-14 days].

Sounds rather like a case of: score one to Taubes, to me. (See for example, in GC, BC where he talks about the starvation diet studies, with and without carbs).

Those of us who have low-carbed and not felt hungry while losing weight would not be too surprised at Kamal's relative lack of hunger pangs.

Sanjeev said...

Hi Stephan -

I've been going back over all the food reward posts - have you seen research on how rewarding fruit is, or various classes of fruit, if "fruit" is too general a classification?

I know many animals get enormous reward from raisins- several types of animal trainers use raisins as operant conditioning reinforcers.

Not that raisins count as real fruit.

In one of the posts you mention esters present in some fruit as rewarding.

I also note that the 2 folks in this post eat banana, which doesn't have a crunchiness or chewiness (like taffy or gum) mouth feel reward.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the diet, what about exercise (fitness regimen) that you did during this trial periods? I am South Indian trying to lose about 20-25 lbs and this is truly inspiring. I would like to know more about the exercise bit, so I can try and follow on this path.

kaisen said...


I'm a lacto vegetarian,do you cook lentils as well as veggies in ghee? Is olive oil acceptable.

Aravind said...

@montmorency - perhaps you missed the part where I was giving up a 3 liter per day diet soda addiction. In the past when I unsuccessfully attempted to kick the habit, I experienced the same thing. Moreover, my macronutrient ratio was already relatively high carb prior to the experiment both on an absolute and relative basis. So to attribute my initial hunger to the carbs and not the withdrawal symptoms of the soda is a careless conclusion. After the adaption period, the hunger subsided and I did not deliberately restrict calories.

I really don't understand why low carbers think that this a Taubes vs Guyenet issue. Also, Food Reward theory does not preclude LC as a therapeutic measure to address overweight. Stephan has specifically addressed the efficacy of LC.

Aravind said...

@illogicallyspeaking - virtually no exercise for either Kamal or me during the experiment. I have increased exercise recently, but this it not because I am trying to "burn calories". The exercise protocol is a Primal Fitness like routine with a lot of yoga asanas too for me.

I believe in exercise for health, not caloric expenditure. Diet is the key for weight loss IMO.

Aravind said...

kaisen - As a true American, I have outsourced my cooking to India - meaning my mother.

When I first transitioned to an ancestral eating approach about 1 year ago, I "mandated" that my mother only cook in ghee for everything. Olive oil might be higher in monounsaturated fats, but it is not so low in polyunsaturated fats. My priority was to reduce O-6 as much as possible and I had no desire to increase O-3 (i.e. fish oil supplementation) to improve the O-3:O-6 ratio.

In general from what I've read, for any high temperature cooking, a heat stable saturated fat (like ghee) is preferred. The only olive oil I consume these days is on a salad. Towards the end of the experiment, I was actually melting ghee and using it as the dressing.

I see no reason to prefer olive oil to ghee, unless there are concerns with the saturated fat consumption. If that is the case, I would recommend that you read many of the articles Stephan and Gary Taubes have written on the incorrect vilification of saturated fat.

Sanjeev said...

montmorency said...

[@Kamal: You said in a comment that he only had pangs in part of the first week, but the main text talks about 10-14 days].

Sounds rather like a case of: score one to Taubes, to me. (See for example, in GC, BC where he talks about the starvation diet studies, with and without carbs).
"carbs cause hunger in some people in some situations" was a well known fact LONG before Taubes, and LONG before insulin was even discovered.

That is NOT Taubes' theory; it's an observation Taubes THINKS he's explained with his theory.

Any observation that points out some peoples' hunger after a high carbohydrate meal says nothing about Taubes' theory.

To even begin Speaking directly to Taubes's theory you must measure insulin ... do you see that above?

And how about insulin sensitivities of various tissues?

THOSE would be the first steps in supporting Taubes' theory.

Walker said...


Did you use any spices with your lentils? I know you mention using LESS spices and salt. What does "traditionally" prepared mean if not?

Aravind said...

@Walker - when I say "traditionally prepared", I am referring to what Stephan wrote here -

Yes there were much less / virtually no spices, salt, etc in the preparation.

Does that clarify?

DrDoom said...

You asked for negative experiences, so here is mine. I tried Seth Roberts shangri-la diet plan (eating sugar water or extra light olive oil in a 2 hour flavor free window).

Taking the olive oil didn't really hurt me (from what I remember, this was over a year ago). But the sugar water made me feel like I was on meth. It was weird. I'd be up all night and feel my body was flooding with energy.

I am morbidly obese and wonder if my food reward system wrt carbohydrates has something strange going on (as an example, when I lose weight with a calorie restricted diet I gain back about 1.1 pounds for every 1 pound I lose. If I lose 50 pounds, I gain it back but won't be any heavier than before).

If I lose weight via low carb, I gain back 3x the weight I lost. I probably wouldn't be morbidly obese had I not done atkins in high school (lost 30 pounds, gained 80 back. In another attempt I lost 7 and gained 20).

Anyway, a single dose of 90 calories of sugar water helped me cut about 1500-2000 calories out of my diet a day for 3 days. But the whole time I had nocturnal panic attacks and felt like I was amped up. Not fun at all.

I even asked Seth Roberts about it on his forum, he had no idea.

Food reward works, but for some reason using sugar seems to make me feel almost manic.

Sanjeev said...

Hey Dr. Doom,

couldn't figure out your email, I hope you check back here & see this

(although I'm skeptical of a lot of this linked article) it could explain your symptoms:

If your catecholamine response to carbohydrate is on the high end of the ever present bell curve, or if your body/brain is particularly more sensitive than "normal" to purified sugar

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's very difficult to even find a post, blog, book on dieting this way. This is a very old school way to diet. I'm a female in my 60s and I remember my mom's diets. They were all very low cal, very low fat plain, bland diets. Oatmeal in the a.m., cooked in water (a little sugar to make it palatable). Lunch was salad w/low cal dressing, maybe a fruit. Dinner was a protein, vegs, some carb and maybe another fruit. Really, the only thing you used was a little salt/pepper for any flavor. My mom and me dieted pre-Atkins, certainly before Paleo, etc. They were mainly Dr. advised diets. It's the only way to go, imo.