Lessons from my cat ...

I was feeding my low carb house carnivore this morning and a couple of things occurred to me in light of the discussions on what causes obesity.  Many of these theories are based on the knowledge of a presence of an energy homeostasis mechanism and how something goes awry with this.  

My kitty eats about 1.5 cans of food per day.   I put his food out a full can at a time and when the plate is empty I put out another can.  Therefore there's really no fixed time when a fresh can gets put out and sometimes he has to wait.  This morning was one such time as he was low on food last night before I went to bed, but since I want him to finish the old stuff I won't put out a fresh can.  So this morning he greeted me meowing at the plate and as soon as I put the food he went to town.  I'd say he ate about a third of the can and walked away.   He knows where the food is and that it will be there all day, but he probably won't go back for more until noonish.

Now this cat loves to follow me around the house for following's sake and when I go to the kitchen I pretty much can't help but glance to check his food status.  Many times I'll see the empty plate and put out a new can and he walks right on by it following me back to where ever I'm going.  Bottom line, this cat eats when hungry, stops when full ... on his own schedule for the most part.  I've seen him eat at all times of the day or night.  There's no schedule.

I guess what struck me is that humans are the only animal that have scheduled meals.  As children, we are encouraged to eat when food is put in front of us whether we're hungry or not.  But not my cat.  And yet I can override this with him in the form of lobster, the only people food he likes.  I guess this is very high food reward for him ;-) because he will eat a LOT of it.  (I guess he also has bad food memories b/c he almost died as a kitten and the vet had me feeding him pureed chicken with a syringe ... no chicken foods for this cat!)  His hunger can also be overridden with one or two treats, but we don't bother with those much anymore.  

In the Western world we are accustomed to eating three meals a day (and snacks even).  We are also accustomed to eating a variety on a plate whether at home or in a restaurant.  We can argue over how the "MyPlate" thing should look, but rarely do we eat a single food at a meal.  Many of our foods come portioned.  Be it a can of tuna (which is now only 5 oz folks!) or sliced bread.  Even unpackaged foods, especially in whole form, come in "servings" and this depends on if you're making food for yourself vs. a family.  Who makes half a potato?  Who eats half an apple (well, me, b/c hubby and I share one)?  Or a 2.5 egg omelette?  Most of us do not like to waste uneaten food.  Yet there's always that fine line with what amount of left-overs is worth packaging up, etc. ... so you eat it even though you're satisfied and doing so will make you feel over-full.

There is no denying that portion sizes in restaurants have increased in the US.  And even eating at home I think the basic dinner plates are larger.  My Mom gifted me the melamine dish set we used to use on summer camping trips and I've used it for bbq's for nostalgia.  Gosh those plates are small!  Juice glasses are teeny and an 8 oz cup is really small.  We're so used to (and I'm guilty here) huge mugs for coffee and giant cups and cans for drinks.  

I think from the time we become aware of our size and shape relative to others and make the connection with how much we eat, many of us humans already start to make some conscious effort to monitor intake.  Perhaps that's all it takes in the wrong way to muck things up!  It does not seem to take much to override a set point except in those genetically predisposed to having trouble gaining mass or putting fat on.  Passive overeating is easy in a world filled with cheap, palatable, energy dense foods served up in big portions.  Heck, a small burger and small fry does satisfy me at Wendy's but whenever I eat that in the restaurant (this is a rare thing) I look around and I almost feel deprived just because there's so much food on everyone else's tray!

Personally, I am not all that interested in why those folks don't get fat or return to their slender selves after participating in overfeeding studies.  I'm also a bit fickle with my interest in the more academic discussions on the causes of obesity based on homeostasis gone awry.  My cat was fat when we fed him ad libitum dry food.  Even though our brand was a fairly high quality food containing meat or fish as the first ingredient, this is not a natural diet for a carnivore.  He's naturally returned to a leaner animal since we've switched to wet food.  Unfortunately there's still some grain in the flavors, but we try to work plain tuna from Trader Joes and 9 lives into his rotation.  There is another lesson from my cat:  Eat foods that the human body is designed to eat and homeostasis can be at least swung back to normal.  But in our modern environment it seems more rare than common that once altered, one's adipostat will be reset to normal.  What I ultimately take away from the academic discussions are strategies for maximizing the potential that diet composition alone can hit the reset button.  So reduce food reward, and/or eliminate food groups, and/or eat only whole foods ... stuff like that.  And if we want to halt this obesity epidemic we have to start by feeding our kids real whole foods at home so that they are only eating CAF diet 10% of the time.  There's nothing wrong with ice cream or french fries for a treat.  

