• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


Why Do We Ever Stop Eating? Taste, Reward, and Hyperpalatability (Why Are We Hungry? Part VII)

Caution: contains SCIENCE!

In this article, I begin assembling several of the concepts from previous articles. I’ve linked to them whenever possible—but if you find yourself confused by concepts or terminology, you might find it worthwhile to re-read the series starting from Part I.

(This is part VII of a series. Go back to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, or Part VI.)

Summary: Our Story Thus Far

In previous installments, we’ve established the following:

  • 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.
  • Restrained eating requires the exercise of willpower to override likes, wants, and the lack of satiation or satiety; the exercise of willpower uses energy and causes stress; and stress makes you eat more. Therefore, a successful diet must minimize the role of willpower.
  • A lack of satiety will leave us hungry no matter what else we do to compensate. We fail to achieve satiety by not ingesting (or not absorbing) the energy and/or nutrients our body requires, and by an inability to retrieve the energy and/or nutrients our bodies have stored due to mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • Satiation is an estimate of future satiety based on sensory input. As with satiety, we fail to achieve it by not satisfying our nutritional needs. We can also bypass satiation by decreasing sensory exposure to our foods. Some common enablers are eating quickly, eating while distracted or on the run, and eating calorie-dense packaged and prepared foods.
  • The role of reward in hunger constitutes hedonic impact (“liking”, palatability) and incentive salience (“wanting”, the drive to consume more food). The process of learning modifies both. Furthermore, reward is not limited to food, is neither static nor an intrinsic property of the food itself, and is modified by many experiences besides its taste during the act of consumption.

A Disclaimer

(Those of you who have read Part VI have already seen this disclaimer, and can skip it.)

I’ve put off writing these next few articles because they’re likely to cause some controversy, which I don’t enjoy. My objective with the articles I write here at gnolls.org is to organize, distill, and summarize the bewildering variety of nutritional information into succinct, helpful articles, to share them with my readers, and to improve them as new information comes to my attention.

(An aside: I thank you, my readers, for continuing to provide references, intriguing leads, and constructive criticism. Please continue to do so.)

Please note that I have no horse in any of the current races: I am neither selling diet books nor defending a career-building hypothesis, and “Why Are We Hungry?” started long before the AHS and any still-simmering disputes.

Finally, and most importantly, I am not proposing any new theories of hunger or obesity. The current literature is both comprehensive and, I believe, more than adequate to explain and understand observed phenomena.

That being said: let’s get started!

Reward Is Fundamental And Necessary: We Have “Likes” And “Wants” For Very Important Reasons

Even the irreligious tend to take the theological viewpoint on hunger: the desires of the body are sinful, and exist to tempt us into gluttony and sloth. (See: doctrine of original sin.)

This type of thinking leads us astray. Our tastes are the product of millions of years of natural selection, during which animals that didn’t have our tastes died out and were replaced by those that did. They don’t exist to make us fat: they exist to keep us alive. As I’ve said in Part II, “Any animal whose faulty perceptions and motivations caused it to become obese, emaciated, malnourished, or poisoned by excess would have been strongly selected against.”

For example, we both “like” and “want” salt because all animals, including humans, require salt to live. Life never left the ocean: we carry it within us, in every cell.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 11, 2011
Relation of addiction genes to hypothalamic gene changes subserving genesis and gratification of a classic instinct, sodium appetite
Wolfgang B. Liedtke, Michael J. McKinley, Lesley L. Walker, Hao Zhang, Andreas R. Pfenning, John Drago, Sarah J. Hochendoner, Donald L. Hilton, Andrew J. Lawrence, Derek A. Denton

“Salt appetite and hedonic liking of salt taste have evolved over >100 million years (e.g., being present in Metatheria).
An instinctive behavior pattern of which salt appetite is an exemplar reflects a genetically hard-wired neural organization naturally selected because of its high survival value.”

(Also see “The Salt-Mining Elephants of Kitum Cave”, from Part IV.)

And the fact that our taste for salt generally exceeds our needs can be explained by the fact that excess salt (within limits) is not harmful, whereas insufficient salt leads to death.

Among other interesting facts, Liedtke et.al. point out, somewhat breathlessly, that the desire for salt is mediated by the same brain circuits that mediate drug addiction. This is true—but those same brain circuits mediate all our motivations, from shelter to sex to social status. As I’ve said before, reward is not a concept limited to food. Reward is the reason we’re motivated to do anything at all.

To illustrate, here’s an actual graph of neural firing rates in the ventral pallidum, a hotspot of “liking” (hedonic reward). As we’d expect, rats liked intensely salty water when salt-deficient—even more than sugar water—and disliked it when previously fed a diet with sufficient salt.

Rat response to salt and sugar water

Amy J. Tindell, Kyle S. Smith, Susana Peciña, Kent C. Berridge and J. Wayne Aldridge
Ventral Pallidum Firing Codes Hedonic Reward: When a Bad Taste Turns Good
AJP – JN Physiol November 2006 vol. 96 no. 5 2399-2409

We compared VP neural firing activity in rats during aversive “disliking” reactions elicited by a noxiously intense NaCl taste (triple-seawater 1.5 M concentration) in normal homeostatic state versus in a physiological salt appetite state that made the same NaCl taste palatable and elicit positive “liking” reactions. We also compared firing elicited by palatable sucrose taste, which always elicited “liking” reactions in both states. A dramatic doubling in the amplitude of VP neural firing peaks to NaCl was caused by salt appetite that matched the affective switch from aversive (“disliking”) to positive hedonic (“liking”) reactions. By contrast, VP neural activity to “liked” sucrose taste was always high and never altered.

And again, we see that “wanting” and “liking” are not magical properties of food—they’re values we assign to food (and everything else) based on our past experience and nutritional state.

Why Do We Ever Stop Eating Delicious Food?

If incentive salience is the controlling factor of how much we eat, why do we ever stop eating? Why don’t we simply eat until we can’t move, repeat as soon as we’re able, and continue until we all require mobility scooters?

Oreo Cookies!!The answer cannot be in the food itself: the last Oreo in the package is no different than the first Oreo. “Palatability” is a value we assign to food, not an intrinsic property of the food itself, as I’ve already discussed here, in Part VI. Otherwise everyone in the world would “like” exactly the same foods.

I’ll repeat this, because it’s important: the Oreo didn’t change. We did.

Obviously there must be some drive within us that modulates incentive salience (“wanting”)—some motivation that causes us to stop eating before we vomit or physically burst. And many of my readers have already come to the correct conclusion: that drive is satiation, which I’ve already described at length here.

Note that satiety can also come into play if we’ve been eating for long enough. Though satiety and satiation are clearly defined, there is no bright line between them as they are experienced: the timing of the satiety response depends dramatically on what’s being eaten and how it’s prepared, and can overlap with the satiation response.

(For more information, or to refresh your memory, I discuss satiety in Part IV, and satiation in Part V.)

Also note that these drives can become dysfunctional, so there are a few unfortunate people who eat until they vomit and/or require mobility scooters. I’ll discuss this in future installments.

Therefore, in order to estimate how much of a food we are likely to consume, we must examine its power to produce satiation and satiety, as well as its incentive salience.

Modulation Of Reward Doesn’t Require Taste At All

Hedonic impact and incentive salience are modified by the entire set of circumstances around eating, not just taste. Here’s a startling study:

Ivan E. de Araujo, Albino J. Oliveira-Maia, Tatyana D. Sotnikova, Raul R. Gainetdinov, Marc G. Caron, Miguel A.L. Nicolelis, Sidney A. Simon
Food Reward in the Absence of Taste Receptor Signaling
Neuron Volume 57, Issue 6, 27 March 2008, Pages 930-941

Here we show that trpm5−/− mice, which lack the cellular machinery required for sweet taste transduction, can develop a robust preference for sucrose solutions based solely on caloric content. Sucrose intake induced dopamine release in the ventral striatum of these sweet-blind mice, a pattern usually associated with receipt of palatable rewards. Furthermore, single neurons in this same ventral striatal region showed increased sensitivity to caloric intake even in the absence of gustatory inputs.

Not only did the taste-blind rats develop a preference for sugar water over plain water—their preference was just as strong in all measurements as the mice with functional taste receptors!

(Clearly the satiety response can affect our reward responses, irrespective of taste.)

Satiation and Satiety: Putting The Brakes On Liking And Wanting

It is very important to recall here that satiation is an estimate of future satiety, based on sensory input.

“This finding of concerted gene regulation was attenuated on gratification with perplexingly rapid kinetics of only 10 min, anteceding significant absorption of salt from the gut.”Liedtke et.al.

In other words, the satiation response is sufficient to stop salt consumption: we don’t have to wait for satiety (absorption from the gut) to tell us to stop ingesting salt.

