Posts Tagged ‘appetite’

Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?

Over the past few days, I’ve been busy working on a paleo archiving project.  I’m really excited about it.  The one post I have posted below, I think, is just the beginning, and I have about a billion tabs open on my computer, trying to organize everything.  Because this has taken up so much time, I haven’t been thinking much about disordered eating.  But it’s kind of a nice break.  Food and negativity on the mind is food and negativity on the mind, no matter which way you’re looking at it.

In any case, in my archiving I came across this post by Paul over at Perfect Health Diet.  I’m amazed that I missed it before because I read his blog religiously.  In the post, Paul asks a question I had always wondered about: “Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?” and he provides an answer I had never thought of before.

What if, says Paul, our taste for sweetness was “hijacked” by fruit?  What if our original taste for sweetness was much more subtle?

Paul proposes here that we evolved a taste for sweetness because red meat is the sweetest of any animal.  Other hypotheses are that a) we need fruit for a variety of reasons, particularly vitamin C, b) that we need glucose and therefore evolved craving carbohydrate in general, or c) that benefit from a bit of fruit and a bit of starch in our diets, but fruits were so scarce and “tart” back then that their actual contribution to human health was negligible.  I believe that I’ve heard a refutation to this last point recently, but I can’t remember where.   Paul’s own refutation of them all is as follows:

“But what of the sweet taste? Is it really a sensor for carbohydrates? If so it does a rather poor job. The healthiest carbohydrate source – starch, which is fructose-free – hardly activates this taste, while fructose, a toxin, activates it in spades. If this taste evolved to be a carbohydrate sensor, it should have made us aversive to the carbohydrates it detects, as the bitter taste makes us avoid toxins. But sweet tastes are attractive!”

Right.  So he then discusses how red meat is the sweetest meat (read the post!  there is a lot more science going on than I am addressing), and proposes that we crave this sweetness more when we have nutrient deficiencies.  Fascinating, right?

The implication of this for binge eaters, which Paul points out in his post, is that a part of our craving for sweets may be nutritionally derived.  As such, binge eaters have a stronger than average inclination to binge because their bodies need something only available, or at least most abundantly available, in meat.  This idea relies on the theory that cravings are driven by nutrient needs.  Unfortunately, the jury is definitely out here.   Dr. Briffa thinks this occurrence is rare, and this organization and this review paper think is false. On the flip side, Pica, a condition marked by cravings for inanimate objects such as sand or dirt, is very often (but not always) hypothesized to be caused by nutrient deficiencies.  As such, it supports, in the extreme spectrum, Paul’s theory.

Since so much of the science lacks consensus in this issue, I don’t have a set opinion.  It makes sense to me, that we would crave meat if it’s the best source of nutrition.  Paul’s reasoning is solid, too. But I also know that many intelligent people, including Paul, think that we need a hundred grams or so of glucose each day.    Should that include fruit?  Who knows.

Finally,  I look to my experiences.  I know that I have rectified some nutrient deficiencies since going paleo.  My thyroid is working a bit better, my skin is nicer and my hair no longer comes out in strands as thick as a mongoose.  These changes are positively correlated with my cravings.  Those have decreased without question.  But how do I suss out the reasons?  Is it nutrient deficiencies?  A lack of blood sugar fluctuation?  The elimination from fructose in my diet, which helps stabilize leptin levels?  Or is it psychological?  Habitual?  Have I finally, after all this time, just kicked the bucket on sweets?

Yes, I think, and no.  The fact that I can binge on non-sweet foods says No.   I’ve put away entire chickens before without blinking an eye.   Many of my readers can do this, too.   As can rats.   Yet Paul again has a rebuttal lined up.  He asserts that people reach for sweets because they are denied their first, true, and most important craving: fat.  Interesting.  It’s an idea I wouldn’t  elbow people to get in the front of the line to sign up for, but I can also totally see it being the case.  If anyone was fucked by conventional nutrition, it was me.  Did you know I ate almost no fat for three years?