In the end, it is of little value to try to find some unifying hypothesis as to why you have obesity in certain isolated cultures, however the energy balance equation without Taubes' strawman caveat (that those who believe in CICO think the terms are independent, they are not ... nor do we believe they are constant throughout life, they are not) can explain obesity in every case.  Whether it is genetic defect that causes voracious appetite, or periods of starvation that cause a depressed metabolic rate, or spending 6 hours a day sitting at a desk to pay the bills.  And the obese need to eat less to reverse the condition.  Doing and sustaining that is difficult but not impossible.

And in the realities of modern life, most of us, virtually all of us who have struggled with overweight/obesity, must make conscious efforts to maintain a normal weight.  Does that mean becoming a bean counter?  I contend not, but that may well be necessary for some.  I wish some of those bloggers who effortlessly maintain their never obese ectomorph physiques would stop mocking those of us for whom this is the reality.     You know who you are, and I know you're reading this.  I doubt there's an obese person reading this who would not acknowledge in their quiet moments that they got that way by overeating.  Passive overeating can be avoided with prudent food choices or continued by continuing to make the same poor ones.  The obesity epidemic is easily explained by a failure of people to exercise portion control when you can "supersize it" for 25 cents more.  Call it a warped sense of what a normal portion is supposed to be and all these drinks have got to go!!

One last semi-related thought.  The metabolic state associated with obesity is a state that contributes to various diseases.   And the saying goes the stuff that makes us fat is the same stuff that makes us sick.  I tend to agree with that, only quibble over what the stuff is and with the qualifier that quantity/frequency definitely matters here.  But just because that may be true does not make the opposite true:  e.g. the stuff that makes us sick does not necessarily make us fat.  Indeed I don't see much evidence in support of this hypothesis.  And disease, infectious or otherwise, is associated with weight loss and even emaciation at least as often if not more often than weight gain.  This is what the study of all of these various cultures and the diets of our not even long ago ancestors (e.g. my parents and grandparents) through to traditional pre-industrial diets of our ethnic lineages can inform us on -- identifying what it is we're eating now or not eating now that is making us sicker.  It is more important to be healthy than some ideal weight/size.  Indeed this seems to be the tact that many prominent LC'ers are taking because they remain overweight but have often experienced relief from GERD, or IBS and such.  So we may be sicker because of transfats (I'm picking a universally non-controversial culprit there) but I do not believe we're fatter because of them.  French fries can be fattening fried in lard, tallow or veggie oil.  I contend moreso for that middle fat, that's what the infamous yummiest McD's fries were fried in!  People don't eat more McD's fries b/c of an omega 6 addiction that perturbs their metabolic homeostasis and throws their hypothalamus out of whack.  No ... we buy more b/c of the value or because our eyes are bigger than our appetites, and we tend to finish what we've purchased.   And nothing is more ridiculous and harmful in my view than this continued insistence in low carb circles of calling a 1500 calorie diet for a woman "starvation".   Please STOP!!!


Duffy Pratt said…
I've got more experience with dogs than cats. Many free fed dogs get fat. Some don't. I don't have any explanation for why some do and others don't, but it's definitely the case.

I've seen some really fat kitties too, but all the cats I've ever had seemed to manage their own weight without any problem. (Maybe the difference is that cats are meat eaters while dogs are omnivores? :) )

I'm not sure you are right about people being the only animals that feed according to a schedule. I'd have to do some looking, but I'm pretty sure that there are some other animals who have general feeding times. That's a quibble, but it would be kind of cool to know.

I especially liked your point that "the stuff that makes you fat also makes you sick" does not imply the converse. I've got many skinny friends who also have high triglycerides, or cholesterol problems, or acid reflux, or diabetes.

I don't eat fast food anymore, but I remember the tallow fried french fry at McDonalds. I also remember when TAB tasted better than Coke. Bad science and public hysteria got rid of both of them. That's part of the reason that I'm extremely skeptical of any of the food recommendations that come from loose media readings of scientific studies.
One of the things I stopped doing and ended up losing more is not have scheduled eating. I eat when I'm hungry. If it's as soon as I get up, I eat. If it's 5 or 8 hours after I get up, I eat. BUT, prior to this when I did that, I ate to incredible overstuffedness. I did not get the full signals until way past the point of full.

Now, I drink 3 glasses of water before I eat. This way I get full sooner. I feel the pangs of stomach stretching. This is pretty much the best technique for me: water lap band, as it were.

I have had meals without the water, and I will eat more, but not like in the past (huge, crazy amounts). So, the non-water related signalling mechanism is better. Is that leptin? Whatever, it's improved.

For me, the 3 meals and 2 snacks or 6 mini meals doesn't work. The more meals I think about planning, preparing, having--the more my brain obesses on food. IF I just wait until I'm hungry, then I eat what I want within my eatable foods (allowable) and I finish with an allowable treat (fruit, sugar free chocolate, low carb gluten free cookie, etc).