As we’d expect, satiation and satiety cause a decrease in “wanting” as well as “liking”. And here’s another blockbuster:

Physiology & Behavior
Volume 98, Issue 3, 7 September 2009, Pages 318-325
Eating what you like induces a stronger decrease of ‘wanting’ to eat
Sofie G.T. Lemmens, Paul F.M. Schoffelen, Loek Wouters, Jurriaan M. Born, Mieke J.I. Martens, Femke Rutters and Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga

‘Liking’ and ‘wanting’ scores of all fasted subjects on the two test-days showed 62–73% reproducibility. CM [chocolate mousse] was liked more than CC [cottage cheese] (p < 0.001). Consumption of CM decreased ‘wanting’ for bread, filling, drinks and dessert (p < 0.03). Consumption of CC decreased ‘wanting’ for bread only (p < 0.05). Contrary to CC, CM decreased relative ‘liking’ for the dessert category (p < 0.001). In conclusion, the computer test for measurement of ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ is sufficiently valid. Eating a highly liked food item induces a more distinct decrease in ‘wanting’ for food items in general and category-specific ‘liking’, than eating a sufficiently liked neutral food item.

Chocolate mousse induced a larger decrease in hunger and desire to eat than cottage cheese, although the offered amount of both food items was isoenergetic.

Lemmens et.al. demonstrates that eating delicious, highly “liked” food (food with high hedonic reward, aka “palatable” food) does not necessarily cause us to eat more. In fact, in their experiment, the subjects were less motivated to earn more food after eating the chocolate mousse than after the cottage cheese!

Given this data, it seems likely that eating the government-recommended low-salt, low-fat diet simply increases the hedonic impact of fat and salt—increasing the probability that we’ll consume it in the form of junk food instead of eggs, fatty meat, coconut milk, and other nutritious foods.


Getting Tired Of Food: “Sensory-Specific Satiety”

Space does not permit a full discussion of sensory-specific satiety. To summarize quickly, it’s the effect by which both our “liking” and our “wanting” for a food decrease as we eat it, irrespective of its other characteristics. For example:

Appetite. 2009 Feb;52(1):222-5. Epub 2008 Oct 4.
Food liking, food wanting, and sensory-specific satiety.
Havermans RC, Janssen T, Giesen JC, Roefs A, Jansen A.

Participants had to consume a certain amount of chocolate milk and afterwards approximately half of the participants played a game to obtain more chocolate milk, whereas the other half played a game to obtain crisps. Participants showed a decline in subjective liking of taste and smell of the chocolate milk in comparison to crisps. Furthermore, they showed less motivation (i.e. wanting) to obtain more chocolate milk. It is concluded that sensory-specific satiety in humans reflects a decrease in both food liking and food wanting.

[Note that “satiety” is somewhat of a misnomer. Depending on the time between consumption and testing, the satiation response is often still in play—and since this effect is dependent on taste, I believe “sensory-specific satiation” is a more appropriate name. But “sensory-specific satiety” is the accepted scientific terminology, so I’ll continue to use it.]

In the vernacular, we call this “getting tired” of a food, as in “I don’t even want to LOOK at another guava right now.” This effect is very well-established, and points to the idea that variety may be a greater motivator of consumption than palatability. I may explore this issue in more detail if there is demand.

Palatability Affects Satiation But Not Satiety (That’s A Quote)

Even if we consume more food at a sitting, this does not automatically mean we’ll consume more calories throughout the day. A metabolically functional person who eats more food will simply be sated for longer, because hedonic reward doesn’t affect satiety:

Physiol Behav. 1999 Jun;66(4):681-8.
Palatability affects satiation but not satiety.
De Graaf C, De Jong LS, Lambers AC.

The results showed that the ad lib intakes of the less pleasant and unpleasant soups were about 65 and 40% of the intake of the pleasant soup. Subjects ingested about 20% more soup when the subjects had to wait for the test meal about 90 min, compared to the 15 min IMI condition. The availability of other foods had no effect on the effect of pleasantness on ad lib intake. There was also no effect of the pleasantness on subsequent satiety: hunger ratings and test meal intake were similar after the three standardized soups. One conclusion is that pleasantness of foods has an effect on satiation but not on subsequent satiety.

These are common-sense results: eating a palatable food doesn’t magically decrease its nutritive value. And given equal satiating power, we may eat more of the palatable food—but having eaten more, we’ll also experience greater satiety.

(Do note that tomato soup is extremely non-satiating under the best of circumstances: the standardized soups contained 350g for women and 500g for men. This translates to 105 and 150 kcal (“calories”), respectively, with essentially zero fat or protein, and of which the majority is sugar. In other words, nutritively, they’re candy plus a bit of starch and a few vitamins…and the reason anyone stops eating it is most likely due to the effect of sensory-specific satiety.)

Most importantly, we might eat less of unpalatable foods—but having eaten less, we’ll be more hungry afterward.

J Nutr. 2011 Mar;141(3):482-8. Epub 2011 Jan 26.
Staggered meal consumption facilitates appetite control without affecting postprandial energy intake.
Lemmens SG, Martens EA, Born JM, Martens MJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS.

Participants (n = 38, age = 24 ± 6 y, BMI = 25.0 ± 3.1 kg/m(2)) came to the university twice for consumption of a 4-course lunch (40% of the daily energy requirements) in 0.5 h (nonstaggered) or in 2 h with 3 within-meal pauses (staggered) followed by ad libitum food intake.
However, this [staggered meal consumption] was not translated into lower energy intake.

In other words, eating the same food over a longer period of time doesn’t cause anyone to eat any less…

…assuming we’ve eaten real food. Consuming junk food will always leave us hungry: candy has no satiating power, and will not produce satiety, no matter what circumstances we consume it under. (Recall again that satiation is an estimate of future satiety, and satiety is nutritionally driven.)

Wrapping Up: Just What Is Incentive Salience, Anyway?

We now know that hedonic reward (“liking”, “palatability”) does not alter a food’s power to produce satiety, because satiety is not modulated by taste. And though “sensory-specific satiety” (again, a partial misnomer: the satiation response is involved) is a well-understood phenomenon, reward’s power to affect incentive salience (“wanting”) depends strongly on circumstances and whose studies you believe.

In other words, to make any sense of the situation, incentive salience (“wanting”) must be understood as a product of hedonic impact (“liking”), satiation, and satiety—and the limit on our food consumption comes primarily from its satiating and sating power, not its hedonic impact (“palatability”).

This neatly solves the conundrum that some current theories of “food reward” face: they must claim that foods like bacon-wrapped filet mignon and pâté de foie gras lack the magical property of “food reward”, even though they’re delicious (in other words, “your food isn’t rewarding, it just tastes like it”)—and that foods like Wheat Thins and Pringles have this same magic property of “reward” in excess, even though they’re not nearly as delicious as that bacon-wrapped filet.

It also explains common observations like “There’s always room for dessert”…because dessert, being nutritionally incomplete, is not satiating.

Finally We Can Define “Hyperpalatability”

Previously the term “hyperpalatable” has been like “pornography”: we know it when we see it, but we can’t define it—or we define it circularly, as “tasty foods which we overeat”.

However, now that we understand that how much we eat is determined by the opposing forces of satiation, satiety, and incentive salience (“wanting”), we can easily understand why certain foods are hyperpalatable: they combine a meaningful amount of hedonic reward with an inability to produce satiation or satiety, resulting in incentive salience that doesn’t decrease as you eat.

To draw an analogy: hedonic impact (“liking”) is the gas pedal, satiation (and, after a delay, satiety) are the brakes, and the speed of the car is incentive salience (“wanting”). We can eat foods with high hedonic impact—but so long as they also produce satiation (and, eventually, satiety), the car will stop. However, if we eat foods that do not satiate (or sate), our car has no brakes, and it won’t stop no matter how slowly it’s moving.

And now we can see why hyperpalatable foods don’t necessarily taste as good as your favorite foods: they don’t have to! All they have to do is be made of ingredients so nutritionally empty that they never produce satiation or satiety (e.g. linoleic acid and fructose), and be so calorie-dense that they don’t fill up our stomachs until we’ve eaten pathological amounts.

This leads us to a disturbing conclusion: the worse a snack food is for us, the more difficult it usually is to stop eating. Read my article “Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal” for a deeper exploration of this subject.

Conclusion: It’s Not Just The Taste, It’s The Nutrition (And Much More)

If we find ourselves overeating a food, we need to ask ourselves “Is this a nutritious, whole food, containing complete protein, healthy fats, and a generous helping of nutrients?” For most of us, the answer will be “No, it’s Corn Pops,” or some other nutritionally incomplete junk.

