I was proud to be chosen as a presenter for the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, held in conjunction with the Harvard Food Law Society in Cambridge, MA.
Here's the long-awaited video of my presentation, "What Is Hunger, and Why Are We Hungry?" It's information-dense and moves very quickly, so I recommend that you put on your thinking cap and get comfortable. (Note that it ends at about 17:30…the rest is Q&A.)
Hosted on Vimeo:
Hosted on Youtube (yes, the two videos are exactly the same):
That was great. I was actually thinking about Seth Roberts as you were speaking, because his Shangri-La Diet was a huge help in my weight loss. Once I experienced the appetite suppression provided, I was able to make real choices about food- so, my diet migrated to low-carb paleo, with a firm emphasis on nutrient density. Anyway, Stephan Guyenet has claimed the Shangri-La Diet as proving out his hyperpalatability ideas, but I think this requires a simplification of the theory Seth Roberts came up with. It would be interesting to hear your ideas on why the Shangri-La diet works. From what you said in the talk, I assume it must be increasing satiety in some way.
I'm going to go take my multivitamin right now! (I'm usually kind of "meh" about them, but now believe I better get on it!) This was so interesting to me- great job! While I eat a very clean evolutionary diet- I amaze people at the amount I eat and have a very hard time stopping before feeling stuffed. It make sense that perhaps I'm just trying to get enough nutrients in my diet(if I understood you correctly). The food I make also tastes REALLY good so that makes it hard to stop as well.
I think you make some excellent points about satiety ..my question is ..there are some foodlike substances which I can eat lots of..white chocolate with coconut chips ..the whole block is gone if I get the chance..never do I get that full feeling or satisfied so it just goes down..but my brain and common sense screams for me to stop because my motivation to stay slim and not pork out on trash food is over-riding the urge to slam dunk the confection.
So failure to stop eating has a huge mental or cognitive component. Did your research have much to say about the role of will power to overcome these kind of urges. ??
I appreciate the vote of confidence! I spent weeks putting it together — and that doesn't count the months of research that went into Why Are We Hungry?
First, the Shangri-La Diet (and all of Dr. Roberts' research) long predates any of Stephan's work, and Stephan was clearly familiar with it — as evidenced by the fact that he cites the very same studies Dr. Roberts does in SLD. Second, I agree that Dr. Roberts' work is far more sophisticated than "You ate too much tasty food, it broke your hypothalamus (or whatever this month's retroactive ad hoc explanation is), and you got fat" — a non-explanation we can trivially discard based on the observed demographics of obesity in America, which was the point I made right at the beginning of the talk.
In contrast, I see some interesting evidence in support of Dr. Roberts' work on flavor-calorie associations, and the SLD can indeed be explained in terms of the four hunger drives and two modulating factors.
Thank you! I look forward to exploring the topics from my talk in more detail.
I'm not a huge fan of multivitamins, because they tend to contain a lot of "micronutrients" in artificial forms that may not have the same health benefits as natural forms, and may indeed be toxic to some extent (e.g. folate). I tend to agree with the Jaminets' analysis and recommendations in Perfect Health Diet, with the caveat that I'm not sure multi-milligram doses of iodine are necessary or beneficial for everyone.
Meanwhile, are you unhappy with your body composition, or just surprised at your ability to dispose of calories?
A sound theoretical framework — including consistent terminology — is absolutely crucial to both scientific and engineering progress. I shake my head every time I see arguments about whether a particular food is "palatable" or "rewarding"…the sloppy conflation of distinct biological phenomena into a single concept, erroneously called "reward" and attributed to food instead of to our perception of it, has trapped thousands of people in a dead-end from which they cannot possibly understand hunger, obesity, the metabolic syndrome, or anything else.
It's even worse because the science I cite is not new, obscure, or particularly difficult…there's simply no excuse for not presenting it properly.
Satiety is primarily nutritionally driven. How much essential nutrition is there in white chocolate with coconut chips? Let's see…mostly sugar and cocoa butter, with a little bit of milk solids…
So, like most other desserts, it's a source of fat and sugar calories, and little else. Consequently, it won't produce satiety, and it's a very bad idea to eat it any time you're hungry, because it won't satisfy your hunger. Yes, there's a reason that I proscribe snacking in "Eat Like A Predator"!
In contrast, no one has to tell us to stop eating steak: it's self-limiting, because our bodies have a sound idea of how much complete protein is required and desired. In fact, it's very difficult to overeat any minimally processed foods: we generally have to start adding lots of purified oils or sugars — which, again, generally have most of the nutrients purified out of them.
I didn't talk about willpower much in the presentation, because I didn't have time! However, I discussed it at some length in Part III.
That was great, my favorite presentation so far. The talk and your series on hunger explains why I don't crave junk food anymore. Eating a SAD I loved cookies, chips and doughnuts. Two years ago I didn't think I could ever give up grains and sugar but now they do not tempt me at all. Like you explain the palatability of the food didn't change, I changed.
I'll second all the positive comments here – great talk, about a rarely talked about subject. The fact that you have Seth Roberts intrigued is a good sign!
The notion that "we change" not the food, is great, as is the fact that, with a little effort, we can change so that we know not to eat the junk foods, and why.