That said, I don’t think this fat-deprivation entirely drove my bingeing behavior.  There were a lot of factors as play, worst of which, I think, was my fructose consumption.  Yet weight loss, frustration, stress, body image, and lack of fat and protein leading to an inherently unsatisfying diet were also big components.  Meat-as-craving-for-sweetness is a fascinating theory.  It has definite potential as a component of disordered eating.  But there are millions of things going on in my body and in my brain at any given time, and I think many other disordered eaters would agree.  What comes first?  What follows?  What triggers the worst binges?  What is the most effective bingeing salve?   It’s all very complicated stuff.  In any case, we should address the physiological as soon as and as diligently as possible.  We should eat animals, stop eating fruit, and make sure we get as much fat and protein as we need.   We should consider supplementation if we’ve really been beating up our bodies.  And we should stop doing chronic cardio and do our best to sleep at night.  We can, then, at the same time, start chipping away at the psychological factors.  The hope is then that, as we move forward with both psychological and physiological healing, we can recover as smoothly and quickly as possible.


05 2011

Feel deprived? Throw a hearty ‘fuck you’ at American culture

What the fuck.  I live in the most abundant age, and in the most abundant place, that this planet has ever known.  As mentioned before, there are more choices in my life than I could ever, ever possibly imagine.  And yet: I feel as though I don’t have enough.  I can’t eat enough.  I can’t consume enough.  I can’t do enough.  I can’t be enough.   What the fuck is going on?

Someone once pointed out to me that we were raised in a culture in which our grandparents and parents suffered deprivation.  I acknowledge this point.  My father, for example, is an extraordinarily frugal man because of the frugal and tenuously stable environment in which he grew up.  I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’m grateful for this experience.  But my father feels more secure and content than practically every person I know.  I think this “Great Depression” theory is a pretty poor explanation for my feelings of deprivation.  If I really were feeling the pains of that time period, or of the giant monetary burdens I am shouldering during this century’s own clusterfuck of an economy, I might, instead of feeling deprived, be overjoyed at the abundance of cheap choices available to me.  Indeed: it seems to me that those who lived through such frugal times do not quail at the abundance of our culture, but instead (I think) tend to happily proceed on minimal means and take advantage of whatever benefits come their way.

So, big deal.  People are deprived all over the world.  The problem really is is that we exist in a culture designed to make us want more.  Choices are abundant, and we live in a sea of variety, such that every time we make a choice, we end up regretting the choice we did not make.  I feel this pressure in a big way in deciding which graduate school to attend in the fall, and I feel this pressure in a more mundane way when choosing what foods to eat a buffet.  And since this problem is more mundane, it effects more of my daily life.  Still using the buffet for an example, I always try to get as much of it as possible, because if I don’t try every food then aren’t I being deprived of something I could otherwise have at minimal cost?   Think about the PIES for god’s sake.  Apple, blueberry, strawberry, mixed berry, pumpkin, banana cream, key lime, lemon meringue… jesus christ thank GOD I am paleo and I don’t have to make that kind of choice anymore.   Even worse, this tyranny of choice doesn’t just apply to my taste buds but to my sense of nutrition: if I choose to go for the seaweed because of its iodine content, I am instead missing out on the lycopene in the tomatoes!  Woe is me!  How can I ever be healthy?  How can I ever be satisfied?  How can I ever meet all the needs society is insisting I have?

Commercials, advertisements, companies, even schools, universities, and governments… they depend on us feeling deprived.  Its our deprivation that makes us consume their products and services.   Don’t have enough education?  The University of Phoenix is here for you!  Too fat?  Try my food!  Too ugly?  Try my eight billion dollar cosmetics industry!  Chasing progress (but not perfection) is all well and good, but American culture positively pounds it into us.  If you don’t have this new thing or that new fad or God knows what popular personality trait, then you’re just not cutting it.  You need to be perfect to find happiness, to find a lover, to be complete.  This sucks.  Idiots.

This is present in all aspects of our lives, and in all forms of consumption, but it is particularly striking in food culture.  What kills me the most is that…well, we have this abundance.   We have established that this can lead to unhealthy thought patterns.  Even worse, however, is that we are given feelings of inadequacy to go along with the deprivation. We see commercials and advertisements and friends with freakishly mutant genetics and start to develop a crazy idea: other people have what I want, but they don’t suffer negative consequences.  That woman on the TV can eat chocolates and not have fat thighs!  My friends can eat dairy without developing acne!  My brother can eat pounds of ice cream a day without nary a negative side effect!  Why am I so unique, and so deprived, and so incapable of having the same pleasures as everyone else?  We are simultaneously bombarded with signals that scream: “you need more products and variety!” and signals that scream: “these people are perfect, why aren’t you?” and it tears at our souls, it really does.