No carbs != healthy.Just because a snack doesn’t contain carbohydrates or HFCS doesn’t mean it’s not junk food. Nuts, for instance, generally contain incomplete protein and large quantities of omega-6 PUFA (linoleic acid)…cake made with xylitol and nut flour is still cake, not food. Fruit is good in moderation, but in excess (especially as juice) it’s just sugar with some vitamins. And snacking is bad for many reasons, even if you’re eating “healthy” snacks.

  • Reward systems drive all our behaviors, not just our food preferences.
  • Liking and wanting don’t exist just to make us fat: they exist to keep us alive. They are the product of millions of years of natural selection, during which animals that didn’t have our tastes died out and were replaced by those that did.
  • Liking and wanting are values we assign to food, not invariant or intrinsic properties of the food itself.
  • The modulation of reward (liking and wanting) does not require taste at all.
  • Incentive salience (“wanting”) is a product of hedonic reward (“liking”), satiation, and satiety.
  • Eating food you like may either decrease or increase your want for more, depending on the food, the circumstances, and whose studies you believe.
  • Palatability can affect satiation, either via nutritional satiation or “sensory-specific satiety”, but it does not affect satiety.
  • Hyperpalatability is an unnatural amount of hedonic reward, combined with an inability to produce satiation or satiety. Therefore, the worse a snack food is for you, the more difficult it usually is to stop eating.
  • Conclusion: in order to keep incentive salience (“wanting”) under control, make sure that hedonic impact (“liking”) is always accompanied by nutrition. Eat delicious but nutritionally dense foods, containing complete protein, healthy fats, and ample nutrients. Otherwise you’re eating food with no brakes.
  • And when you do take the risk, eat your cheat food after you’ve already satiated yourself with a complete meal.

Continue to Part VIII, “It’s Just Like Drug Addiction EVERYONE FREAK OUT: The Role And Limits Of Reward”

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


(This is part VII of a series. Go back to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, or Part VI.)

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Permalink: Why Do We Ever Stop Eating? Taste, Reward, and Hyperpalatability (Why Are We Hungry? Part VII)
  • EatFreeRangeHappyPor

    Fantastic job on this series! Thanks!

    This also explains another observation: sometimes you can get full from reading cookbooks, or rather looking at food porn triggers satiation (your brain expects you to eat the picture the next moment). This of course doesn’t induce real satiety.

    Also, cooking food yourself rather than having it prepared for you, makes you eat less of it: more sensory contact and increased satiation ‘braking’ (less novelty/surprise is also a factor of course).

    Thanks again!

  • eddie watts

    that was a great and epic post, thank you.

    also the fact that foods with little nutrition cause no satiety is very interesting and something we all probably “know and recognise” even if the tests or studies have not been found as of yet

  • Paul Jaminet

    Great post, JS. Some very important conclusions and great paper finds!

  • James_M


    That was masterful.

    I’ll be purchasing the Gnoll Credo as a thank you for this piece alone- although the entire series has been epic.

    It’s always been interesting to me that, of all the diet debates, whole food protein is consistently unchallenged as the ultimate harbinger of satiation and satiety. Within the ‘adequate nutrition’ paradigm of satiety, this would seem to be another star on helmet for fatty organ/muscle meats in their claim on the “pound for pound most nutritious food” title. Again, no wonder liver is so satiating.

  • Wayne D Johnson

    A masterful series! You will no doubt incur the displeasure of some folks, but having facts and reasonableness on your side should blunt the criticism. And I’m quite certain you won’t be defending your positions alone!

    Highest Regards,

  • Nance

    Your essay contained powerful ah-ha-s for me, putting my lifelong binge eating into a meaningful context. I had recently noticed that if I ate a nutritious meal before eating a treat I went a long time before I ate again, but if I ate only junk I never stopped. YOU just helped me understand why. THANKS!

  • Beth@WeightMaven

    Wow. I nominate this: “we can easily understand why certain foods are hyperpalatable: they combine a meaningful amount of hedonic reward with an inability to produce satiation or satiety, resulting in incentive salience that doesn’t decrease as you eat.” for concept of the year!!

  • Sam Knox

    This brings to mind Leslie Orgel’s Second Rule: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”

  • becky yo!

    Thanks again for continuing this series! This is such good stuff, but I’m afraid it’s going to go over most folks heads. I do like the “food with no brakes” analogy. I’ll be trying that one on folks I know.

  • John

    “If you must cheat, cheat with dessert, not a snack” sounds like a good rule or P.S. to add to “Eat Like a Predator.” The protein and fat from the meal will apply the “brakes” that the cheat food may lack, the fat from the meal will help to blunt a massive glucose spike that the cheat is likely to provide, and the meal nutrients will help to balance out any anti-nutrients in the cheat. Plus, traditional desserts tend to be high in fat as well as sugar, which would probably help apply the “food brakes,” and help blunt the glucose spike as well.

  • Uncephalized

    I’m loving this series, JS. Keep it up!

    I look forward to my Gnolls.org updates each week.

  • Joe Brancaleone

    Great stuff.

    And dude, what a great break in the day to see Coltrane and Dolphy in musical conversation. Between that and your defense of mountain biking, you’ve become my personal hero in the paleosphere. I had a weird habit years ago of doing middle of the night mountain bike rides on local trails with my CD discman playing jazz and stuff like Herbie Hancock and Philip Glass. Pretty epic in moonlit landscapes. Didn’t think about cougar sneak attacks though

  • Beth@WeightMaven

    BTW, any chance you will be extending this series to the darker side of reward and hyperpalatability? Seems to me that much of compulsive overeating and/or food addiction can be explained by “learning” run amuck.

  • Joe

    This has been an excellent series of articles. I was having trouble separating the ideas of, “I like steak, and it’s good for me.” and “I like chips, so… they are good to?”
    Understanding incentive salience, hedonic reward, satiation, and satiety really clear this up!

  • daniel

    nice job JS–no wonder you’re so tired…you’ve pretty much beasted the whole food reward thing.

    steak and eggs, man. bloody ass steak. panacea.

    one thing i find interesting is how different people react differently to certain foods. for me, if i eat anything sweet it starts a snowball effect that buries me under cartons and carton of ice cream (or whatever). my wife, she loves sweets, but does not EVER EVER overeat. but she doesn’t overeat anything.

    i think an often overlooked area (even in the paleosphere) is circadian rhythm disorders (disruptions). there are many “clock genes” and “clock cells” in the body and any disruptions to their functioning probably has myriad negative effects that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of yet. and it’s particularly interesting in light of all the studies connecting sleep deprivation with obesity. i’ve read quite a bit and while there are many theories as to why that might be, i have yet to come across many mechanistic explanations outside of the whole cortisol thing. the entire subject, IMO, has merely been broached, even with the paleosphere’s emphasis on sleeping and light exposure. i feel there is more lurking beneath the bedsheets…

    i’d also like to see better links between dopamine, reward, and obesity. so far, the literature sucks. there may be a connection but i really dont think it has one single thing to do with this series or maybe even this blog (or others like it except maybe Emily Dean’s). there is a huge difference between evolutionary factors that use the dopamine reward pathway to enforce behaviors to propagate a species and being a food addict. the dopamine pathway is also activated by negative behaviors which leads me to believe that we just dont know enough about it to draw any solid lines. one side effect of dopamine agonists (methylphenidate, cocaine, etc.) is appetite loss and weight loss. OTOH there have been many reports of anti-Parkinsonian agents (also effecting dopamine) actually increasing addictive behaviors especially gambling and sex addiction. oh, that dopamine!

  • snakeojakeo

    this is awesome. this whole series has been awesome. and way to rise above the carbs vs. food reward bickering match out there! each side seems to throw up straw men and knock them down without seriously considering how the other side’s ideas, when properly understood, fit in with their own.

    this is a fantastic synthesis of many of the great ideas put out there by some more, um, ‘strong-headed’ paleo bloggers, all of whom are very smart and a bit too stubborn.


  • tess

    it seems redundant to add my own kudos to the ones that went before, but you’ve certainly earned them! looking forward to the next installment, when you’ve rested up.

  • chris.george

    So, here's where the gap (or maybe I misread) lays in my mind with both the reward theory, and about nutrition.

    Given my understanding, that we have a complex system of relience that needs: minerals, protein, carbohydrates (to some degree), and fats all of which perform a function to shuttle said minerals to their correct functions/places; what's to stop someone from taking a “enough” (whatever that limit may be) of multivitamins with salt, etc to provide the body with the correct response?


    I know I'm missing something here; but it was the first question to pop into my head.

  • Franco

    That’s what I’m talking about, JS!
    Now I want some traditional, home made chocolate mousse which btw. contains ample amounts of SAFA from eggs, cream, dark chocolate, moderate amounts of sugar and a small amount of complete protein from the eggs.
    But if I think about, doesn’t this study show that protein+fat(CC) is less satiating then fat+sugar(CM)?