One of the foundation;s of Paul Jaminet's Perfect health Diet is that it should be both satiating *and* tasty. A diet that is lacking one or both elements will not be followed for long. Many low fat diets suffer this problem, with their followers always being "hungry" and then feeling "guilty" when eating any really nourishing (i.e. fatty) food.
The lack of satiety many obese people feel is evidence that many (most?) are malnourished. But because most people (and doctors) can't separate the concepts of nutrition from calories, this conclusion is rarely reached, nor the condition corrected.
I'm not sure it's possible to write these articles for so long, for free, without being enthusiastic about the topic!
Let me know what you think.
It's very easy to fall into that particular cognitive trap, especially if you've never been obese.
Exactly! The more nutritionally replete and metabolically functional you are, the less hedonic impact junk food will have. And since our brains don't have instinctive knowledge of the nutrient content of every possible food, I think it's plausible that it takes some time for them to associate whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods with increased satiation and satiety.
I was able to converse at length with Dr. Roberts the next day at AHS. He's sharp, and very data-driven: I think the fact that I didn't claim to know what causes obesity impressed him the most.
Also, I absolutely agree with Dr. Jaminet that nourishing food should also be tasty food. I harbor some hope that my work has influenced him to be more explicit in that regard, both on his website and in the new edition of the PHD.
"The lack of satiety many obese people feel is evidence that many (most?) are malnourished." Absolutely, and it supports my contention that obesity is primarily a failure of satiety — whether due to a malnourishing "heart-healthy" diet, internal metabolic dysfunction, or (most likely) a combination of both.
I got involved with Transcendental Meditation when I was 21, and for the thirty years since then, I've always had a focus on eating a "healthy" diet. Unfortunately, the new-age dietary dogmas I had embraced were not a good fit for my physiology, and as I hit my late 30's, I started to pack on the flab. I started shifting toward paleo 9 years ago, and I am now highly attuned to how different foods affect me. I can now see and differentiate the different types of hunger, and it very much resonates with what you say on your video.
I don't have great blood glucose control, and the worst hunger is that voracious gnawing hunger from starch-induced blood sugar spike. I can also look back and recognize the nutrient hunger I would get from calorically sufficient but nutritionally deficient vegetarian food. I don't eat red meat every day, but the deep sense of satiety I get from 8oz of pastured beef or lamb is unmatched by any other food, even other animal proteins.
You're correct: hunger isn't monolithic. It's completely possible to be hungry for some foods but not others, depending on your own nutritional and metabolic state (your state of satiety), and you gave two good examples.
I think this explains the insatiable cravings that low-fat and vegetarian dieters often have for cheese — their diets are deficient in saturated fat, often deficient in complete protein, and definitely deficient in the fat-soluble nutrients. I know that my own cheese cravings basically disappeared after a few months eating paleo…I was getting plenty of those nutrients from fatty meats and other foods.
And I'm with you on the red meat…chicken and pork just don't satiate like beef does.
Thank you! Feel free to spread it via your favorite social media.
The fundamental issue is this: food does not have an intrinsic property called "reward" or "palatability". As I emphasize in the presentation, hedonic impact (to use the correct term) is a subjective property which depends on our own nutritional and metabolic state, and our cultural context. If we try to assign this property to the food itself, we've made a cognitive error from which we can never recover. This is why FRH can't answer simple questions like:
* Why does food taste so much better when we're hungry than when we're full?
* Why do different cultures find such radically different foods delicious or disgusting?
* Why do I binge on foods I don't even like very much (e.g. stale Wheat Thins), but never binge on foods I find delicious (e.g. prime rib)?
As I explain in the presentation, hedonic impact (colloquially known as "palatability") is just one of the four components of hunger — and it's primarily a product of the other three. Yes, people eat more of foods they perceive as "palatable"…but, again, our perception of "palatability" is a subjective function of our own nutritional and metabolic state, and our cultural context. It's a second- or third-order effect. Seriously: did food suddenly become tasty in 1980? No, it didn't…in fact, I contend that the low-fat whole-grain diet foods we're told to eat are much less tasty than the foods they replace!
Furthermore, if satiety is functioning correctly, eating more at one meal generally gets compensated for by eating less at subsequent meals. (As I pointed out with the food court study example, linked in the bibliography.)
Again: it is impossible to understand hunger, obesity, or anything else if we persist in thinking of "reward" as a property of food.
To return to your examples: Your butter squash soup is very tasty (it has high hedonic impact), but it's also very nutritious. Thus, it quickly produces satiation, which causes you to want it less and less (its incentive salience goes down) until you stop eating. Then, the satiety it produces leaves you feeling "full", i.e. not wanting more food, for some time.
In contrast, the instant ramen has hedonic impact, due to the salt, fat, and MSG…but since its not nutritious, it does not produce much satiation or satiety, and you're still hungry after eating it.
Also recall from the presentation that the satiety response triggers a reward response by itself, independent of any sense of taste! So as you continue to eat nourishing food, your body associates the reward of satiety with the nourishing food you ate, and you begin to "like" it more (the taste accumulates hedonic impact).
A familiar example to everyone is beer: it's a bitter taste that we only begin to find pleasurable once it becomes associated with the alcohol intoxication which results from repeated ingestion.
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