Our culture of abundance is structured to make us feel deprived, and it is these exact feelings that give us patterns of disordered and binge eating (not always, of  course, but often enough.)  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought, or had friends or clients share it with me: “I’m tired of eating what I’m supposed to eat.  I’m tired of eating when I’m supposed to eat.  I’m tired of following rules and having to watch myself so closely and censor all of my food choices.Honestly, I hate this more than anything.  I feel it intensely, and I acknowledge its power, but I still have a hard time getting over it.  Why can my roommate eat five times a day?  Why can she eat carbohydrates?  Why can’t I?  why can’t I?  Why can’t I?

This is because there is SO MUCH out there telling us to eat more, tempting us, telling us its possible to eat these awful things without having negative consequences, and making us feel like our dietary choices (re: a paleo diet with regular meals) is a deprivation diet.  Ugh.

What this says to me is that what we really need is psychological freedom.

We need to acknowledge that our feelings of deprivation are external in origin. And not only that, but they are deliberately instilled in us by consumer culture.   How dare they?  How dare we?  What the fuck are we doing to ourselves?  Is there a solution?

Well.  There are a few.  They’re not panaceas, but they do help, some.

First, acknowledging the power of this cultural machine is a big help.  Once you acknowledge what kind of sway food culture has over you–whether it’s by advertising, by the abundance of choice (like me at a Taiwanese buffet!), by friends who eat conventional diets and seem to do just fine, or by people who pressure you to partake in unhealthy foods–you can fight it.  You can see it coming and dodge.  You can hide.  You can use whatever strategies you have in your arsenal, from outright anger to, again, hiding from the media, to help alleviate the psychological pressures.  One way in which I’ve really helped myself feel better is by moving away from America.  Honest.  And I don’t watch TV.  So I am no longer ever confronted with images of beautiful, leggy, clear-skinned, elegant women all over advertisements.  I don’t spend time wishing I were them.  Another way you can do this is to make a point of never, ever watching commercials.  Every time they come on the TV, put it on mute and open up a book.  Or stop perusing those horrific Self or Cosmo or Shape magazines.   Pay attention to what they’re saying to you: the message is always “indulge, indulge, indulge,” because they already know, and are trying to cultivate, your feelings of guilt and deprivation.  They’re not helping you, no matter how much they insist this is true.  Instead, they are deliberately crafting their self help magazines to make you keep needing their help.  Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it all.

Another solution, though not an easy one, is to turn it around.  Instead of feeling deprived because you can’t partake in this food culture, feel sorry for everyone involved in it.  Your diet is right and your lifestyle is awesome and it’s actually (really, it is) quite sad that they don’t have a truly healthful, fulfilling diet.  If you’d like, permit yourself to partake in this culture occasionally.  Writing yourself off from it entirely might make you feel even more deprived, and you don’t want it to have this kind of power over you.  Philosophies of asceticism are abstaining are dumb (*usually).  Life is short.  Instead, be the ruler of your own mind and your own body, and exist above popular ideas and consumer culture.  Come down and mingle with it from time to time, show it who’s boss, and then head on back up to your lofty spot of awesome health.  You are in control of your health and your diet (or at least most of the time!) and that is a completely badass, empowering fact.  Every day you choose to follow the paleo lifestyle (or a similarly good one) because it is right and it feels right and it’s so good for your body.  Fuck cookies!  They taste good but they destroy your liver.  You don’t need that shit.   Your diet is not just tasty but is awesome for you, and I feel sorry for all the idiots out there who are deliberately ignorant of these facts.

Finally, I know that this is easier said than done.  But I really, strongly believe that feelings of deprivation are huge components of disordered eating.  They make us crave fulfillment and indulgence and immediate pleasure, and food can give us that.  Especially when the exact thing we feel deprived of is, in fact, food.   Try not to view your healthy diet and your progress away from bingeing or grazing behaviors not as a step into deprivation but a step forward into the light of psychological freedom.  Without food on the mind, and without that desperate wishing and need so common to disordered eaters, we are free to feel all sorts of new positive emotions.  This is perhaps the most wonderful and empowering fact of paleo dieting.  It is a long and a hard road, sometimes, but increasing our awareness of what’s hampering that progress does nothing but compel us forward.