  • Fmgd

    Great article. It all sounds natural, and it’s great to back up intuition with research.

    I haven’t really looked much into it, but I don’t get the fixation on food reward as a cause for making people fat. I mean, I get that you might expect someone to eat less if the food is bland, but it seems like it would be a secondary concern at best: if you eat nutritionally void food, let it be something you don’t even like. Of course I wonder why you’d even be eating it in the first place.

    Simple experience shows that eating “paleo” without exaggeration is not hard at all. Unless of course you’re metabolically damaged or something like that, but then it seems to me things would get much more complicated. If you stay hungry because you can’t really absorb or use the nutrients on food, it’s not very clear to me that simply eating less wouldn’t be equally harmful.

    I look forward to the discussion on this area. So far you’ve done a great job on explaining how humans function and tying it up with discussions on how to not break this mechanism, but fixing or managing it after it’s broken sounds harder.

    Oh, I love the reference of taste as being a drive for a sin. Some time ago I heard someone say, talking about marrow: “Well, you just know something this good has to be a guilty pleasure.” It’s common knowledge, and it just makes no sense.

  • Franco

    I just read the latest 2 installments of SG’s food reward hypothesis. He still uses reward and palability interchangable and seems to ignore the nutrition aspect completely. He could learn a lot from you, JS.

  • Scotlyn

    This series has been wonderfully thought out, referenced and constructed. Lots of very useful concepts. Thank you for sticking with it to the end!

    I think you have not only up-ended the standard food reward theory, but also the obesity set point theory. Ie- if there are “set points” or homeostatic processes at work, they are probably not around a certain weight or number of calories, per se, but around a sufficiency of necessary nutrients.

  • Diane

    I’ve enjoyed the series. It makes the whole relationship of eating and food make sense. Now if only someone would figure out why I’m the only person in the whole world to lose no weight on a low-carb high-fat diet, that would be wonderful. 5’3″ 160lbs, active, sleep 10 hours a night, moderate exercise almost daily, no-stress job, not a junk-food junkie before, 3 weeks of no more carbs than a quarter sweet potato for dinner. Also, if I never saw another piece of bacon again it would be too soon. That’s after only a half a pound in a week. I’m ready to go vegetarian now. Okay, I’m kidding, but I miss food with interesting flavors, colors and textures, but I read somewhere if you aren’t losing any weight on a low-carb diet maybe you should go meat only. Blech. I’m trying to revel in the carnivorous life, but I am not feeling the love. Maybe not everything has been explained yet.

  • @Daniel – “i think an often overlooked area (even in the paleosphere) is circadian rhythm disorders (disruptions). there are many “clock genes” and “clock cells” in the body and any disruptions to their functioning probably has myriad negative effects that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of yet.”

    There is a book called ‘Lights Out’ which in which the authors describe modern sugar-rich diets and exposure to ‘artificial lighting for long periods of time on a daily basis even through winter’ as a signal to the body that we are living in an endless summer.

    Summer in turn is a time to put on fat in prepartion for winter where energy demands are likely higher and food options potentially leaner.

    Since stumbling across this concept I have given a little emphasis to ‘seasonality’ in both the kinds of food I eat and in my ratio of sleep/wakefulness as the season dictates. In fact it is also a driver in a range of activities including my seeking of occasional cold exposure through cold showers and wild swimming (we never evolved in a constant temperature, and modern central heating in both houses and cars subjects us to just that!).

    Simply living ‘closer to the ground’ in all areas of my life, and not being scared of exposing myself to the vicissitudes of life is actually quite enjoyable and life affirming.

  • tess

    Diane, i’m in a similar place; seems like i have to tweak my diet all the time! currently, i’m having a good deal of success by taking some hints from the Jaminets. one especial plus from them is that there’s a middle-aged woman directly involved in the creation of the Perfect Health regimen. if i hear another 20-something male tell me you just have to eat less and exercise more, i fear i might commit a violence! 😉

  • Damn right, Tess. I was talking to someone this evening who is desperately trying to lose weight and she's doing “all the right things”. My revelation that she might do better coming OUT of the gym and just walking a couple of miles in the evening and dropping all that finely balanced diet stuff and just eating real food – meat and vegetables, she'll drop the weight in no time and thereafter keep it off.

    Less exercise, more fat!

    The detail tells you how that works, which is something that I explained and both she and her husband were in complete agreement – they “knew” what I was saying was right and always felt wrong following present health advice. You know (one for J, here) 'Eat Like Your Grandmother' does hold a lot of truth! 'Eat Like a Predator' sounds miles better, mind.

    J's been talking about happy intake of starchy foods for some time – in fact, I think it was here that I had to pull an odd face, stand back and mull over the notion that eating a potato might well not be a bad thing. I've just bought the Jaminets' book and it is confirming a lot of the things that I think has been missing from the paleo diet, or paleo template at Chris Kressler calls it. He's one to read, too. Harris' Archevore is another one which makes a lot of sense. All can be backed up with the science, and it's not selective science. Starches are not a bad thing.

    As always, it depends on your goals.

  • daniel

    @Asclepius- i’ve read “Lights Out”. and while i agree with everything YOU said, the book was a huge letdown. the authors didn’t really get too in depth with the mechanisms of why artificial lighting does what it does and the effects of sugar, blah blah. i believe they just skimmed the surface of the entire topic, because once again, we just dont know enough about it. people dont need hypothesis and speculation, they need clear cut science and real answers.

    again, i do agree with you, i just think the book was more on the shallow end of the pool. plus, their whole “eat as many carbs as you want in the summer” recommendation is total crap. there are wayyy too many variables to consider to even approach giving a recommendation like that. the biochemical implications for diabetics alone is staggering. i feel like if you are going to recommend something it should be sound within all fields of study relevant to the subject. that one most definitely is not.

    i love cold showers! nothing wakes you up faster!

  • Diane

    Once my eyes are closed it makes no difference to me if there’s any residual pinkness from the infernal sodium vapor lights in the city. When I was hiking the PCT in the summer time I frequently fell asleep before the sun was down and woke up again in the faint light of dawn. I’m a master sleeper. I usually get 9-10 hours of sleep, an hour of which is usually me fighting to stay awake long enough not to be made fun of.

    Tess, I’m with you. I’m tired of reading about 20-something guys with pounds melting off saying people like me must be doing something wrong. Obviously we are doing something wrong, but it’s not what they think it is. I’m not cheating. What reason do I have to cheat when I’m so desperate? I guess on some level I’m okay with being a fat old lady for the rest of my life, but I was really hoping to have a stunningly victorious outcome to make my man change his ways. He’s going to kill himself. He’s degenerating into all the SAD diseases of middle age. I really hoped my own success would cause him to drop the pills, step away from the pudding and get himself healthy. But alas, all I have given him is fodder to believe I’m the one who is going to get sick and die.

  • Txomin

    The discussion of taste opens up (again) the matter of proper mastication. I have heard so many crazy things about chewing over the years that I am not surprised most people are confused on the matter.

    For those lost between “don’t gulp!” and “chew X amount of times”, the advice is to chew until flavor disappears. That’s it. That’s the role of flavor. Beyond the mouth, no part of your digestive system cares what anything tastes like.

  • EFRHP:

    Yes.  There are a host of empirical observations that only make sense once we understand that “reward” isn't a single, monolithic concept.  Perception gives us our immediate cues, but eventually reality wins out.


    It's easy to test the difference in satiety produced by junk food vs. real food.  Eat 600 calories of candy: that's just over three rolls of Sweet-Tarts.  Compare that to how you feel after eating 600 calories in the form of three eggs and 1/4 pound of prime rib.


    I'm honored.  You know how much I respect your work and your judgment.


    Much appreciated!  Sales of TGC, and Amazon referral income, are my entire compensation for writing these articles.  Note that you'll receive a signed copy if you order direct.

    And yes, protein is the most satiating macronutrient.  Since we have no dedicated storage organ for protein, we need to eat it frequently — but we also have a limited facility to convert the excess into energy, so once we have enough, our desire for more rapidly wanes.


    I didn't start with a hypothesis and work backwards to “prove” it.  I started with observed reality, and have done my best to explain it using the current scientific literature.  Furthermore, I've done my best to use modern and accepted scientific terms, instead of making them up or using the vernacular — and I've been very careful both to define my terms and to use them consistently.

    I think the result speaks for itself.


    That's wonderful!  I'm glad this information is helping you get and keep control. 

    It's easy to spin a story that seems plausible but the real test is “Does this help me understand why I'm hungry,and what to do about it?”


