Posts Tagged ‘binge eating’

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

Reader Insight

With the permission of a reader of mine who has become a dear friend, I am posting part of one of her emails to me.  I find it to be very stirring and very true, and I think that the words of someone wrestling with food so intelligently and bravely right now might be a good perspective to add to mine on this blog.  She discusses what makes her binge, and why, and it’s enormously touching.  Moreover, we could all really learn from her radical and brilliant self-honesty.


I thought about WHY did I want to eat. Was it because I was hungry? Was it because I had just “allowed” myself  that day and wanted to make the most of it as a treat? Or was it because I wanted to be distracted from a thought about myself or a void inside?

Usually when I binge, Stef, I think its the last two questions.  I’m getting better at learning how to handle the second to last one- the go crazy because I already screwed it up mentality- that’s all about willpower, and realizing that the real treat and the real spoiling of myself comes from getting to that goal weight that would make me so happy. It’s the last question I think is the hardest- the types of thoughts I’m trying to escape from are ones where I am disappointed in myself, or ones where I feel lonely (like I’ll never find someone to spend the rest of my life and will live alone forever), or thoughts about how I could be better at everything, or thoughts about how little progress I’ve made- I don’t need to describe more because we both know what those self-castigating thoughts (thriggers [purposeful misspelling lol] lets call them) are and how they get us going on a binge.  And we talked about it before and I knew that, but what I think I realized this week, is when you are in that moment, when you are reaching to eat something, and IN THAT MOMENT when you realize that you are doing it because you don’t want to think whatever you are thinking, or you want to run away from that loneliness inside- it is so hard to put it down. Not because you dont realize its not going to make you better- I’ve made that realization already- i know that it’s not going to make me feel better, and i know that probably in an hour and the next day its going to make me even feel worse but IN THAT MOMENT, it’s something to do, something to distract myself with, something to fill myself with. Something to keep me from being alone with my thoughts of self loathing and loneliness. And when you do decide to put it down, and when you do decide to not eat, you are alone with those thoughts. And that’s when it becomes something you actually know- that is when you actually realize that you were eating to not be alone with those thoughts, because being alone with those thoughts suck. At least it was something to do (like people turn to alcohol or drugs, the analogies weve made before to addictive substances).  It’s not until you actually let yourself be alone with those thoughts do you really understand that you were running away from being alone with them. And I know why- because it sucks to be alone with them. But I know thats the only way to heal.  Its the harder route, but in the long run makes me happier, and in the long war against self loathing, its beginning a small battle with those thoughts- giving yourself the opportunity to sift through them, to face them, instead of eating away from them.

Did any of that make sense? I hope it did. I was trying to convey something I think that’s been very powerful for me.  Realizing that 1) not only will eating not make it go away or make it better and will actually make it worse and make me hate myself more and that 2) being alone with these thoughts is what I was running away from, is what binging was doing for me.  The thoughts of feeling like I obsess too much on whats on the outside and that my inside is not good enough, or that I will be alone forever. Or that I feel like a failure in everything. Not always, many of the times I binged because I felt I needed to make the most of this “break” — which I think is more about dealing with willpower and arming myself with the knowledge that Im not depriving myself but actually doing better.

As you can see, I’m sifting through the WHYS of my binging so I can move forward with better armor and preparation as you suggested is best.  I’m reading this book called “the act of racing in the rain”- it’s absolutely amazing. I want to copy in a paragraph for you, but it will take too long. Basically the point of the paragraph is:  “that which you manifest is before you”– I’m explaining it horribly, but the idea is that you create your own destiny by the decisions you make and the way you react to things that are outside your control- by realizing the response to these actions are in your control.  I woke up this morning (the hardest part for me is the day after a bad day , I just want to make that bad day bad too and the cycle goes on) saying “that which you manifest is before you- it is in my hands to get to my goals or not, I can decide whether I’m going to make this day something that I want rather than something that is self sabotage”- and I am pushing and pushing every time a thought of laziness, post fruit from yesterday hunger pang comes, to remember my goal to get to Sunday with my break only lasting one day. And I WILL do it Stef, I’ll be dammed, but God willing, I will get there. Because I can decided whether I will or not, and I decide to do what I know I want for myself.


