In March I did a quick video introducing Seth Roberts, a Berkeley psychologist, and his interesting theory known as the flavor-calorie association theory of body weight set point regulation. I also mentioned Roberts’s pioneering work in 180 Degree Metabolism ? in the lengthy discussion about the going theories on what causes leptin resistance and a rise in set point.
I am still incredibly captivated by this theory, and really struggle to find loopholes and flaws in it. It’s come to the forefront recently as I have experienced a tremendous anorectic (hunger-suppressing) effect from eating a high-starch/low-fat diet, which contains much lower flavor intensity (it’s bland as hell) and much lower calorie density (8 pounds of potatoes contain the same amount of calories as 1 pound of butter, for example) ? both prominent factors in the creation of flavor-calorie associations that increase hunger and lower metabolism. These, of course, are telltale signs of an increase in bodyweight set point. I, on the other hand, have experienced a big decrease in appetite and a rise in metabolism ? down 5 pounds in the first 27 days of July.
For more on increasing metabolism, please read the eBook DIET RECOVERY!!!
Here are the prime factors in the flavor-calorie theory, which explains numerous diets all under one umbrella?
1.) Calorie density ? the more calorie-dense a food is, the more it triggers an activation of reward centers in the brain and a mysterious rise in weight set point.
2.) Absorption rate ? the faster a food is absorbed, the stronger the flavor-calorie association and the larger the rise in the activation of reward centers in the brain and a rise in set point that occurs when these pleasure centers are tickled.
3.) Flavor-intensity ? the more highly-flavored the food is, the more it raises set point
4.) Food familiarity ? the more you eat ditto foods with a strong flavor-calorie association (like, say, Cool Ranch Doritos), the more you start to prefer those foods, the stronger the flavor-calorie association becomes, and the more fattening those foods become.
5.) Liquid vs. Solid ? Liquids, in general, promote stronger flavor-calorie associations and are more fattening than solid foods ? raising the set point.
There is ample evidence supporting all of these arms of the flavor-calorie association hypothesis. Of course, what I just described is the food produced by food companies ? packaged/processed foods, fast food, and other restaurant food. This is something that anyone with personal experience and the eyes to see can observe. Most don’t develop severe weight problems eating homemade, solid, unsweetened, unrefined food with a low calorie density and no added flavor enhancers. Most who do develop weight problems do so by repeatedly eating specific foods that are scientifically-designed to outcompete other foods in activating reward centers in your brain and creating strong flavor-calorie associations that make plain food increasingly unpalatable and undesirable.
Food companies have this down to a science ? serving up food that is designed to be masticated and absorbed more quickly, enhanced with MSG and other flavor enhancers, and washed down with a highly-sweetened beverage in liquid form, sometimes sweetened with Aspartame or other highly-sweetened substance that causes a stronger flavor-calorie association and an increase in bodyweight set point.
The reasons why I find this theory to be so compelling:
1) Humans are the only creatures that have the intelligence to specifically manipulate their food in such a way (combining certain ingredients, cooking, adding spices, chemical flavor enhancers). The only creatures that eat food that comes in such a package are humans and their pets, the only creatures on earth that suffer from obesity (and giant squirrels and chipmunks that are fed this food by humans).
2) In simple laboratory studies, feeding a highly-sweetened substance like Saccharin, an artificial sweetener with no calories, increases food consumption and body weight. According to Roberts’s theory, you would also see artificially-sweetened beverages consumed by themselves as opposed to with a big calorie load in a mixed meal NOT be fattening or induce greater calorie consumption, which may indeed be true.
3) In simple laboratory studies, feeding more liquid calories and fewer solid food calories increases calorie consumption and body weight. For example, feeding sucrose in granulated form is not fattening. Feeding sucrose as part of a liquid solution is very fattening.
4) High-fructose corn syrup, which is a liquid and is also sweeter than sucrose due to its higher concentration of fructose, is markedly more fattening than white sugar.
5) The strongest association between obesity and food is the association between obesity and soft drinks, highly-sweetened, rapidly-absorbed, liquid food that tastes exactly the same every time you drink it.
6) Lab animals that are fed ?chow,? which, because it is more palatable than fat, carbohydrate, and protein separated into different bowls, causes the lab animals to become fatter and maintain a higher weight set point than controls. When the controls are switched to chow, they do not gain weight, suggesting that flavor-calorie associations that affect bodyweight set point occur in youth to a greater degree than adulthood (perhaps a reason why Granny can eat all kinds of things without getting fat that make YOU blow up like a balloon).