    Thank you!  I always appreciate knowing that I've successfully communicated with others.  Though there's currently no award for “Concept of the Year”, I'm hoping it's good enough for a presentation slot at the next AHS 🙂

    Sam Knox:

    Which leads to the Argument from Personal Incredulity: “I just can't believe that […].  That's ridiculous!”  If something about life doesn't make sense, it's generally because we lack either the knowledge or the evolutionary context to understand it.

    becky you!

    Most people are perfectly capable of understanding this stuff: they just don't have (or want to take) the time.  My hope is that, by presenting it clearly, I can help us all increase our understanding — and with it, decrease our vulnerability to bad advice and bad science.

    And for those with short attention spans, I agree that the “no brakes” analogy is good.



    More coming soon.  Thanks, everyone, for the support and acknowledgment!  Keep spreading this one around…

  • Fmgd


    Do you know Chuck steak? I mean, I’m Brazilian so I’m only kind of guessing Chuck steak is actually the name of the cut I’m referring to, but anyway.

    Have you ever tried to blue-rare it on a frying pan?

    You just can’t cut it with a knife. Tearing it apart with your teeth is actually the best you can do. And being able to swallow big portions of it with all the connective tissue is central to actually eating it.

    Anyway, I think in doing so you learn a lot about chewing and swallowing, and what you said seems to be true. If it doesn’t taste anymore (and big chunks of fat and connective tissue are the best chewy gums ever), you’ve either bitten too much or it’s time to gulp it down.

    But then again I wouldn’t say you should chew everything up to the point flavor disappears, more like once it does you’ve probably done enough, so it’s either in or out.

  • @Daniel – “i just think the book was more on the shallow end of the pool” – Agreed!

  • Franco


    what’s your eating frequency? How many meals per day? Snacking much?
    Artificial sweeteners (diet sodas)?

    Exercise: lower the frequency/ up the intensity (=do some form of resistance exercise 2-3xweek)!
    It’s actually unbelievable that coming from high carb(?) you would not loose at least 2-3 pounds of water weight in the first few days with that low carb you’re now.

  • Diane

    No diet sweeteners. No sweet anything. No snacking. Trying my best to do 2 meals a day, although yesterday I thought I would try splitting breakfast in half and having half for lunch so I wouldn’t be so hungry 2 hours before dinner. Today I’m going to try no breakfast and no lunch and just have coffee with cream. Dinner is meat, vegetables, 1/4 sweet potato or 2 bacon and 3 eggs and a glass of red wine. Stopped eating cheese before dinner (I’m starving by 4-5pm). Giving up the wine because it tastes funny now. Stopped putting a small handful of macadamias and other raw nuts in my breakfast. Breakfast has been homemade plain yogurt mixed with creme fraiche or coconut milk. I’m getting tired of it and don’t know what to try next.

    I hiked fasted last weekend 8 miles with 2000ft elevation gain, a typical hike for me. I run at lunch 4-5 miles (slowly) 3-4 times a week and walk the days I don’t run. I don’t lift weights though, unless you count holding up my fiddle and running the bow across with my wap-wap arms for several hours.

    I lost some of the love-handle business in the first week and now the last two weeks, nothing. It’s frustrating to see the same belly in the mirror every day and to have my clothes fit no different. I don’t have a scale I’m going only by feel. I can see now that to lose weight at age 46 and female, no matter what you eat, you must starve. No other way. Well, I don’t know that yet because it hasn’t worked yet.

    When I was hiking the PCT I was starving out on the trail despite eating as much as I could. I would have this strange sensation when I got into town while eating my first meal of real food. I would see the whole world change from black and white to in color again. Something inside me would wake up and I’d feel emotions again. I’d end up sobbing over my meal sometimes as I came back to life. I feel that I’m walking around in that black and white emotionless state right now. Gosh I hope that something changes, that a flip gets switched and whatever is broken inside me fixes itself so I can be normal like all of you.

  • Fmgd

    I’m not really in a position to give advice, so be wary of anything I say, but perhaps you could try looking into high intensity interval training, or any kind of very intense, not so long workout.

    Like, instead of running slowly for hours try to run as fast as you can, stop a very short bit and then run again, for a few minutes, and do it in a way you’ll be actually exhausted by the exercises end.

    Maybe even do some weight training following that logic, just be careful not to hurt yourself. Increasing muscle mass should help all around if you can get do that.

    Oh, and keep in mind you don’t really have (at least I think you don’t) to have breakfast-y foods for breakfast. Also, I’m not sure I got it right but it sounds like you’re skipping lunch. Maybe try skipping breakfast, or at least only eating it when you’re actually hungry. It’s easier to fast from dinner to launch, with all the sleeping period then the other way around. If everyday life gets in the way of it, always consider hard boiled eggs and things like beef jerky as portable meals.

    Also, protein is very sating, so if you’re not having that for breakfast trying to hold until dinner will be much harder.

    Again, I’m not the one to be giving advice, but I’d consider looking into these things.

  • Sam Knox


    Calorie-restriction, even in a carbohydrate-restricted diet, will slow, and eventually stop, fat-loss. It’s important that you eat to satiety whenever you are hungry.

    Also, three weeks isn’t enough time for you to have adapted to a low-carbohydrate diet. It can take six weeks or longer to complete the transition from using primarily blood-sugar to using fat and/or ketones as fuel. Strenuous exercise during this period of adaptation Is likely to be an unpleasant experience, and will make it more difficult to adhere to your diet, especially when combined with calorie-restriction.

    If you can’t avoid exercise, you’re likely to experience some hunger for carbohydrate in order to replace depleted glycogen stores. Don’t fight the feeling. In order to be successful, it isn’t necessary that you stick to a low-carb regimen at every waking moment, just that you do it often enough so that whatever carbohydrate you consume goes to glycogen rather than fat.

  • eddie watts

    Diane: it seems to me, as Fmgd hinted at above, that may be doing too much or for too long, along with a reduction in food.

    i make sure i always eat 250g protein in a day (big guy and i weight train) my fats and carbs i don’t worry too much about.

    i’ve done a bit of IF but only for short periods, and even then i often have a little coconut oil and/or peanut butter so it’s not a real fast per se.

    but i’ve always found from friends and family that women are often better off focusing on resistance training rather than cardio, due to naturally lower testosterone.
    there’s a discussion here about this
    between myself and a very good fitness instructor

    good luck, but also bear in mind that 2 weeks with no change is not actually a very long time

  • Diane

    Ok, so if I’m understanding things, my problem is that I’m not yet keto-adapted (which is pretty obvious to me by the strong smell of my urine and how hard it is to walk up stairs and mountains) so at this point I probably can’t possibly burn off fat no matter what. Do I have it right? What worried me was that it appeared I was putting fat on two weeks ago, after the first week of this. I think the weight loss in the first week was actually due to the weeks before where I ate salad after dry salad for two weeks. I’m ending week 3 of low carb now and going into week 4. P.S. I like the running. It gives me time to think, gets me out in the noon-day sun and I don’t have to pay any money to do it. P.P.S. I couldn’t resist breakfast today which was served to me: chorizo and eggs. I think I found something better than bacon.

  • kobayashi

    One thing I changed about my diet after this comprehensive series is: eating more consciously. Not what I eat, but when and how. A meal in front of the tv, the computer, a book may be nutritionally well-balanced and healthy but lacks sensory-specific satiety, which makes me wanting more food.

    Somehow I knew about this, now I understand it. Thanks!

  • Diane – Take a big step back.

    The way you are now is as a result of your life so far. To rectify that will take some time. There are no shortcuts, and any shortcuts will not last.

    The formula is simple – eat real food, that's nothing from a packet, box or jar. Make up your food from meat and vegetables. Eat a lot of eggs and get some fish and shellfish into your weekly intake.

    Avoid ALL grains, sugars and and processed food. Limit carb-rich foods like potatoes. You need to eat a LOT of green veg to tip the carb scales towards gaining weight – so, eat as much green veg and meat as you like, basically.

    To avoid hunger, tiredness and glumness, eat fat! Don't shy away from fatty meat, add real fats like lard, butter, tallow, bacon grease and so on with your meat, veggies and to fry eggs. To keep the food interesting, flavour it heavily … initially … and enjoy the real flavours thereafter. Jars of Tabasco are useful.

    Your body runs on fat – feed it. Meat gives protein, vegetables give fibre and short chain fats, and limited carbs. Too little fat and you'll eat your own muscle! Seriously. Don't think this is a good thing! Don't think ketosis is a good thing. You WILL lose flab by eating right.

    Eat like that for a month … give it a month and you'll see the blueprint for the rest of your long, healthy and vibrant life.

    Don't worry about the details – just eat real food: meat, fish, shellfish, eggs and veggies. Once you're down to a healthy fat level, work in some carby starches – potatoes and rice, essentially, but don't do this instead of eating good, nutrient-rich food.