She’s brilliant, isn’t she?  And strong and courageous, and making so much progress, and really doing well.  And getting through med school at the same time.  In any case, the greatest lesson I think we can learn from her is that running is not the answer.  Food as a distraction is not the answer.  Is it momentarily numbing?  Absolutely.  But it is a band-aid, and a bit of a scary one, at that.  One of those that pulls all of your tiny hairs out when you take it off.  Don’t let food be a band-aid.  If you need one, look elsewhere.  If you don’t need one, face your demons head on, and think about how to best deal with them, and approach the problem with as much patience, love, and positivity as you can muster.  And I promise, I promise: no matter the depth of your pain or your self-illusion, recognizing food as a distraction will help you walk away from it more easily.  Hell no, it won’t be easy.  But it will be easier, and you will be able to more clear-headedly think about your problems and how to fix their place in your life.


05 2011

Dopamine signalling findings: Support for a physiological theory of disordered eating and motivation to keep on keepin’ on

Today I woke up to a really awesome, generous surprise in my inbox.   One of my best friends, we’ll call him Dan, recently attended a lecture by Frank Guido, a neuroscientist at the University at Denver.  Dan took great notes, and he took enormously gracious initiative to type them up and send them to me.  And now I am going to pass them along to you.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the details of any of Guido’s studies.  All I’ve got are the take-aways.   So I’m going to put a little bit of faith in Guido’s science (epistemologists say science is a faith anyway) and allow this awesome gift to inform my life and methods.


Guido’s talk focused on dopamine level comparisons between anorexic, bulimic, and obese patients.  Recall that dopamine is a pleasure hormone, stimulated by the act of fulfilling survival needs.  This is (partly) why we eat, and (partly) why we have sex, and all of those other very basic, very human, very animal things.  One thing that’s both fascinating and important to note is that dopamine, while pleasurable, is associated primarily with survival, and not with pleasure.  Therefore, with dopamine signalling, our bodies are trying to make us “healthy.”   They are doing what they can with the resources they have available.  They don’t want to make us have fun.  They want to fix us.  This, in my humble and highly uninformed opinion, supports the “set point” theory of weight loss.  Your body, for one reason or another, has a certain idea of what your “correct” body size is, and will adjust your dopamine regulation accordingly.   So what do you do with this information?  Maybe that means you want to allow yourself to put on a few pounds.  It could help you feel more satisfied.  Or maybe it means you can now more easily forgive yourself for your cravings.  Or perhaps you want to buckle down and fight anyway.   It’s your body, and your decision.


Anyway, first, Guido notes that Anorexic subjects generally have high dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This is because anorexic subjects “are good at delaying rewards,” and “have an elevated drive to avoid harm.”   Bulimic
subjects, on the other hand, have low dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This, according to Guido, correlates to bulimic subjects being “impulsive,” and “having reduced inhibition.”  Third, obese subjects experience lower and lower dopamine receptors the higher their BMI.  This suggests that our bodies give us less and less reward for eating if we are overweight.  This makes sense.  Also, according to Guido, obese subjects ” are also impulsive and poor inhibitors.”

Then Guido discusses his experiment.  In an fMRI, researchers measured dopamine responses to sweet flavors.
This is what they found:

Anorexia nervosa patients experience an increased dopamine response to sweet flavors. We can infer from this information that anorexic patients are hypersensitive to self-harm (i.e. weight change).  Their bodies give them high amounts of satiation for eating.   That’s quite enough!, says the sensitive patient.

Binge eating and obese patients have decreased dopamine responses to sweet flavors.  This means that they need more stimulation to feel satisfied. Binge eaters have developed a “food tolerance,” — much like we discussed before, with drug habituation.   (Read: Food addiction: harder to kick than cocaine?)  Moreover, the more frequently someone binged, the more dopamine they required to feel satisfaction.


Yikes.  So what do we conclude?