And, like I’ve said perhaps a million times, though a million is surely never enough: progress is the true goal.

Columbus (the idiot occasionally had one or two eloquent thoughts) once wrote:

“Following the light of the sun, we left the old world.”


Leave the ugliness of consumer culture behind.  Transcend its call, and rise to a life of progress and holistic health.  You’ve got the tools.  All you need is a bit of attitude, a confident swagger, and a eye on continually building your self-love and progress.

And Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Rats binge on pure fat, but escape with sanity in tact

Since there’s very little human data out there, I’ve been doing a bit of digging on differences in bingeing behavior between carbohydrate- and fat- fed rats.  What I’ve managed to unearth is fairly striking.  Rats appear eager to binge on any kind of diet, but this frightening fact is offset by the fact that only high carbohydrate diets induce addiction-like symptoms.

Rats are made binge eaters by offering them highly palatable foods for only short periods of time (approximately two hours) throughout the day.  Regular lab chow is available for consumption the rest of the time.   What we find is that rats binge on three kinds of foods: high sugar chow, high fat (vegetable oil) chow, or a combination of both sugar and fat in the chow.  Rats that binge solely on sugar or solely on fat manage to maintain average body composition.  Here, rats self-restrict and normalize after their bingeing periods, simply by eating less of the normal chow. However, rats with daily access to a sweet-fat mixture gain weight.  This is what we witness with human beings.  It lines up with our knowledge of insulin release and fat storage.  Combining sugar and fat is the most insidious obesity-inducer of all.


High sugar rats:

Rats are made sugar addicts by being provided with laboratory chow 100 percent of the time, but for a short period of time, approximately 2-4 hours, provided access to sucrose solutions.  When that sucrose window is removed from the rats’ daily routine, they demonstrate symptoms of opiate withdrawal.  These include horrific behaviors such as paw tremor and violent head shaking.   What worse, their symptoms and their frantic lever-pressing increases the longer they’ve gone without sugar.   They also, when forced to abstain from sugar, demonstrate a 9 percent increase in alcohol intake, demonstrating cross-links in substance abuse.  Sugar addiction can induce alcoholism.  Fascinating and scary, huh?

High fat rats:

Some literature suggests, moreover, that similar patterns emerge with high fat binges.  Teegarden and Bale demonstrated in one study that rats on both high fat, high carbohydrate, and mixed binge diets for 4 weeks, when removed from the diets, demonstrate severe anxiety and endure aversive environments to reach their preferred foods.   They conclude that dietary withdraw and changed habits induces the rats’ stress state, which in turn induces “dietary relapse.”  This data indicates that a stark change in eating habits, rather than the macronutrient ratios of the diet, is responsible for the extreme stress the rats display.   Neurochemically, this makes sense as well.  Both fat and sugar have strong effects on dopamine release, such that withdraw from a conditioned, pleasurable diet negatively effects the rats.

What we ultimately find, however, is that rats love fat, and do in fact binge on fat, but never experience symptoms of addiction or withdraw on a high fat diet. This lines up with my own experiences bingeing, and with those with whom I’ve conversed about fat binges.  It is in fact totally possible, and totally satisfying, but not quite as demonic as sugar.  The rats in this study were fed high fat diets, removed from the opportunity to binge, and then observed for addict-like behavior.  None emerged.  (!)  They also showed no sign of opiate dependency.   Moreover, most remarkable part, in my opinion, is that rats fed both a 100 percent fat diet and a 45 percent fat diet demonstrated no signs of addiction or withdraw. What we learn here is that fat has a neurochemical stabilizing effect on the brain.  While definitely pleasurable to binge on fat, it is not what induces addiction symptoms.  In rats.  In humans, too, I’d bet.  Loads.

Why do signs of opiate-like withdrawal emerge with sugar but not fat bingeing?
The relative lack of opiate-like withdrawal behavior after fat bingeing demonstrates the importance of opioid systems in differenetiating sugars and fats and their subsequent effects on behavior.  Both sugar and fat effect dopamine signalling in similar ways, but opioids are another question entirely.  You can read more about it here, but in brief: based on some recent data and neurochemical processes, it seems as though the lack of opiate-like withdrawal signs in fate-bingeing rats may be caused by fat-induced peptide activation, which can inhibit opioid transmission.  In essence, fat likely interferes with opioid processes and effects in the brain.