    Weigh? Measure? Chill out! Don't! You'll lose fat, change shape and maybe gain weight – but it will be strong, good weight.

    Here's the important bit! You MUST couple this with activity – don't bother with the gym. That will make you want to eat more. Walk at a strong, fast pace and get your heart rate up. Do a couple of miles a day, more if you like or less, but more intense uphills if you can find them. Practice balancing on one leg for minutes at a time before walking to improve all those little muscles and give your brain/muscle connectivity a real work-out.

    Your body is meant to be lean, ready and healthy. Paleo will give you this – food, play, activity and rest.

    It will take time – again, you've taken a lifetime to get this bad … it won't take another lifetime to come back to normal. Proper normal.

  • Larry Clapp


    Great article! (As usual! 🙂

    I had a thought recently and here seems as good a place as any to mention it. It was this: we all know that correlation is not causation. But your body doesn’t know that. Evolution doesn’t know that. And so I wonder how often evolution has “inadvertently” selected for things that, in the wild, are always correlated, but in captivity (i.e. “civilized” living) frequently aren’t.

    So in captivity, I can eat M&Ms till the cows come home and not feel satiated or sated. But if I try that with cows instead … a half pound or so is fine. 🙂

    Dunno if that makes any sense. 🙂

  • Sam Knox


    If you’re in ketosis, then you are burning fat and ketones for fuel but, because you are not yet keto-adapted, you’re not burning them very efficiently. That’s what causes fatigue and other symptoms popularly known as the “Atkins flu”, and they are especially bad when combined with exercise.

    My main point was that you seem to be trying to restrict total calories and carbohydrate at the same time. This is going to have the opposite effect that you intend. In order to lose weight on a carbohydrate-restricted diet, it’s essential that you eat whenever you are hungry. You shouldn’t resist breakfast or any other meal. Your body will react to starvation in a low-carb diet the same way it reacts at any other time, by holding on to every ounce of fat that it can.

  • Txomin


    It is a rule of thumb, sort of thing. Soups and creams can’t be chewed. Fruit, in general, will become pulp (even dissolve) before the flavor is gone.

    And it is more useful and practical than the classic “chew 25 times” which we have all tried at one point or another and given up on. I find that this is the easiest advice that children can make sense of and follow.

  • Fmgd


    Yup, and it’s particularly applicable to meat. Although I see it more as an upper limit, as in, there’s no point to keep chewing after that (unless of course you’ve still got to cut it down a bit more).

    I understand that chewing is important, but I’m not sure how necessary it is to do it that much. I guess it does make digestion easier tho.

  • John:

    That's a good idea: I've been eating that way for quite a while, I just hadn't added it to the manifesto.


    Much appreciated!  Slick new avatar, too.

    Joe Brancaleone:

    News media often gives the impression that riding a mountain bike is all about twenty-something daredevils chugging Mountain Dew and hucking off jumps.  No: it's how many of us enjoy seeing the outdoors, and it lets us see beautiful places without burning an entire day, or requiring an overnight trip, to do it! 

    Plus, as anyone who actually builds trails can tell you, bicyclists and hikers have about the same impact on trail surfaces.  Horses are what does all the damage: 1000+ pounds balanced on four small metal shovels.  (Let's not even mention the dung…when's the last time you saw a cyclist squatting in the middle of the trail, taking a dump?) And even that is rounding error next to erosion caused by water, which is proportional to trail tread and exacerbated by poor design…so a couple hundred feet of your average steep, badly eroded logging skid road (now called a “fire road” by the Forest Service) has more impact than a mile of your average singletrack.

    Today a friend and I were checking out the aspens, which are peaking right now.  Maybe I'll post some pictures.  They're stunning.


    Yes, I'd love to address disordered eating…but since it's such a touchy subject, I want to make sure I'm doing so with respect and care.


    I'm glad it's helped you! 

    Frankly, I've been surprised that previous presentations of these issues failed to separate these provably distinct phenomena.  No wonder everyone has been so confused…


    Yes, steak and eggs are nearly a panacea.  Myself, I add some potatoes (sweet or regular, your choice) and a salad.  But they're most definitely supporting actors in the drama.

    “you've pretty much beasted the whole food reward thing.”  Thank you for noticing!  I don't write articles unless I'm familiar enough with the subject to be confident in what I write.

    Re: dopamine.  These are huge subjects, and I've had to limit these articles to a very small subset of the issues.  Furthermore, they're areas of active research.  But you're absolutely correct that some people have much greater sensitivity to reward signaling than others — sometimes only around very specific issues.  It's a fascinating area of research.


    It's not a synthesis: it's a re-examination.  I backed up and started over with a combination of basic principles and observed reality, read the relevant literature, and followed it where it led. 

    This is why it's coherent and easily understandable: I'm not trying to make the evidence fit into a conclusion I started with.

    Also, I've tried to stay out of the bickering matches and flame wars: I'd rather investigate at my own pace instead of being goaded into arguing in the comment section.

    Thank you for the support!


    Sincere thanks are never redundant.


    Nothing's stopping you from trying it…but I think you'll find that by the time you ingest all the supplements AND all the fats, protein powders, etc. that you'd need, the volume and complexity of preparation will approach that of real food.  I think it's simpler to eat an egg than try to mix the combination of fat, protein, cholesterol, lutein, choline, biotin, and the myriad other nutrients required to simulate the nutrition in an egg.


    Yes, real chocolate mousse is absolutely delicious!

    As far as relative satiating capacity of PRO/FAT/CHO singly or in combination, there are hundreds of studies out there — and you can prove whatever you want simply by choosing the ones you like.  I started to write an article on that subject once, and quickly realized that most of the papers are cleverly designed to produce the desired conclusion.


    More to come…thank you for your support! 

  • Perfect Health Diet

    […] Stanton has another blockbuster exposition on food reward, which contains a challenge to Stephan’s recommendations for weight loss: eating food you like […]

  • Beth@WeightMaven

    In re-reading this, I got stuck a bit on this sentence re incentive salience:

    “It also explains common observations like “There’s always room for dessert” … because dessert, being nutritionally incomplete, is not satiating”

    I get the connection between incentive salience and the idea that folks believe there’s room for dessert, but I am not getting the connection between this and dessert being nutritionally incomplete.

    Seems to me that having “room for dessert” has more to do with wanting, liking and especially variety … and not downstream satiety.

  • Roger Elliott

    “Conclusion: in order to keep incentive salience (“wanting”) under control, make sure that hedonic impact (“liking”) is always accompanied by nutrition. Eat delicious but nutritionally dense foods, containing complete protein, healthy fats, and ample nutrients. Otherwise you’re eating food with no brakes.”

    Lovely. I’m memorizing this. 🙂

  • Aaron Blaisdell

    JS, your posts in this series are highly rewarding. I like them a lot and want more. I’ll be back! And it’s not just the fat-binging that made me say this.

  • chris.george

    J. Stanton said:



    Nothing's stopping you from trying it…but I think you'll find that by the time you ingest all the supplements AND all the fats, protein powders, etc. that you'd need, the volume and complexity of preparation will approach that of real food.  I think it's simpler to eat an egg than try to mix the combination of fat, protein, cholesterol, lutein, choline, biotin, and the myriad other nutrients required to simulate the nutrition in an egg.




    I totally agree. I imagine it's almost like eating the goop in The Martix. Nasty. I'll go back to my prime rib.

  • My apologies: I replied to a whole bunch of you, but lost the reply due to a broken mouse.

    How does that happen?

    Imagine a mouse button that sometimes magically presses the center button (the “wheel” button) when you press the left button (the main button).  So instead of switching to a tab, it closes the tab…not incidentally deleting anything you might have written.


    I fixed it.  Turns out the mouse wasn't actually broken: it just had a bunch of grit built up in the mechanism.  I disassembled it, cleaned it out, and now everything is fine…except for the hour of work I just lost. 

    Anyway, I need to go outside, ride my bike, and clear my head.  I'll be back in a while.



  • Jean

    An article on food variety would be very welcome. I find myself eating the same foods over and over, primarily because they cause the least number of problems gastronomically, and also because I eat GFCF, due to issues with those foods. I am a carnivore, however, and I hope that will save me! It’s the green veg that trip me up, I’m finally reduced to making a pesto with kale and/or chard and some fresh basil, and then adding it to my starches and other veg.

  • Fmgd:

    “It all sounds natural, and it's great to back up intuition with research.”

    If what I write about hunger doesn't have relevance to our daily experience, it doesn't matter how many citations I make.

    “I haven't really looked much into it, but I don't get the fixation on food reward as a cause for making people fat.”

    That's entirely due to one blogger, who's spent the last six months pushing that particular hypothesis.  I believe I've shown here that hunger is clearly much more than just the hedonic value of food — and that its incentive salience is the product of other factors, not a magical property of food that causes us to overeat.  Like I said, food didn't suddenly become tasty in 1978.

