Food Reward and Low Carb Substitutes

Over on his blog, Stephan Guyenet has been unveiling his theories on food reward, setpoint and weight regulation.   I'm not sure I'm really getting how the food reward itself - or lack thereof - re-sets one's adipostat, but that's neither here nor there.  

This is going to be a rather short post from me.  GRIN ;-)

Observations on long term low carb aficionados.  Many:
  • Lose a little or no weight at all - remaining obese or overweight
  • Lose significant weight but plateau out at a weight that is still obese or overweight 
  • Struggle to maintain weight loss and regain despite adherence to the low carb WOE
What do these have in common?  Well, it seems that almost any significantly overweight person who switches to, say, Atkins, and commits to extreme food restriction will lose weight.  It seems to work.  LC'ers mock the "LC foods are boring" angle on this.  Perhaps there's more to it than this reflexive response.

There are tons of LC equivalents to SAD foods that many find highly acceptable.  Perhaps even develop  taste for over the formerly rewarding food.  Boom.  A short list:
  • Taco shells made with cheese
  • Baked goodies made with coconut and almond flours
  • Mashed cauliflower
  • Spaghetti squash lasagnas
  • Pizza's on a pepperoni crust or on LC bread crust
  • Recipes galore mimicking favorite or highly palatable foods:  The Eades and Stella highlight many low carb "comfort food" recipes, White Castle Pie, this sort of thing.
  • Cheesecake
  • High cocoa dark chocolate
In the end, those who just replace the probable cause of their prior overeating with low carb alternatives seem to have lesser overall longterm success.  I think when someone can say:  "I served this dish at a regular party and everyone loved it and nobody believed it was low carb" ... it spells trouble.


Anonymous said…
>>Observations on long term low carb aficionados. Many: Lose little or....the low carb WOE<<

Other than Gary Taubes being wrong, any theories why this happens? I'm #2: Lost 25# and now seem to have plateaued 10# short of where I think I should be.
Anonymous said…
I'm a long term low carb eater, if 2 years is 'long term'. Went through a pregnancy and am currently nursing. Weigh less than I did pre-pregnancy, though with a definite shift to abdominal fat. Husband and I tried a few LC substitutes early on, but pretty much just decided it was silly and so we stopped.

However, as my own blog notes, carbs are still pretty important and I don't eat zero-carb as a rule. I just find eating 300+ g of carbs a day makes me pretty ill and always has since I was a teen. But I thought then that I had a 'weird' food digestion issue and that something was wrong with my body. So "low carb" paleoish eating really appeals to me since it says I don't have to stuff myself sick with carbs to be fit and healthy. I can eat what I naturally desire to satiety (meat and vegetables and some fruit) and feel good and stay physically strong.

As a woman who barely has a sweet tooth, and that only after experiencing the massive calorie demands of early nursing, any evidence that relatively few carbs are ok long term is very appealing because wow, it would suck if i had to go back to crippling stomach pains and nausea to not die at 45 from diet-related disease.
Anonymous said…
PS: I also don't supplement except occasionally a prenatal multivitamin and vitamin D (fish oil). I live where getting the D via sunshine is not feasible, so I get what I can when the sun appears, but supplement to keep my levels up.
I was completely skeptical about "taste" affecting weight control. I listened to the Stephan Guyenet podcast on Health Skeptic. I started reading the Seth Roberts experiments. I think I am starting to understand now.

However, it still bothers me that people go back to their previous weight if they stop consuming the Shangri La recommended unflavored calories. It seems to me that the "cure" is going to require a diet modification with heavy emphasis on the taste of food (perhaps like Stephan is eating).

Which of these diets is a person most likely to overeat:

1. All you can eat pizza with unlimited soft drinks and salad?

2. All you can eat steamed white rice served in a bowl of water with unlimited sucrose and unflavored oil?

Obesity from highly palatable food is not such a crazy idea...
Seems like every diet I've adjusted to, the foods eventually become palatable. Now I'm even trying a monotonous diet of protein powder and the food reward is there. Tastes like a milkshake especially with added erythritol and if the brand is IsoPure (Zero). With the increased palatability, I'm sure it's possible to gain weight, but it's a whole lot harder on protein powder than if you were eating straight junk food.
Anonymous said…
I think that if the only thing I could eat, at any time was pizza, unlimited diet soda, and salad (without dressing), I'd probably lose weight. That is, if that was the only thing I could eat, and this was a diet for every day, the rest of my life.

Monotony in food choice, if it's a steady diet of even a highly palatable food, but only that food, will eventually mean eating less of that food. Tired of that pizza? Here, have it with some mixed salad greens. Now, have it cold. Now, have it hot. Now, have it shredded and sprinkled on mixed salad greens. Now, have it - hmmm. Is there another way to have it? We're talking about your standard tomato, cheese and oil pizza, right? I've run out of options....
Sue said…
A lot of the LC subs are loaded with calories. Cant remember who it was now but she was making a big deal about the fact that she finally perfected a LC pizza that wasn't so fat and calorie dense. I think I'd rather have the real thing occasionally.
Jay said…
@Human Doing
I would suggest: stick with what works for you.
Also, read around the blogs, check out
Perfect Health Diet
Free the Animal
and Archevore
CarbSane said…
@rkoffler: I have a few theories. One being that "eat when hungry, stop when full" when someone's appetite/eating is so out of whack to begin with (it has to be or we wouldn't have gotten obese to begin with) we still eat too much. I also think that in doing so, it will take you to a comfortable weight for your body but not a lean weight.