7) Feeding humans less calorie-dense foods, such as a diet high in fiber and water content from fruit, vegetables, and unrefined starches causes a massive decrease in calorie consumption ? up to an instant 40% decrease with no decrease in satiation reported (from Burkitt et. al.’s Western Disease).
8) Diets that are sweetened vs. diets that are unsweetened are much more fattening and promote greater calorie intake.
9) Refined carbohydrates, which are more calorie-dense and more rapidly absorbed tend to increase calorie intake and body fat, whereas unrefined carbohydrate diets have the opposite effect.
10) Low-carbohydrate diets are comprised of foods that are not particularly palatable, and typically decrease appetite and body weight.
11) Low-carb diets that contain artificial sweeteners often negate the hunger-suppression and weight loss effect of a low-carb diet. Even Atkins reported this, and advised those who weren’t losing weight to make sure they excluded aspartame from their diets.
12) Displacing more homecooked food, which generally has low flavor-intensity, natural flavor variability, slow absorption, and less calorie-density with packaged, processed, refined, rapidly-absorbed, chemical flavor-enhanced ditto foods and restaurant foods parallels a huge rise in obesity. It’s reported that calorie intake per capita has increased 20% in the United States since the early 70’s.
13) Obesity was unheard of in all places in which unrefined carbohydrates were ingested as opposed to refined carbohydrates.
14) There are strong associations between obesity and the flavor enhancer MSG.
I could go on for a while here, but that is a good starting point. Ideally we would all be able to raise body temperature without any increase in body weight. Instead, this could be achieved by lowering body weight set point. Of course, lowering the weight set point is easier said than done, and is, as I discussed in my conversation with Sean Croxton last night, perhaps the most important secret yet to be revealed.
But I do find this theory to be solid and applicable. Those attempting to lose weight may find much better success?
– eating almost exclusively homecooked whole foods
-cooking differently each time or with the addition of different spice combinations to reduce flavor-calorie associations
-eating lots of food that is not calorie dense ? like root vegetables and vegetables
-avoiding all liquid calories
-eating foods that require lots of chewing
-keeping fat intake reasonable (which decreases flavor-calorie associations), and being wary about foods with strong flavor-calorie associations where fat and carbohydrate are conjoined and in ditto form ? pizza, ice cream, fast food, chips, cookies, etc.
-keeping sweets to a minimum, especially when combined with a calorie-dense meal. Fruit, which has a very low-calorie density, eaten by itself, does NOT form strong flavor-calorie associations. When consumed with a high-calorie load after a mixed meal, I find fruit to be very fattening, and juices even more so, which would be expected if Roberts’s theory is accurate.
-not seasoning foods too heavily
For more on Seth’s theory, read the Shangri-La Diet or Seth’s free report here:
In the book 180 Degree Metabolism: The Smart Strategy for Fat Loss, I mentioned how the primary driver of leptin resistance and/or excess fat gain in general without the corresponding decrease in hunger and increase in metabolism is unknown. With some All-American speculation, I came up with what I believed to be the 5 most common causes of excess fat accumulation.
Dieting, stress, inflammation, and excessive fructose intake all got their own special chapters. In addition to that, I mentioned Seth Roberts and the Flavor-Calorie Association Theory of obesity that I got super nerded-out on last week in THIS POST.
Out of all causes of obesity; however, there is no doubt that Seth’s explanation ? that foods that exert the most stimulus to the reward centers in our brains and thus causing a rise in weight set point (the ?ponderstat?), is the most promising. Not only is it the most promising, but it helps to explain multiple phenomena. Let’s get into it a little deeper, and clear up some of the misconceptions that metastasized last week.
First off, I explained my current diet, which contains about 1/3 of the fat that I have been eating over the last several years (call it 60-70 grams per day averaged out throughout the week as opposed to 180-210 grams per day) as ?bland.
Oops, ?bland? is a major misnomer. Actually, my food is FAR more flavorful than it has been over the past several years, as I have substituted things like spices and potent salsa LIKE THIS for butter, creamy cheeses, heavy use of coconut oil, and fatty cuts of meat. No one would argue that salsa has less flavor than any of the above-mentioned foods. My salsa is like a nuclear bomb hitting my tongue.