    “If you stay hungry because you can't really absorb or use the nutrients on food, it's not very clear to me that simply eating less wouldn't be equally harmful.”

    Absolutely true.  And that's the first problem with most diets.


    I agree.  Presenting a theory of “food reward” over several months and a 40-minute presentation without mentioning Kent Berridge, or his separable concepts of hedonic reward and incentive salience, is like presenting a unified field theory without mentioning Maxwell's equations. 

    And even though Round 2 of explanations, six months later, has finally started to cite Berridge and use the accepted scientific terminology (though only after I've done so for months…see Part I, Part II, and Part VI, all of which predate Round 2), I agree that the concepts are still being conflated. 

    That's why it's best to read the existing literature, and familiarize ourselves with the terminology, before making a big public splash (in which we claim to have discovered concepts understood for many years) and telling everyone else what to do: otherwise we just end up confusing people.


    I agree, and I've said it before: a “set point” is just a homeostasis we don't understand yet.  If you go on a diet, and then gain all the weight back when you go off it, that's to be expected: your previous bodyfat “set point” is the result of your diet, life(style), and genetics — and if you return to that same diet and lifestyle, it's very likely that you'll return to the same body composition! 

    Also, most diets depend on willpower: they don't actually nourish us better.  In fact, they nourish us less, because they still stress nutrient-poor foods like whole grains and fat-free dairy.  If we want to permanently change our “set point”, we're going to have to permanently change our eating and activity patterns.

    (Note that this is NOT to say that these patterns change instantly with diet, nor that metabolic damage cannot prevent us from returning to a diet on which we were once skinny and healthy.)


    The rhythm of the seasons is deep and unfathomably ancient…though I'm not a pure locavore, it's both delicious and much cheaper to eat food and do activities in season.  In the summer I sweat a lot, in the winter I spend a lot of time being chilly, because I'm outdoors.  That's fine!  I get tired of doing the same thing all year anyway.


    “if i hear another 20-something male tell me you just have to eat less and exercise more, i fear i might commit a violence! ;-)”

    Exactly.  People aren't overweight because they want to be fat: they're overweight because they're hungry all the time!  That's part of why I'm writing this series of articles.


    Thank you for your continued support and contributions!

    I believe that Kurt Harris has perhaps become too liberal with his recommendations: just because an always-skinny person can tolerate certain variations from optimal doesn't mean the rest of us can, or should.  I think the Jaminets have a good handle on the high end of carb consumption: going lower is a matter of individual response.  Some achieve great weight loss, some don't.  Some do well on it indefinitely, some don't.


    Thanks for the heads-up: I'll probably try to find a copy at the library.


    My approach is to chew until I'm no longer enjoying it.  If I tried to chew my grass-finished, 28-day dry-aged steak until the flavor disappeared, I'd still be eating right now!


    Yes, chuck steak is the same cut in America.  It's delicious, but as you say, most of it contains a lot of connective tissue.  (Though it's possible to get an excellent flatiron.)


    I agree about resistance exercise and HIIT.


    First, you're most definitely not eating enough protein for breakfast.  Eat meat, or at least eggs, and not so much pure fat.  (Think omelet with ham or chicken, or eat some meat with your yogurt and ditch the creme/coconut milk.)  The point is not to add fat to everything; the point is to eat whole, nutritious foods, which contain fat as part of their complement.  Protein is especially important for weight loss, as it's the most satiating nutrient.

    Also, I recommend some resistance exercise (lifting heavy weights) and some HIIT (high-intensity, low-duration interval training).  If hiking the PCT didn't make you lose weight, no amount of hiking will!  Not that you should stop hiking — but you should only hike because you enjoy it, not because you think you'll lose weight.  You can't keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

    Finally, I gave you a few possible dietary experiments a while ago.  Try those.




    I'm catching up…more to come.

  • Fmgd:

    I agree: the idea that we need to eat “breakfast foods” makes breakfast much more difficult.  Real food is good anytime.  I sometimes have eggs, bacon, and hash browns for dinner!


    You're talking about the difference between keto-adaptation and regaining met flex, which I talk about here.  I'm not sure Diane needs to be in ketosis — although if she wants to, she needs to commit to it fully.  Bouncing in and out of ketosis just means you never adapt.


    Absolutely women need to do strength training.  Nia Shanks benches 145 and deadlifts 300.  Does she look “too muscular”?  No, she looks great!


    Chorizo and eggs is a great breakfast…that's more like it!


    “A meal in front of the tv, the computer, a book may be nutritionally well-balanced and healthy but lacks sensory-specific satiety, which makes me wanting more food.”

    I don't think it's a coincidence that cultures which view eating as an important experience to be savored are thinner than Americans, who seem to view eating as an inconvenient obstacle.


    “The way you are now is as a result of your life so far. To rectify that will take some time. There are no shortcuts, and any shortcuts will not last.”


    Recall, however, that Diane has hiked the PCT, and hikes frequently in some very steep mountains.  She doesn't need to be told to walk more…she needs to lift heavy weights and do some intervals.


    You're absolutely correct: many modern processed foods do indeed break the association found in evolutionary time between taste and nutrition.  I discussed the issue at length in this article.



    Almost there…more soon!

  • Txomin, Fmgd:

    Chewing your food thoroughly will make it digest more quickly.  This may or may not be desirable.

    I'm more concerned about the sensory exposure, which affects satiation.  Eating more slowly, all other things being equal, causes us to eat less.  So we should chew until we're not enjoying whatever we're chewing anymore.

    Interestingly, I find that I eat foods like sashimi more slowly than foods like potatoes.  If I'm eating something absolutely delicious, I'll take the time to savor each bite.  If a food is just “good”, I have no problem shoveling it down as quickly as I can.  And, of course, if a food is gross, I'll eat it slowly or not at all.


    “I get the connection between incentive salience and the idea that folks believe there's room for dessert, but I am not getting the connection between this and dessert being nutritionally incomplete.  Seems to me that having “room for dessert” has more to do with wanting, liking and especially variety … and not downstream satiety.”

    The key concept is that incentive salience, or “wanting”, which is our drive to consume something, is primarily a product of the other drives, not a property of the food itself. 

    As I said in the article when asking “Why do we ever stop eating?” — “The Oreo didn't change…we did.”  Hedonic reward (“liking”) combines with our current degree of satiation and satiety to produce our drive to actually consume more food — incentive salience, or “wanting”. 

    For example, we can “like” prime rib more than any other food…but if we've just eaten 20 ounces of it and are stuffed full, we don't “want” any more — because the hedonic impact of the delicious taste of prime rib is pre-empted by our satiation.

    That's why the first bite of prime rib leads to the second, but the twenty-fifth doesn't necessarily lead to the twenty-sixth: our “wanting” for more decreases, because our satiation increases.

    To return to the dessert example: let's say you just finished your prime rib, and someone offers you another of your favorite whole foods.  (In my case, I'll pick bacon.)  Sure, I can eat a bite or two of bacon: but again, my satiation will quickly reduce the bacon's incentive salience to zero and stop me from eating more. 

    However, dessert has little power to satiate.  So I can eat that bite of candy or ice cream, and since I'm no less satiated than before, the dessert's incentive salience remains the same, and I can probably finish it off.

    Is that more clear?


    That's great!  I'm glad I've been able to distill all this science into a simple takeaway that you can use to improve their life and health.


    “I'll be back! And it's not just the fat-binging that made me say this.”

    I'm absolutely honored.  The research I'm citing overlaps with your field of expertise, and it means a lot to have a highly regarded professional, such as yourself, tell me that my work is legitimate and valuable.


    The one advantage of that approach is that the ingredients aren't usually perishable.  So if we're talking about a cache of survival food, it's actually a legitimate approach.  I may write an article about this someday.


    Some of us have noticed that the more nutritionally dense the food we eat is, the less variety we crave.  But there's a lot more to say about its impact on eating.



    Wow!  I think I've finally replied to everyone.  Thank you all for your continued support — and don't forget to share my articles with others! 

    Live in freedom, live in beauty.


  • Beth@WeightMaven

    JS, thanks, that explanation is really helpful. I had parsed “there’s always room for dessert” to mean deciding whether or not to eat dessert after a meal despite (likely) feeling full. But your version works too!

  • Beth:

    The complicating factor is learning.  Because we've eaten dessert before, we know that dessert won't be satiating, and that we can probably finish it — without necessarily having to eat a bite first.

    Imagine yourself at a buffet, making decisions on what to eat next, and you'll understand.