I find 2 meals a day works well for me, occasionally with a 3rd snack-type meal if I'm hungry again. But schedule them? No. My last meal might be at 8pm or 10 pm or midnight. And it's a toss-up when the first one will be. ; )

I know not everyone has that luxury. Work and tight schedules means one must schedule. BUT....if one is that busy, then why is there time to overeat to begin with? I gained weight most when I was NOT too busy to eat.

On fries: My mom's lard fries were tastier than the Corn Oil ones she began making in the seventies. Yeah, animal fat is tasty.
CarbSane said…
@Duffy: It could be that the fact dogs are omnivores has something to do with it. We humans are more like them and rats than cats ;)

There's a lesson there too, however ... merely the free availability of food and lack of effort to procure it can make a dog fat.

And there's another lesson from my cat I forgot to mention: He is thinner now but far from lean. IOW reverting him to a more natural diet for a carnivore did not resolve the problem completely. I suppose if I wanted to I could put just one can a day out and listen to him meow and paw at me while I'm trying to sleep ... but I'd rather we enjoy life ;)
bentleyj74 said…
"And in the realities of modern life, most of us, virtually all of us who have struggled with overweight/obesity, must make conscious efforts to maintain a normal weight. Does that mean becoming a bean counter? I contend not, but that may well be necessary for some. I wish some of those bloggers who effortlessly maintain their never obese ectomorph physiques would stop mocking those of us for whom this is the reality. You know who you are, and I know you're reading this. I doubt there's an obese person reading this who would not acknowledge in their quiet moments that they got that way by overeating."

I'm going to play connect the dots with speculation here for a minute based only on my own experiences and observations.

I was one of those people you are talking about and spent the bulk of my life staring directly up at the middle finger of any person who fought with their weight at all. Size 0 [used to be 6 before stupid vanity sizing] check, ballerina...check, overeats at fast food joints like everyone else....check.

The more I look at this the more I see "obesogenic environment" being a [the?] primary factor. People looked at what I did that was like them and said "no fair"...they did not count the things that were unlike them or consider how small the similarities were in total percentage to the bigger picture.

Frankly neither did I until I experienced the other end of the spectrum first hand.
Sanjeev said…
One of the things Martin Berkhan repeats is that scheduled eating entrains at least one hunger control hormone, ghrelin.

I think there are no human studies yet ... an apparently decent mouse study recently found (this is from memory) that changing a schedule and maintaining the new schedule reset the stomach's ghrelin release to just prior to the new feeding start time.

This is part of the new anti-grazing argument/zeitgeist - another part is that lots of folks who did the constant eating thing, or the eat every 2 hours rigmarole reported eventually being constantly hungry. Yet another part is that the earlier research showing that many meals increase net long term thermogenesis (above equal calories in few meals) has been debunked.

for a general discussion click here or manually → http://www.leangains.com/2011/06/is-late-night-eating-better-for-fat.html

I'm personally wondering what happens if one does intermittent fasting but starting right at awakening. I suspect that since executive function declines closer to bed time, most intermittent fasters would not be able to IF at all ... they would regularly break down and chow down on the Ben & Jerry's.

>> Now, I drink 3 glasses of water before I eat. This way I get full sooner. I feel the pangs of stomach stretching. This is pretty much the best technique for me: water lap band, as it were.

I never found plain water effective at all. The near zero calorie shiritake noodles, now THOSE are effective. Also spinach and orange peel smoothies.
Sanjeev said…
what will the low carb Borg Collective's spin be on Stephan?

What will Jimmy of 9 say?
FRED of 12?

my guess: he's developing a schtick (the hairdo's part of it)

Also interesting to see how others (I think y'all can guess one in particular) who embrace the tools of the pseudo-scientist (misusing thermo like "The Secret" abused quantum) are aligning with Stephan, and wanting to "go to the next step" ... when a basic skeptical mindset/toolset demands they be debunked[0] as strongly as Taubes

[0] already have been, here, to an extent ...
bentleyj74 said…
In any case it's almost certain they'll not be rockin' that unitard like Jeri Ryan [but I want pics if they try].
CarbSane said…
LOL bentley & Sanjeev!
Diana said…
Well, they don't call 'em eating habits for nothing. And unlike cats, we have minds. A lot of our food issues are truly imaginary. I don't think that a cat develops body dysmorphism, or obsessions with certain foods....

So far (knock wood) my desire to binge is practically non-existent. I think I will always have these desires to some degree, but they are much less than before. And who knows perhaps it will be like smoking: I never want a cigarette nowadays.

