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Restrained Eating: Willpower and Why Diets Fail (Why Are We Hungry? Part III)
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July 27, 2011
4:30 am
First-Eater
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Caution: contains SCIENCE!
In and of this series, I established the following:
(Skip to .)

  • Hunger is not a singular motivation: it is the interaction of several different clinically measurable, provably distinct mental and physical processes.
  • In a properly functioning human animal, likes and wants coincide; satiation is an accurate predictor of satiety; and the combination of hunger signals (likes and wants) and satisfaction signals (satiation and satiety) results in energy and nutrient balance at a healthy weight and body composition.

In other words, we shouldn't have to be hungry all the time in order…

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July 27, 2011
5:03 am
Sean
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As anyone who’s tried to learn to play a musical instrument knows, our prefrontal cortex, our “rational mind”, is not fully in charge. All we have to do is put our fingers here, then here, then here…what’s so hard about that? Yet it takes endless hours of practice, because our PFC isn’t even in full control of our fingers—let alone our hunger drives.

Nice analogy, JS. Wait, I'm not sure it is even an analogy.

Any physical skill has to move from the conscious part of the brain to "muscle memory" to become proficient. I would even extend that to mental skills like solving mathematical problems, the toolbox of things like power series, Euler's equation, etc, become second nature.

In the same way, a behavior we engage in constantly, such as eating, must include plenty of second nature behavior.

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July 27, 2011
5:27 am
anand srivastava
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This series is getting more and more interesting. Thanks. Looking forward to the next installment.

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July 27, 2011
6:16 am
eddie watts
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As Sean said above, reminds me of strength training and neuro-muscular efficiency:
most people get stronger rapidly and can even improve linearly (normally accompanied by an increase in muscle mass) but later they have to improve neurally to progress.

seems related basically.
interesting write up btw, i have introduced a number of friends to your blog too and they have liked it :)
(one has said there was too much science for her. typically this person is moaning about her weight all the time and refuses to learn anything. i give up)

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July 27, 2011
6:37 am
Jan;s Sushi Bar
Guest

Oh, my - there's so much to comment on this post, I scarcely know where to begin. Being neither premenopausal nor postmenopausal (yes, I am smack dab in the middle of the peculiar Hell known as perimenopause), I wonder what my cortisol levels look like. They're far less than they used to be, I can tell you that - removing NADs from my diet has done wonders for the murderous mood swings I used to experience. It's funny, too, because shortly after I moved to northeast Ohio, which is one of the most overcast areas in the country (I was born and raised in Texas), I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. For the first four winters I was impossible to live with by February. This last winter, though? More or less smooth sailing.

This doesn't even begin to address the fact I no longer think about food constantly. Well, okay, I think about food all the time, it's what I do, but I don't think about eating constantly. So don't tell me diet isn't at root of our society's growing health problems. I'll laugh in your face.

BTW, JS - just received your book; I'm not far into yet, but I am enjoying it immensely so far.

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July 27, 2011
9:33 am
California
Gnoll
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June 20, 2011
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Wow. I'm blown away.

 

Great article. This actually explains a lot - especially in the fitness world. It also explains why 'carb refeeds' work. They help to normalize cortisol and every other benefactor by increasing the reward metrics.

 

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July 27, 2011
4:14 pm
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Sean:

That's why this issue is so complicated: "force of habit" can convert, partially or in total, a conscious decision originating in the PFC into a habitual behavior driven by other parts of the brain.  Which means that, as I pointed out in the previous installment, conscious decisions can not only override the hunger drives, it can modify them to some degree.

But only to some degree.  No amount of willpower will make ice cream taste bad, and nothing will make unripe persimmons taste good.

Anand:

Thank you!  Now that the groundwork is laid, we can actually start drawing conclusions.

eddie:

My posts vary dramatically in technical content: this latest series is relatively dense.  Perhaps I should do a "For Beginners" section in the index that gives new readers a few starting points: do you have any thoughts on that?  (Besides "Eat Like A Predator")

And thanks for spreading the articles!  I try to write them so they're understandable to people who aren't already paleo.

Jan:

I'm just getting started here...the next two articles will give you even more to chew on.  I'm glad you're enjoying TGC!