The more frequently someone binges, the lower his dopamine response.   Guido also notes that the more (calorie) restricted he is, the lower his dopamine response.  These facts mean that:

1)  If you severely calorie restrict or under-eat in any fashion, or are underweight according to your “set point,” your body is going to try to get you to eat more.   It will require you to eat more food to feel satisfied.  It will do this until you ingest the “proper” amount of calories or until you reach the “proper” weight.  Therefore, it is not necessarily your fault if you feel so restricted and so unsatisfied.  Your body might be veritably begging you to eat.

2)   Your body gives you less and less reward the more and more you binge.  This is because it is habituated to the behavior.  So what do you do about it?  You should binge less.  I KNOW!  CRAZY IDEA!  The thing is:  this motivates me to reach for food less often. It helps me stop.  Because if I don’t binge now, it’s going to make my life easier later.  And how nice would that be?    Every single time I refuse food it is going to get easier and easier to refuse, and my body will get more and more adjusted to my new eating habits.  I will begin to feel more satisfaction from a normal diet, and I won’t have to eat so much to feel satisfied.  Just like my body got conditioned to eating way too much, I can recondition my body to eat the proper amount of food.  All it takes is a first step, and as much diligence as I can muster throughout.

So keep on keepin’ on!  Each time you do a good food behavior you are making it easier to do it the next time.  If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.  For real.

Thanks Dan!


04 2011

Best paleo foods to eat after sugar binge

So you’ve done it.  You ate more than you wanted to.  Or you ate foods you think are unhealthful.  You feel overly full, perhaps, and maybe are slammed with a sugar rush, and you are (wrongly) feeling shitty and guilty about the whole thing.  What do you do?  I get asked about post-binge/ post-sugar behavior a lot.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I do have some.


What happens to our bodies when we binge?

Mostly, we get flooded.  Our hormones get right down to work, and do their assigned jobs with absolute vigor.  We’ve consumed lots of carbohydrate, so our blood glucose and our insulin levels spike.  The blood glucose eventually crashes, so we feel lethargic and perhaps dizzy in the end, but in the beginning we feel high and charged.  Often, I think, we feel good enough that we try to maintain this high, and therefore keep on eating.  This is a strong motivator both for bingeing and for grazing behaviors.

Another strong motivator is dopamine, which gets released in the brain when we eat.  Those of us who have experience with overeating know this phenomenon well.  The more conditioned a response–that is, the more of a habit this behavior is for us–the stronger the desire for dopamine, and the more relieving it feels to finally eat.  This relief and this pleasure is so strong that it keeps us eating.

So sugar and fat are processed in the intestines and in the liver and then getting stored as fat.  Protein is much more difficult to convert and to store, so its likely that if protein has been a part of our binge, it is being sent to become molecular backbones for a whole range of cell types, particularly muscles.  If we ate” too much” protein (more than 1 g/day/lb of body weight, generally), our body will convert it to glucose in the liver, and it will be handled by insulin like the rest of the glucose already in our bloodstreams.

The food in our systems is all the while triggering the release of satiation hormones.  The biological need to eat has passed.   Ghrelin, the “appetite” hormone produced primarily in the stomach, decreases after food has entered the stomach.  Insulin acts on the hypothalamus and tells our brains we’ve had enough.   Cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide 1, and peptide y are all produced by the gut and signal satiation.   Lots and lots is going on here.  But: “I don’t know what it feels like to be ‘satiated’!” you cry.  Amen.  It’s… I don’t know.  Difficult.  Really, really fucking difficult. Those of us who binge, or who graze, or who have some sort of unhealthful relationship with food often have dysregulated appetite signalling.  Or we’ve got it just fine but don’t know what to do it with.  So we binge.   We never feel satiated, and we don’t know how to stop.  But we employ certain strategies and eat certain foods and think certain ways… and in the end we find progress.  Over time.  And perhaps get better and better at hearing the signals of our hormones.

In any case.  We’ve now flooded our systems with food and with the appropriate hormones and we’re each wondering… how the hell do I get back on track?  Is it hopeless?  Is it futile?  Can I still be healthy?  Can I still be me?


How do you recover?