I'm happier with smaller portions. I'm more energetic on less calories. (I think Taubes would say it is because I can marshall "fatty acids" more readily than when I was fat - is this true?). And it's just plain more fun to hike when I am not hauling bulk around. I took a hike yesterday and the feeling of hiking at 141 (23% bodyfat) is very different from hiking at 155 (26% bodyfat).

I am motivated to continue losing weight to feel what it's like to hike at 130. Motivation is part of the imagination process.
Diana said…
@bentley, were you an actual professional ballet dancer? I live in a neighborhood where I see them all the time and they fascinate me. I see members of New York City Ballet and Ballet Theater during their NY seasons. I shop right next to Steps almost every day.

One thing I do know is that the female dancers mostly do have to watch their food intake, although it isn't true that all of them have eating disorders a la Black Swan.

This is kind of depressing, because you would think that with all that exercise they would not have to watch it but they do.

(Sorry for the unscientific gossip but there is a dancer named Wendy Whelan who was thought to have an eating disorder because she is thin even by dance standards. I have seen her many times on the street and she is one of the most energetic bouncy people I've ever encountered. In fact while I was an LCer I used to use her example of the skinny person with fatty acids circulating in her bloodstream, something I picked up from Taubes and Naughton...)

On the other hand the girls do have to maintain an extremely low body fat %-age. Perhaps if they ate more and did the same exercise, they'd be a little fatter but still very thin.
Rad Warrier said…
Speaking of ballet dancers, I have seen them only from afar, as on TV or if live, on a stage far away from where I sit. But I closely interact with my yoga teacher. She is extremely thin but seems to possess an infinite source of energy - she is always bubbly, bouncing, smiling and seemingly at peace with herself. She never never advises us on diet; hardly speaks about food. But speaks volumes on controlling the mind, stopping thoughts, being tranquil, and attaining peace of mind. Perhaps, if you can control your mind you need not worry about diets :-)

Best regards,
Sanjeev said…
Rad Warrier said...

Speaking of ballet dancers,
OK, but only because you insist:

tell me where they are & gimme some pickup lines that work.
Diana said…
I don't know of any that do work, but here is one that doesn't, "So how many times a day do you throw up?"
Sanjeev said…
> here is one that doesn't,

NOW you tell me (slaps head)
bentleyj74 said…
@bentley, were you an actual professional ballet dancer?

Not a chance, strictly amatuer.

"tell me where they are & gimme some pickup lines that work."

Good luck with that!

"One thing I do know is that the female dancers mostly do have to watch their food intake, although it isn't true that all of them have eating disorders a la Black Swan.

This is kind of depressing, because you would think that with all that exercise they would not have to watch it but they do."

I've never seen that movie and likely never will but dancers are not a unique cross section of the population. Athletes for sure but not unique.

I was hoping to get more into that obesogenic environment notion that's percolating in the back of my psyche but I haven't quite finished articulating.
Our free-fed cat stayed slim her entire life, but she was also active and wasn't particularly a chow-hound. She was an only cat for most of her life, too so maybe she didn't feel the need to eat it all NOW lest she not get any later. She was one of the few cats I've ever known, though, who would not over-eat.

On a side note: I used to work for a veterinarian and we always liked to see cats on wet food, both for their weight and for the increased liquid intake, which is better for their health overall since many cats tend not to drink enough water.

For myself, I err on the side of smaller portions. If a box says 2.5 servings, I eat it as three. It annoys me to no end that packages are even allowed to list partial servings, knowing full well that nobody eats them as such, but until that changes, I keep reading serving sizes.
Tonus said…
Human beings are constantly seeking to organize our lives. Setting a specific eating schedule is just part of that, it seems to me.

My problem with weight doesn't come from eating when I'm hungry, as much as it comes from eating when I'm bored or when I'm involved in an activity that doesn't require much... activity. Scheduling my meals helps a lot with avoiding the numerous times during the day when I'd grab a snack because I wanted to eat something, not because I was hungry.

(It's important to note that in my case, eating less sugar and more fat (or fatty foods) can decrease those snack breaks, but does not eliminate them without conscious effort. That is to say, a diet lower in carbs and higher in fat would allow me to lose weight, but not enough to lose all (or maybe even most) of my excess body fat. If I'd jumped on the LC or VLC bandwagon, I strongly suspect I'd be one of those people who, after a short but notable drop in weight, would hit that frustrating wall with 40-60 lbs to go towards my goal.)
Diana said…
Sanjeev, there's always tomorrow.
Debbie Cusick said…
I'd like to choose which cat I take my lessons from. I have three free-fed cats. Two are sleek and very lean, and the third is built like a volleyball with four legs attached. She's not the one I want to take lessons from!