Chris:

You're absolutely correct: high cortisol is a major part of overtraining, and it affects a lot more than just hunger.  Maybe I'll write about some of those other ramifications someday...but you've already got the drift.

All these issues are connected, and sometimes it's hard to write an article without it spinning out of control into a book!

JS

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July 27, 2011
5:10 pm
California
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 35
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June 20, 2011
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I'm pretty sure I'd buy that science filled book :)

 

Thanks for the excellent post.

 

I've also seen something come up a lot more recently, it seems to die down every few years and comes back, about the "Blood Type" Diet. I've never (entirely) bought into it. But it seems to coincide a lot with Paleo Principles.

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July 27, 2011
5:27 pm
Timothy
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This has been a fascinating series, but the above is my favorite installment yet. JS, you are doing a great job of keeping these articles succinct and profound.

I didn't know that acts of self-control actually affect blood glucose levels. This helps explain the late-night binge phenomenon: the mind wills the body to stay awake, lowering blood glucose and driving up cortisol, leading to snowballing hunger and disintegrating self-control. Personally, I have plenty of willpower during the day to make rational food choices, but keep me up past my usual bedtime and I am easily reduced to zombiehood, my hand reaching of its own accord for the salted macadamias...

In her intriguing blog entry from which the quote above, Emily Deans describes a study on pigs. Those pigs that ate junk food to the point of obesity presented decreased PFC activity. So the mental "policeman" atrophies to its weakest when its discipline is needed most. Count that as another strike against willpower as a method of weight loss.

In my own failed diets of the past, relying on willpower was a very ineffective and unpleasant tactic. What finally worked for me was a fativorous paleo diet. Only after fixing my nutrition did physical exercise became easy and enjoyable.

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July 28, 2011
1:27 am
Asclepius
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Given the scarcity of perennial sweet foods in our paleolithic past, and given the (presumedly) evolutionary cues to gorge on such an energy cache, it comes as no surprise that willpower will eventually fail in the face of such a driver - particularly if the individual concerned is well-fed but malnourished.

I have to say that I really look forwards to your post each week. Very much appreciated.

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July 28, 2011
7:11 am
eddie watts
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i think your posts are all fine, but then i've been reading up on nutrition from this stance for 4-5 years started with Fathead movie blog, then onto robb wolf, MDA, GCBC, then fathead movie, followed some of WAPF, read primal body primal mind, robb wolfs book, primal blueprint, WWGF etc etc
and it all adds layers to your understanding but then trying to pass that information on in a bite sized portion (normally in like 5 minutes of conversation) is practically impossible.
especially when the other person believes the government knows all and are not themselves beholden to corporations etc etc.

but again the person i referred to refuses to try/learn stuff, i meet these people a lot.

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July 28, 2011
7:49 am
James Schipper
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I am so going to use this line in discussions with people: "you can’t fix your car by removing the “Check Engine” light."

It is a perfect analogy to so much of the modern medical field.

I won't claim it as my own. Don't sue me.

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July 28, 2011
6:16 pm
Fmgd
Guest

About a "For Begginers" section, I realise you were thinking about lower science density, but I think the article about meat rotting is really good, in the sense that it shoots down a commom missconception very well, shows there's a lot of bad information out there and that you're not just spitting things out and should be generally engaging for anyone actually interested.

It's a good way to make people start questioning instead of writting you off as some crazy guy making things up.

Also, in my opinion you shouldn't care too much about people who want it very simple right now, as I kind of doubt they'd buy into it before it gets much more popular.

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July 29, 2011
1:54 am
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Chris:

AFAIK at least two of the "blood types" are advised to eat basically paleo.  And AFAIK it's also baloney.

Tim:

We're all still stuck in the failed Cartesian mind/body duality mindset.  The brain is an organ.  It uses energy.  And yes, we all know intuitively that stress and difficult decisions make it harder to stay on a diet...but it's good to know that the parsimonious explanation (willpower takes energy) is, in fact, correct.

Asclepius:

I'll be going much more deeply into those topics next week.

eddie:

Everything ties together.  One piece of paleo knowledge in isolation can sound like a conspiracy theory...it's tough to explore a single topic and have it make sense.

James:

Please use it!  I'm glad it helps.