But what my food is, or at least was initially, was less pleasurable to eat. Eating boiled potatoes with salsa as opposed to eating fried potatoes covered in parmesan cheese and truffle oil has a different level of satisfaction ? just like eating a strawberry on a lettuce leaf has a different level of satisfaction than eating a chocolate-covered strawberry topped with whipped cream on a shortcake.
Now, if you love potatoes covered with creamy Fromager D?Affinois, there’s no foreseeable reason to stop eating them that way. That wasn’t the point. The point, rather, is furthering the discussion about ways you can get your body to cooperate with losing weight if weight loss is something you are seeking. In other words, what can you eat that helps increase your metabolism in relation to your appetite?
First, let’s examine the extreme importance of that question. If it takes 3,000 calories to satisfy your appetite, and your metabolism burns 3,000 calories in a normal day, then eating to appetite will neither cause weight loss or weight gain. Sure, you could slowly replace fat with muscle while in calorie balance from doing something like Metabolic Enhancement Training, and I hope to post about that next week, but for the most part your weight is unlikely to change much while in calorie balance.
Actually, I shouldn’t downplay what is at least physically possible. Since 6 pounds of muscle and 1 pound of fat contain the same amount of calories, theoretically you could lose 10 pounds of fat, gain 60 pounds of muscle, and increase your weight by 50 pounds without a calorie surplus. You’re not likely to do anything like this to such an extreme, but mathematically, it is possible. Likewise, you could lose 50 pounds while in calorie balance on the other side of that coin. I’m sure Arnold, during his heyday, could have easily achieved a 50-pound weight loss while in calorie balance by doing a prolonged juice fast and taking a break from the weights and the roids.
But assuming no change in muscle to fat ratio – when your appetite is satisfied on fewer calories than you burn metabolically you will lose weight. Likewise, when you need more calories to satisfy your appetite than your body burns you will gain weight. This can happen at high calorie intakes which is most typical, or low calorie intakes (if you have to average 1,600 calories per day to satisfy your hunger but your body refuses to burn more than 1,500 on average, you will gain weight ? more than 10 pounds per year with such a disparity in the appetite to metabolism ratio).
Okay, so that’s outta the way. Let’s get going further with the Flavor-Calorie Theory.
First of all, forget Seth Roberts and what he calls the Flavor-Calorie Theory. What he is really talking about is Pleasure Center Activation Theory (PCAT) of weight set point.
Yeah, it was time to bust out a new acronym. PCAT is a sweet one, and it can also be referred to as ?Poodie Tat. Too many people were getting caught up on ?flavor? and not focusing on the real meat of the theory, which is that reward centers in the human brain that guide us towards foods that have the most bang for the buck exert a powerful influence over our weight set point.
The primary pleasure center substance is called dopamine ? or ?dope,? and it be some good shit.
It’s really very useful. The ?land of milk and honey? was not called the ?land of lettuce and lentil sprouts? because lettuce and lentil sprouts don’t activate the pleasure centers in the brain to the same extent of milk and honey ? which are without question the most calorie-dense, rapidly-ingested, rapidly-absorbed calories that can be consumed on God’s green earth without some form of refinement (including cooking). Remember that liquids activate pleasure centers more than solids (to a certain extent ? once the diet is 100% liquid that is no longer true? monotony rules and it has the opposite effect).
But modern foodstuffs and substances exploit the pleasure centers and spike dopamine to levels that real food, no matter how calorie-dense or flavorful, is simply not capable of doing to the same degree.
In terms of promoting a rise in weight set point, which increases the appetite to metabolism ratio (AM Ratio ? kinda like AM Radio), the most powerful promoters seem to be substances that are the most sweet. Saccharine, Aspartame, and Sucralose (Splenda) cause much greater increase in the AM Ratio than plain ol? sugar. Of course, throwing caffeine into the mix activates those pleasure centers even more. Diet drinks are the perfect obesigenic substances when paired with a calorie-dense meal. Say what you want about Stevia, but that is another dime-a-dozen sweetener for raising your weight set point ? it just comes without so much of the neurotoxicity of aspartame, or the bowel destruction of sucralose.