The authors of this study conclude with the same caveat that I do.  “Although we have not noted signs of opiate-like withdrawal in fat-bingeing rats, that does not mean that excessive fat intake cannot produce addictive-like behaviors.  Withdrawal is not a necessary criterion for drug craving, just as food deprivation is not necessary for food craving.”

Sugar is the big demon here, but fat is not well understood, and it can still be a part of an unhealthy diet or disordered eating style.  I have personally binged on just fat before (ever had 1000 plus calories of coconut?  Pork Rinds? Macademia nuts?  Bad. News. Bears.)   I do know, and I do feel, the satiating effects of fat.  I think about food far, far less when there is fat in my diet, and honestly, the types of cravings I feel now are orders of magnitude less than the cravings I felt on my 100 percent carbohydrate diet (can you believe I did that?  Oh my god.)   What’s more, keeping the carbs away, even ones as innocuous as vegetables, helps, too.  Recall that the rats experienced the same phenomenon.  Mixing sugar and fat was the worst combination for them, inducing both weight gain and symptoms of withdrawal.

It’s really nice to have this rat model, and to see our physiological responses validated.  As complicated as our decisions and our lives are, we have comrades in mere rats, and we are all victims here.  Cheer up, compadre!  Eat some avocado and fuck the lollipops and we’re on the road!   We’re not all the way there, to this destination of perfect mental and physical health, but we’re certainly walking and enjoying the stroll, which is all we could possibly ask for. 



03 2011

Food addiction: Harder to kick than cocaine?

I’ve heard people debate it before.  I’ve felt it, before.  And I’ve heard Robb Wolf discuss it before.  And the general consensus is that food is an addictive substance.  Eating can be a positively reinforced habit that our brains constantly crave.  The worse part, however, is that we can never go “cold turkey” off of food.   With each meal we are forced to recondition the habit.   “Relapse” constantly threatens us.  This makes food, science is beginning to show, more difficult to kick than hard drugs.  Yikes.

Research shows that all drugs—alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and foods, particularly sweet foods—are habit forming in like ways.  They overstimulate the brain’s reward system, which creates a vicious cycle of dopamine supply and demand.

This “reward system” consists of a circuit of neurons that run through the ventral tegmental area, the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex in the brain.  It is normally activated when an animal does things–such as eating or sex–that help it to survive. This activity increases levels of pleasure-related hormones such as dopamine and serotonin.  This is natural, and this is awesome.   What is not awesome is when drugs overactivate the circuit, and dopamine levels soar.  Dopamine receptors get blown out, such that we are now forced to conduct our lives with a malfunctioning dopamine system (this is the same thing ecstasy does to our serotonin receptors).  We learn to mitigate this “deficiency” with whatever drug caused it in the first place.  One whole banana cream pie, please.

This also means that addictions worsen over time.  What may start out as an innocent habit, such as always going to the fridge when you get home from work, some day may not feel like enough.  So instead of having a salad at that time, now you crave fruit.  Or cheese.  Or fruit cheesecake (mmm).  And in a year you’re coming home and used to downing a big gulp and a whole bag of chips.  These things happen to us, and they happen so slowly that we never notice until we try to stop and realize that we can’t.

Because, as I mentioned above, food is a constant in our lives.  It isn’t going away.  We need to de-condition the pleasure response, and we need to kick certain foods to the curb for good, but it’s very tricky business, staying alive and healthy and doing so at the same time.  After someone dependent on a substance stops using it, it often takes time for depleted dopamine receptors to return to baseline levels.  I find that my need to eat decreases with how often I eat, and I suspect that this is because my brain has adjusted to more normal dopamine levels during that time period.  I also find that my need to eat decreases drastically when I don’t eat carbohydrates, something I’ve discussed before, and is definitely worth keeping in mind.

To quit an addictive cycle, low dopamine levels must be tolerated, but only for a given period of time.  For mice addicted to cocaine, it can take two days to regain normalized levels.  For rats in one study on food addiction, it took two weeks.


To gauge just how much the quantity of dopamine receptors had affected these rats’ eating behavior, Kenny and Johnson of the Scripps Research Institute of Florida inserted a virus into the brains of a test group of the animals to knock out some dopamine receptors. The researchers found that– rather than gradually increasing reward thresholds and accompanying overeating behavior— the dopamine deficient rats took to overeating immediately when given access to a high-fat, high carbohydrate diet.