    As for myself, there are definitely desserts that are “heavier” than others.  For instance, cheesecake is a “heavy” dessert, because it has some satiating power due to being made of cheese, not just sugar and flour.  I've definitely been too full to eat cheesecake before.  Regular cake is a bit lighter because it's just sweet bread and frosting.  And then you have things like fruit topped with whipped cream, which are basically 100% sugar with a bit of fat, are quite “light”, and can always be packed down somewhere.  Or, even better, those little cups of sherbet sometimes used as a palate cleanser.


  • Aaron Blaisdell

    @JS. I’m the one who should be honored. I’m humbled that someone outside of some of these complicated fields of learning theory could convey the general principles and their nuances in such an easily accessible manner! I couldn’t have imagined writing these posts, despite being relatively familiar with much of the territory.

  • Franco


    re: dessert

    Exactly my thoughts, JS. To come back to real(home made) chocolate mousse, try to eat it after the huge prime rib as compared to a store bought(low fat) version! Worlds apart! Their’s always room for the later.

  • Jacquie

    Awesome again, JS. You’re not only explaining what’s happened in my past to get me to this deranged place (lol, I love claiming to be deranged – it makes my day!) but you are also providing accessible and useful information for changing what I’m doing right now. Your series is making sense of some of the received wisdom that is often delivered without a SOLID rationale, such as ‘eat protein for breakfast’. I’m left with no annoying ‘yes, but . . .’ responses, which is a relief. These posts are providing the background that needs to be in place before I can do scary things like ‘eat when you’re hungry THEN STOP’. Sometimes I can do that, sometimes not.

    I’m rambling, sorry – fantastic job, I’m really excited. But I’ll shut up now!

  • Jacquie:

    I'm glad it's all making sense to you!

    Once we understand why things work the way they do, we can not only tell the difference between good advice and bad advice — we can make a plan that uses our own time and resources most effectively.

    That's why I try my best to explain underlying principles rather than make blanket recommendations: while the principles remain the same for everyone, their application to each of our individual situations may not be.


  • Jeffrey of Troy

    @J Stanton
    “That’s entirely due to one blogger, who’s spent the last six months pushing that particular hypothesis.”

    Seemed like after Guyenet got his Ph.D. he lost the ability to comprehend the scientific method; it’s bizarre.

    It’s also a real shame. I loved his blog when I discovered it in fall 2010, but I stopped bothering a few months ago..

    “People aren’t overweight because they want to be fat: they’re overweight because they’re hungry all the time!”

    Fat dead rat!

  • Not big on the whole

    […] more, here’s an excellent blog post by J. Stanton that is part of a series on this topic. It’s worth your time. His model adds a […]

  • Dr. Gee


    awesome! i’m finally catching up on this series during my break (linked via Dr. Jaminet’s blog).

    i lost interest in the last 7 months in the FR Hypothesis; it became repetitive without becoming clearer or less subjective or circular (to me).

    Live in freedom, live in beauty in 2012.


    (i like your closing so much that i’ve stolen it! XD)

  • Page not found &laqu

    […] Why Do We Ever Stop Eating? Taste, Reward, and Hyperpalatability (Why Are We Hungry? Part VII) […]

  • Dr. Gee:

    It's not your imagination that FRH is both ill-defined and circular as stated.  I find this puzzling, because the existing literature on the topics of reward and hunger is both extensive and well-specified.

    I'm glad my exploration and summary of hunger has been helpful to you — and I'm glad to see you spreading my dedication, because I mean it sincerely.


  • […] more, here’s an excellent blog post by J. Stanton that is part of a series on this topic. It’s worth your time. His model adds a […]

  • JPizzay

    In relation to satiety and being satiated…how long have you gone on a fast. Been doing this high fat/protein/veggies for about 2 and a half weeks (but i’ve been eating clean for years) and lately haven’t been hungry.

    I get the slight feeling of hunger once or twice a day but it goes away after about 5-10 mins. I just at something small just because i felt like i “had” to. Is it normal/ok to go without any food for a 24 hour period? especially on a non-workout day?

  • JP:

    I found the same thing as you: once I had been eating like a predator for a while, complete with plenty of egg yolks and animal fat, my body apparently decided it was nutritionally replete and therefore happy to consume the fat on my butt for extended periods.  I'm convinced that a lot of it is eating higher-fat and forcing your body to improve its beta-oxidation performance…

    My record on zero calories (no coconut oil, no juice, nothing but water) is about 44 hours.  I hit the wall somewhere around 42 hours, though that included a respectable amount of physical activity the first day.

    Is it normal to go without food for a day?  Yes, if you're not hungry, and if you're not anorexic or otherwise suffering mixed-up hunger signals. Your body has fat for a reason: it's there for when you're not eating!  Even a very lean (10% BF) 170-pound male has 17 pounds of fat, or appx. 69,000 calories worth…the limit to starvation comes from loss of lean mass (catabolism) to provide your daily protein and glucose needs, not from depletion of fat stores.


  • […] going to use some summary quotes from a series at Gnolls.org about hunger and satiety signals. I just wanted to get some general points across that I have been […]

  • Nootropic

    I enjoyed your intriguing blog. brilliant stuff

  • Tracy

    Just wanted to add my kudos to you for this series! After reading Stephan’s series, and sorta getting it but sorta not buying it completely, I came here and what you’ve written makes more sense to me… science-wise and based on my personal n=1. Excellent job. Always love your posts – you’re a gifted communicator and writer.

  • Tracy:

    Thank you!  Upon first investigating the subject, I realized that there is plenty of existing science to reference, so there is no need to bring “new” hypotheses into the picture (which, in my opinion, are both based on out-of-date science and oversimplified to the point of being frankly incorrect.)  What the world needs is fewer bold claims and more calm, patient exploration of the extensive existing science.

    I’m glad you’ve found this series (and my other writing) informative.  Do stick around here at gnolls.org — and as my AHS 2012 talk will be on this very subject, I’m sure you’ll also find it of interest!


  • Kassandra

    This series (and this site, and this idea of how to live in general!) has been such a huge impact on my life I don’t even know how to express it. The opening of this(?) installment, about how our body’s desires are not evil or wrong is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I have a great deal of difficulty with dissociation from my physical self (as a symptom of bipolar disorder) and one of the hardest and most rewarding things about the last few months of ’embracing the predator’ is the focus on physical minutiae that allows me to understand what is actually happening in my body. I’m not obese and never have been (170 lb, 5’7″ female), and I don’t believe I’m metabolically ‘broken’, but neither have I ever felt healthy. This focus on understanding myself as a whole has been so helpful and illuminating. Thank you. I have always thought of myself as sort of an amateur scientist – at least my mindset is grounded deeply in the scientific method – and your explorations and explanations have been deeply helpful in forming a framework to understand myself. My mind, my body, my functions and dysfunctions all become so much clearer when I have these concepts (hedonic impact, incentive salience, satiety, etc.) to work with and the terms to use them clearly.
    So anyway, I’ll stop rambling, but just know that you have been a hugely positive influence. My baseline mood has even improved a bit since I started eating a like a person, and the fluctuations I’ve always experienced are not as rapid or as severe. I have hope that I will eventually achieve the dream of being a healthy and wholly integrated person. (if that makes any sense at all!)

  • Kassandra:

    Wow!  I'm honored that my writing has affected you so profoundly, and that I've been able to help you towards a more healthy relationship with your own body.

    The goal of my writing is to help us all remake ourselves into the strong, smart, and capable creatures humans have always been.  To that end, I don't like oversimplifying — I believe my readers deserve the best information possible.  I'm glad you appreciate it and find it useful.


  • […] Why Do We Ever Stop Eating? Series: (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) […]

  • […] love this article that examines the trend to liken Food Villain X to a DRUG!!!! Why Do We Ever Stop Eating? Taste, Reward, and Hyperpalatability (Why Are We Hungry? Part VII) &… My Journal: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/forum/thread57916.html When I let go of what I am, I […]

  • Christopher G.

    Every time I reread one of your articles it seems that I learn something new. I appreciate all the hard work and long hours it must take to research and write them. I read a lot of paleo blogs and I’ve learned a lot from most of them, but your articles are among the few that I find worthwhile to reread again and again.

    I can’t wait for the next one. Keep up the good work.

  • Christopher:

    Thank you for noticing!  I'm glad you find my work useful and informative.

    Though I have several other projects, I'll continue writing articles here as time permits…and I have no shortage of subjects to write about.


  • […] To answer this question in more detail, I present a snippet from my 30-Day Challenge food diary.  For the illustrated, hashtag-foodporn version of my diet, you can follow me on Instagram!  Notice that I don’t record any amounts or portion sizes? I eat until I’m full. No calorie counting, weighing or measuring — a welcome change after years of dieting.  It’s hard to overeat real food – the fibre, protein, fat and water content fill you up, and the lack of hyper-palatable, artificial foods means there’s nothing messing with your brain’s reward system. […]

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