I don't think there will ever be a study to show this, extended VLC seems to tank metabolisms. This makes sense to me since all of the enzymes/hormones/processes that are upregulated in starvation are upregulated with VLC and vice versa. Only you're not starving because you're still eating lots of fat. So your body is trying to conserve energy while you keep supplying it with enough.

Advice in the LC webosphere is horrible, frankly. Because - since you mentioned him - GT has convinced so many that calories don't count and fat has no impact on body weight, folks are told to eat more fat and calories as one means to break a stall. There was a reason Atkins' Fat Fast was calorie restricted! And the unfortunate KimKins fiasco made anything lower in fat taboo. There are a few prolific bloggers and commenters about the web boasting eating 3000 cals/day and everyone thinks that's what they should be able to eat and lose weight because their insulin should be low and fat fly out the door.

There's something telling about hearing: "I'm never hungry on LC" ... back to that first one then ;-)

Lastly, this post and <a href="" embody Dana's problem if you ask me.
CarbSane said…
Yup Sue! And they're listed right there in the recipe books per serving and often low carbers will eat two servings of something that only has 5g carb per thinking "well, that's only 10g" and not thinking that 700 calories might be just a bit much!
CarbSane said…
@Charles: This bland thing all makes sense but I don't think I can limit myself to bland foods. Hubby wouldn't go for that and if that means I'm this weight for the rest of my life so be it!

But ... I think I'm going to switch to black coffee. This may be a twofer: I'll probably drink less (my 2 large mugs is like 8 "cups" LOL) coffee and drop maybe 100 cal/day of cream
CarbSane said…
@euler: Well, while I did sort of limit the number of cookies, I once went on a Christmas cookie diet and lost weight. I wasn't hungry limiting myself eating only cookies.

I've been toying with the idea of doing a rotating diet of just XYZ for a week at a time.
CarbSane said…
@blue: That's NOT encouraging! But I do see lots of evidence for this to be true in those who relish eating low carb.
CarbSane said…
@Human Doing: I would second Perfect Health Diet rec. I don't believe anyone is intolerant to carbohydrates, it's the proteins in some sources of carbs that are the problem. Eat what makes YOU feel good.
CarbSane said…
Oh, and Sue, I remember that one. It was over at Mark's Daily Apple for a recipe contest. Shredded eggplant based if memory serves. Umm, I'll eat the real thing once in a blue moon before I go through all sorts of trouble to make an eggplant "crust".
Anonymous said…
I am already pretty on-board with Mr. Harris' 'paleo 2.0' thing, but I haven't really looked at the Perfect Health Diet. Will give it a look sometime. In the meantime I am kicking back with some raw A2 milk and coffee.
Anonymous said…
Huh. I am 'Human Doing'. OpenID sucks!
CarbSane said…
@rkoffler: While composing my HAES post I was reminded of another reason that, unfortunately, violates your "GT is wrong" restriction. Yet I have to make this point. I think his misinformation keeps far too many from addressing the issues that *could* get them truly lean, etc. I've recently communicated with a 3 year low carber who lost/regained a little bit of weight in that time. This person switched to ELMM and voila ... has slowly but surely lost almost 20 lbs. Back before he "left" the LC community, he had contacted me to see if I knew of any online community similar to some of the LC forums for support. I know of none.

I think for too many of the "professional" folks LC has become so much a part of their identity/livelihood they cannot objectively see that it's not really working for them. For us non-professionals, I can attest that it is very easy to get sucked in to the comraderie and "us against the world" feeling that appeals to all of our inner rebels. It is difficult to change course.

GT had a message folks like to hear - I didn't eat too much or sit on my arse too much to get this way - and the usually significant short term success sucks you in. Once you've "bought in" a la Mark Sisson, it's hard to leave the cult.
Sorry, I definitely wasn't trying to be DIS-couraging there. I was only sharing what I'm doing since I figured maybe other dieters could benefit from my experience. btw, I'm not really doing LC right since following Stephan's latest readings. Not that I believe everything the guy says, but enough of it makes sense for me to try doing LF and see if changing things up makes weight maintenance easier.
Mirrorball said…
CarbSane: "GT had a message folks like to hear - I didn't eat too much or sit on my arse too much to get this way[...]"

And that the government's anti-dietary-fat policy is at fault for making us fat. As if we had all got fat by eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables (though I agree that simple-minded low-fat advice is harmful). Stephan Guyenet has been taking some flak for suggesting behaviour plays a role in obesity, it's not just purely hormonal. People are really eager to lay the blame on somebody else. I, for one, don't care who is to blame. I'm sure Mark Sisson and Dean Ornish and Ancel Keys were all doing what they thought best.