So the researchers designed an experiment to try to draw a human parallel with the rats, training them to expect an electric shock when they saw a certain light cue. Unlike their plain old chow-fed counterparts (a mix of sprouts and vegetable oils and other crap), obese rats accustomed to food rewards would keep right on gorging even when they knew a shock was coming.

But these are rats!, you protest.  Does the same apply to humans?

You bet your sweet ass it does.

Gene-Jack Wang and Nora Volkow of the Brookhaven National Laboratory discovered that obese people share that dopamine deficiency with many cocaine and alcohol abusers. Their study injected 20 volunteers–10 obese subjects and 10 control subjects– with a radioactive chemical tag designed to bind to dopamine receptors in the brain. Then they scanned these individuals using positron emission tomography and counted the numbers of receptors they saw. The obese subjects not only had fewer dopamine receptors than did the normal-weight subjects, but the number of receptors was lower for patients who were heavier.  With increasing weight, and presumably increasingly “unhealthy” diets, dopamine levels decreased.  People who are conditioned to get dopamine from foods need more and more as their addictions worsen.


There is a lot of discussion in the scientific community about genetics, and how it plays a role in chemical addiction.  While true that some people are more susceptible than others, I don’t really fucking care.  Two rats in the whole study above abstained from bingeing.  Two. Fuck those two.  We’re all susceptible.  The lesson here isn’t that science is going to find some miracle to cure addiction (though of course we’ve all got our fingers crossed) or even that it’s going to be able to tell us who is most susceptible to the addiction demon, but rather that we’ve all got to be careful.

And we have just got to forgive ourselves if we find that we have food addictions or habits.   Food can never (and should never) be eliminated from our lives, so we are forced to confront disordered behaviors while continually interacting with our demons.  It’s hard as shit, and if you hate yourself for struggling I will come right to your house and shake you.  Depression and feelings of self-loathing decrease dopamine levels, so every time you have negative feelings about yourself you are only helping the monster.


Addiction is nasty, but it’s not unconquerable.  Long roads and enduring positivity are the names of the game.  Breathe.  Love.  Breathe.  Love.



03 2011

Eating Paleo in Taiwan

I have to tell you something.  It breaks my heart a little bit to do so, but I’m happy to do it nonetheless.

Taiwan, my friends, is the world’s best kept secret.

It’s a paradise.

No joke.  I’m okay with letting you in on it, but don’t tell too many people, because I love Taiwan too much to give it away.  The people are warm, the weather fantastic, the opportunities endless, the recreational drugs affordable, and the food out of this world.  Honestly I can’t ask for anything else.

I wrote a post a little while back about how glad I am to be living in Taiwan and not cooking my own food.  This means that I don’t know much about the home cooking scene.  I’ve heard that the produce is fresh and the health consciousness pretty powerful, too.  What I know about is my cafeteria, general trends, and street food.  And I can tell you this: eating paleo is easier than it ever was in the states for me.  It’s more of an adventure, too.


For protein, you have your choice of: fish filets, whole fried fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, escargot, shellfish, chicken, chicken heart, liver, duck–that is, an entire, fried duck, beak and all– blood tofu stew, beef skewers, pork bones, and every cut of beef or pork you can think of.

For fat, you get brilliant sauces that come from a combination of native Taiwanese, Chinese immigrants from the north and south, some Indian, and even European influences.  You also get: brains, chicken feet, fish skin soup, fried chicken or pork skin, vegetables stir fried in strips of pork fat… goodness, you name it.  None of that low fat bullshit here.  Not at all.  Lay it on, friends!  Come and get it while the getting is good.

And their eggs! You can get them scrambled with vegetables, with cheese, plain, over-easy, poached, hard boiled, hard boiled in tea (boil your eggs a little bit, then crack their shells, and simmer them in a pot of tea, anise, soy sauce, and whatever else you want for a couple hours– it’s amazing, go do it, do it, do it), or–get this: deep fried!  Fry your eggs over easy them throw ‘em in a deep frier.  It’s worth trying. Trust me.