Fmgd:

Yes, that's a good one for beginners.  Someday I should do a succinct debunking of the common vegetarian arguments ("carnivores have claws", "humans have a long intestine", etc.)  There are some good book-length debunks, but no short, succinct ones that I know of.

JS

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July 29, 2011
8:43 pm
California
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 35
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June 20, 2011
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J. Stanton said:

Chris:

AFAIK at least two of the "blood types" are advised to eat basically paleo.  And AFAIK it's also baloney.

 

 

Agreed. I just found it interesting because another study brought up the link of DNA and optimal diet here: http://now.tufts.edu/articles/dna-diet

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July 30, 2011
4:02 pm
Fmgd
Guest

That's a great idea, it's a good way to make people stop and listen and it should bring lots of hits.

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July 30, 2011
7:06 pm
Dana
Guest

I think that if there's anything to a blood type diet it lies in finding clues to what keeps an individual person's GI tract happy and what makes it unhappy--what is more likely to lead to a leaky/permeable gut in one person versus another. The ideas Peter D'Adamo set forth are too easily dismissed and the one guy I saw try to do it by appealing to some scientific fact has since strongly discredited himself in my eyes so as far as I'm concerned, we're back to square one.

I have more respect for someone who goes, "Hm, we should test some of these ideas and see if they hold up," than someone who says, "Oh, that's B.S., everyone knows that isn't true." Show me the evidence or STFU, is the way I see it. Saying "there is no evidence" is not enough--I wouldn't begin to know where to look for it in the first place!

I've actually read D'Adamo, and one thing people claim about him that isn't true is that he says type As are supposed to be vegetarian. What he actually said was type As *do better* as vegetarians. But whenever I see that misquoted I know to not take the detractor seriously, even if it turns out D'Adamo is totally wrong. Just like the people who talk trash about Dr. Atkins and then claim he said to eat burgers and bacon and cheese and nothing else.

This is an awesome series of yours, by the way. I refer people to your stuff from time to time.

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July 30, 2011
7:08 pm
Dana
Guest

Oh, another thought about blood type diets: At the end of the day, nobody has time to fine-tune what foods are absolutely perfect for their DNA, blood type, metabolic type or whatever. If a dietary approach doesn't help *generally*, without having to add any weird ingredients or weigh portions, it's probably not worth following.

In that sense I find a Paleo or Primal approach more valuable than a blood type approach--and a willingness to self-experiment and indulge in an occasional lab test to be even more valuable. I've heard it said that people with an engineer's mindset are better capable of regaining lost health and losing excess fat. I believe it.

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August 1, 2011
1:26 pm
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2105
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February 22, 2010
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Dana:

Thank you!  I think there is a lot of confusion right now around this subject, because many people don't realize that "hunger" is the end product of several motivations.  And I try very hard to make sure my articles are understandable to people who aren't already part of the paleo world…please keep forwarding them on!

As far as the blood type stuff, I suspect that there are probably some correlations, because there are plenty of genetic variances in amylase, PEMT, apoE, ability to process beta-carotene, etc…but my intuition is that in a time of massive race mixing and genetic flow, those correlations to blood type are going to be quite loose, and a lot of digestive differences are probably due to gut flora.  It's a great marketing tool, though: "you're special, you deserve a special diet just for you". 

But like I said, this is all AFAIK, as I haven't read it.

Chris:

Directly looking at known genetic loci seems a lot more valid to me than blood type.  But I'm more interested in optimality than in "what can I get away with because of my genome".

Fmgd:

I'll work on it.

JS

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August 1, 2011
6:42 pm
California
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 35
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June 20, 2011
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Dana said:

Oh, another thought about blood type diets: At the end of the day, nobody has time to fine-tune what foods are absolutely perfect for their DNA, blood type, metabolic type or whatever. If a dietary approach doesn't help *generally*, without having to add any weird ingredients or weigh portions, it's probably not worth following.

In that sense I find a Paleo or Primal approach more valuable than a blood type approach--and a willingness to self-experiment and indulge in an occasional lab test to be even more valuable. I've heard it said that people with an engineer's mindset are better capable of regaining lost health and losing excess fat. I believe it.


Spot on Dana. You read my mind.

 

I'm not 100% against 'weighing portions' only because some people have a skewed perception of what "normal" is in America. Weighing for a while gives them a better idea.

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