First, you fast.  Easier said than done, I know.  But hear me out:

Fasting is great for your system, metabolically.  It triggers autophagy–a sort of cellular clean up–increases insulin sensitivity, and generally allows your body to clean up shop, get efficient, and perform damage control.  If the idea of a fast doesn’t scare you, doesn’t further dis-regulate your eating, and won’t be further stressing out your adrenal system, consider waiting a while before you eat.  Determine the proper time period for you.  Is it the following morning?  Afternoon?  Evening?  Or another great idea: wait until you feel absolutely, certainly physically hungry before you eat again.  That way, you’ll know that you’ve maximized the calories and benefit you can get from the foods you binged on, and your body is now hormonally and physically primed to resume eating.  This will help you feel positive about your self, affirmed about your actions, and physically much better all at the same time.

You may also, of course, exercise during that time.  (!)

And what foods do you eat?  Whether you’re coming off of a fast or not, what helps your body and your mind the most?

Eat protein. Protein is a vital part of every cell.  Therefore, when we consume protein, a lot of it is going to go directly to cell maintenance and repair, and will not be stored as fat.  Protein, when digested, also comes with a thermal effect, which means, in essence, that it creates some excess energy (re: heat) when digested.  It’s “harder” to digest than carbohydrates or fat, so our body expends more energy (that heat) when digesting it.  Bottom line: metabolically, you work the hardest to break it down, so if you’re looking for a low-impact, highly satiating food, protein is your star.

Some great proteins to eat would be eggs, which are high in protein, important vitamins and minerals, and saturated fat.  Also: fish, which is high in protein, high in omega 3s, and low in just about every other kind of fat.  It is also relatively low in density, and fairly low calorie, if that is a concern of yours.  Also: beef, lamb, or pork.  Ruminants have awesome protein, vitamins, saturated fat contents, and pretty good omega 3/6 ratios.  Eat a lean portion if you just want the high protein content, but fat is great for satiation, so go ahead and eat up as much of the fat as you like.

Eat fat.  Animal fat. Re: eggs, fish, and meat, as stated above.  Bacon. Fat gets you all kinds of wonderful satiation hormone activity, so eat up!  Try eating in small quantities at first.  Since you’re coming right off of a binge, you don’t actually need all that many calories to maintain your weight and your health.  What you’re looking for in this meal is a regulator, something to take the place of a meal, and something healthy and filling that can get you back on track.  Perhaps have a few eggs fried in butter, one hamburger patty, or one half filet of salmon.  These foods are hugely nutritious and hugely satisfying, even when we have somewhat messy relationships with feelings of fullness.

If you feel the need to keep eating, however, or perhaps to fill up your stomach with more stuff, supplement your animal foods with some nice, fibrous veggies.   Sometimes when I come off of a period of overeating I feel the need to ramp down slowly.  So I might do a whole head of cabbage for lunch one day, and then have a protein/fat heavy meal for dinner.

The point here is to think about your favorite healthful (PALEO) food, to get as much satiation from it as possible, and to make sure you get as much satisfaction out of this time period as possible. You want to be healthy, and to “stay on track” but you never want to create feelings of deprivation.  One negative eating episode won’t derail you (IT WON’T), so just fast a  bit and eat your favorite paleo foods and continue to revel in how awesome you treat yourself and your body.

You also need to think about you. How do you react to certain foods?  What made you binge in the first place?  Is that trigger removed from your life?  What foods will help you get back on track as soon as possible?

And you need to think about your psychological response. Despair is a big NO.  Self hate is a big NO.  Disordered eating is a monster and you are amazing for resisting it as often and as well as you do.  The fact that it got you this time is OK, and natural, and, in fact, inevitable.  So forgive yourself for bingeing, and consider it a natural part of your healing process.  Use the binge as a learning episode and continue your paleo lifestyles as healthfully and happily as you had been before.  If you really, really can’t resist the pull of sugar, phase it out of your life gradually.  The next day, have some sweet potatoes and enjoy them and consider it a wonderful and healthy paleo way to ease back into excellence.  Recall that your body is in fact a temple and you are going to continue treating it with as much love as you were previously.  And in the days following your binge you will eat the best paleo foods for your body and for your particular soul, and it will feel good and satiating and all will settle with time.



04 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