Vegetables are well prepared and hugely variable.  I honestly have no idea what half the vegetables I eat are, but there are giant varieties of mushrooms and eggplants, and seaweed. I eat at least three servings of seaweed a day.  I think it’s really, genuinely helping with my PCOS.  They also have: kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, onions, tarot, tomatoes… all of it.  The whole gambit, and then some.  Bamboo!  Oh, the bamboo, the bamboo! Is it ever tasty.

Taiwan is also well known for it’s fresh fruits.  This one stall I walk past every day gives out free samples of guava in this salty sauce, and it’s incredibly tasty. Honestly, though, my only other fruit experience was some grapes of my roommates.  Oh, but they were so good!

Taiwan does do rice, and they do do noodles.  However, at a restaurant, if you don’t want ‘em, they just give you more veggies!  It’s amazing.  They also have a fair number of bakeries.  I just don’t go. Do they tempt me a little bit?  Sure.  The Taiwanese also love chocolate.  My professor tries to get students to do homework by promising us chocolates.  It’s absurd.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the Taiwanese use canola and sesame oil a lot.  I try to make up for these by eating a lot of their delicious whole fish.   On the other hand, I know that animal fats are used a lot, too, as evidenced by my ‘pork fat green beans’ and the ‘pork fat seaweed’ I eat every day at lunch.  I know pork doesn’t have the best PUFA ratio, but I am glad that I get to eat animal fats as often as I do.

I had my first conversation yesterday explaining my eating habits to people.  Pretty hard to do in Chinese, and I ended up, duh, resorting to English.  People didn’t think I was as crazy as I had thought they would, and even knew what insulin was, and what causes diabetes!  It was pretty cool.

And now, the photos!:

Seaweed and whitefish soup

Seaweed and strips of whitefish soup.  This was maybe the best soup I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Ever.

Braised chicken heart

Some chicken heart on skewers.  They’re sold all over the place.  Enormously tasty, and two skewers costs about 1.50 USD.

Pork dumpling, seaweed, and tea egg in broth: 7-11 staples in Taiwan

Pork dumpling, seaweed roll, and tea egg in broth.  This is a real quick meal I like to get from 7-11.  Each 7-11 (and there’s about one on each corner) has a station with a variety of foods like this floating in broth you can choose from.  Each food item costs about 10 NT, or 30 cents.  You can take as much broth as you want, so I usually get a bucket full.  Other items available at the stations include shrimp rolls, bamboo, and all varieties of meat balls.

Squid on top of steamed broccoli and ginger sauteed seaweed

My favorite meal right now: a bed of greens, composed mostly of seaweed, topped with whatever seafood is being served.  This time, three giant hunking squid.  The flavor in them is just out of the world.  Giant thumbs up.  Two dollars for this meal, and it’s simultaneously super filling and super tasty.

I have many more photos, and I can post some more soon, but these are pretty representative of my palate right now.  Loads of seafood and veggies and flavor.  My life is a wonderland.


02 2011

Adaptive Paleo: Why I never cook at home

The first and most obvious reason I don’t cook at home is that I don’t have a kitchen.  I live in a dormitory on the campus of Tunghai University in Taiwan, and space itself, let alone a set for 30-Minute-Meals-with-Stefani-Ruper, is a bit scarce.  So when I moved here, I woefully resigned myself to having to eat out all of the time.  It was worrying.  Now, I couldn’t be happier than a clam.

The Paleo movement is all about Real Food.  It’s about food awareness, and it’s about hands on interactions.   The idea is that, cooking at home, we have a greater ability to do and to be these things, and to eat the healthiest foods possible.  Duh.  We get to control our health.   This is completely awesome. I love to cook, and while I had a kitchen for a few months this fall I had some amazing experiences with all sorts of paleo goodies.  I got to experience those things precisely because I had that exact control over my diet.

What I did not have, however, was control over my stressful environment, control over my boredom, or control over my wandering hands.  Instead of having control over paleo foods, paleo foods began having control over me.   THEY WERE IN MY HEAD, GUYS.  I’ve written before about how it’s possible, and in fact quite unreasonable for people to think otherwise, to binge on paleo foods.  When we get our brains wired into food-response reward systems, trust: we can still really get at it.  Example: I’ve eaten a whole chicken.  Example: I’ve eaten three pounds of carrots.   Example: I’ve eaten a whole paleo cheesecake, with a meal and snacks aside.   I weight 110 lbs.   A binge can be my caloric load for three whole days.

Now these choices were made fairly mindfully, and I didn’t exactly have a problem with the huge quantity when I ate these foods.  I don’t want to lead you to believe I have a serious problem.  I learned to handle binges and guilt a long time ago.  It is definitely still an evolving issue, but I barely struggle at all these days.   Moreover, instead of being a unique, struggling case–because I am not–I consider myself instead to be one of millions of people with Food On The Mind.  If and when I “over eat” it is more often than not in the form of grazing.  I want you to know this because, in my experience, the whole ‘appetite regulation’ deal doesn’t always work.   Certainly it helps, it helps so much, but the psychological is a giant part of the battle.  I have leaned on the comfort and safety and serotonin boosts of food in my past like it was my job.  I know scores of others who do the same.

So being around food all the time meant that I could precisely choose my foods.  And it meant that food was readily available, all the time.  This lead to grazing, to careful preparation, to doubt, and to guilt.  To Obsession.  And general overthink, I think.   Before meals, I would think about what to make.  Between meals I would graze or wish I was grazing.  And after I ate I would be a really critical judge: “Was that butter really the best choice?  Shouldn’t I have used coconut instead?  Why didn’t I eat fish today?  I have all these beets and I can’t believe I let them go to waste!”

Being away from a kitchen has liberated me from those thoughts.  I have no food around me, and it’s the fucking bomb.  It is now an adventure, rather than a psychological need, when I get food.  And so often it is a surprise!  And so fun!  Last night I stumbled on a woman deep frying chicken livers, and it was tasty and SO GOOD.  I know that she was using high-PUFA, possibly trans-fatty sesame oil for her frying, but I weighed the benefits of the livers versus the omega 6 fats, and considered how much omega 3 I get from the rest of my diet, and jumped in line.  They were delicious, and they were a meal, and I went home without a thought of food at all.

Eating out is difficult because it is expensive and because it can be time consuming and because you never actually know what exactly you’re putting in your body.  However, if you have a general awareness of the cooking process, and are comfortable with the choices that you are making for your health, it can be a godsend.  This is easier for a paleo dieter, I believe, in a nation such as Taiwan that sells hard boiled eggs on every street corner, but it is possible, I guess, any place with a couple of restaurants and a nice chef.  What’s more, I think I can handle some trans fat for the psychological freedom.  Ouch, I know.  But I do my best to mitigate it, and to avoid it, and to move on.   I do my damned hardest every day for holistic health, and these are the correct steps for me, right now.

The problem with disordered eating is that defeating it requires mindfulness: “What the fuck am I putting in my body?”  But it also requires mindlessness.  It is a constant war that is won with balance.   Yes I need to know what I’m putting in my body, and Yes, I need to make sure it’s healthy, but No, I don’t need to obsess about it when I plan my meals.  No, I don’t need to feel guilty afterward.   No, I don’t need to fret about how much I’ve left on my plate.

This is why being kitchen-less is a godsend for me.  Now, when my body sends me satiety signals, I don’t keep walking past them with my fingers in my ears going “Na na na na na na I can’t hear you.”  Instead, I feel them, and then I move on to a different activity, and even when physiological hunger comes up on me again I can work through it just fine.   I wrote a post on healthy relationships with food a while back.  I stand by everything I said.  Yet the most, absolutely the most important part of a healthy relationship with food is being able to let go.  Don’t obsess.  Don’t let it control you.  Don’t think about it all that much.  Food is great and food is omg so tasty but it’s also just. food.

So if you have a psychological need, think about what you can change in your life to put food in a new context.  For me, it was physical distance.  It was also, a little bit, adventure.  I still eat paleo, even if its a little less consistent than it was in my last life, but this is perhaps an even more important aspect of my holistic health.  These are my needs, and I prioritize them appropriately.

What are your needs?  If you think you need to be less mindful, like me, maybe you can rearrange your kitchen so your fridge is less accessible, or move your pantry to another location, or only shop for food on certain days of the week… the list of ideas is endless!*  On the flipside, if you need to be more mindful of your food, you can do that, too!  Go shopping on specific days, make yourself a calendar, put pictures of food up around your desk, line your kitchen table with fitness and health books.*  The world is your oyster, and you’ve got to shuck it like yo’ mama taught you.


*If you need help brainstorming, drop me a line!