Anyway, I will continue to try to poke holes in PCAT like I have over the past several years after coming across the work of Seth Roberts, but as of now I have little doubt that the PCAT explains most cases of obesity ? and by eating foods that trigger a smaller dopamine response one can easily become satisfied on fewer calories and lose weight without a revolt from the metabolism (drop in body temperature).
More reasons why I find the Pleasure Center Activation Theory to be so compelling:
1) Ethnic groups with a history of eating foods that are not very calorie dense, or without a long history of alcohol use (which spikes the hell out of dopamine) are naturally FAR more susceptible to obesity, diabetes, and alcoholism than Whitey, who has consumed milk, honey, grain, and alcohol in abundance for thousands of years ? and has consumed refined sugar and grain longer than most other Ethnic groups.
This suggests to me that many various ethnic groups have much more highly-attuned dopamine receptors (although dopamine is just one pleasure neurotransmitter, serotonin could certainly be involved as well) ? to have a more acute sense for calorie-dense and rapidly-absorbed calories for the purposes of survival. When encountering alcohol as well as foods that are more calorie dense, highly-sweetened, and rapidly-absorbed, such as is the case with the Nauru of the Pacific (above) and the Pima of Arizona (the two fattest, most diabetic peoples on earth) who saw their sparse, lean, fibrous diets replaced by tons of animal and vegetable fat, soft drinks, refined grain, packaged junk foods, and alcohol, a huge rise in weight set point struck a large percentage of the population.
2) Alcoholism is considered to have a very strong hereditary component. Obesity researchers know very little about what causes obesity, but they do know that the strongest correlation by far is heredity. In fact, twins that are separated at birth and live separate lives with different families and different diets and influences almost invariably end up at the exact same weight ? and even store excess fat in the exact same place on their bodies. Neurotransmitter profiles are certainly hereditary, and would explain the connections between both alcoholism and heredity and obesity and heredity.
3) It seems after hearing hundreds of testimonials for both weight loss and weight gain following my advice to eat to appetite of a ?high-everything? whole foods (slower absorption) no sugar (unsweet), low to no alcohol diet, that the prime determinant of whether a person loses weight or not can be directly linked to the degree of pleasure center activation of the diet they ate preceding RRARF. In other words, if they were eating to appetite of fast food, doughnuts, Pepsi or diet drinks, white bread, and beer and switched to a whole foods diet with no sugar or alcohol, there was typically an instant drop in weight set point ? causing rapid weight loss and presumably a big decrease in calorie intake.
Those who were eating a calorie-restricted diet, a carbohydrate-restricted diet, an already unsweetened diet with no alcohol, a vegan diet, a raw foods diet, or any other version of a diet that provided LESS pleasure center activation, often GAINED weight eating to appetite on RRARF and had a sudden increase in appetite and calorie intake. These people were the equivalent, basically, of ethnic groups that are highly sensitive to weight gain when switching from a low-calorie density diet with very little alcohol and sweetness to standard “Western” fare.
To read more about this, please check out the eBook DIET RECOVERY.
The PCAT is a similar theory to the Thrifty Gene Hypothesis, except that the abundance of food is not the reason our ?biology that once insured survival has now turned against us. Rather, it is the nature of that food, not the quantity of it, that has taken the biological mechanisms of those predisposed to fat gain and switched on the fat storage programs. I believe these same mechanisms underlie many forms of addiction.
Unfortunately, even if this is the undeniable way that most people gain excess body fat and run into metabolic disease, trying to lose body fat and reverse disease remains a tricky thing to solve that reeks of tail-chasing (the PCAT chasing its tail, not a dog). It is tail-chasing because simply eating whole foods that have low-calorie density, like Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian diet for example, which by definition is all about eating foods with the lowest calorie-density, upregulates the pleasure center receptors even more. So it in no way enables a person to be able to eat the calorie-dense foods that the rest of society eats, and that everyone enjoys, without becoming increasingly sensitive to their fattening effects. But I guess the good news is that the more you eat low-dopamine triggering foods the more tasty they become (trust me, when your pleasure neurotransmitters are upregulated enough, even the blandest food on earth will taste incredible).
This scores yet another big point in favor of the fat loss strategies of guys like Martin Berkhan and Joel Marion ? who punctuate plain, whole foods-centric weight loss diets with major Cheesecake and pizza slayings. Berkhan has also been known to spank some Heineys.
Could it be that this acute, infrequent, monster dopamine rush is enough to keep the dopamine and/or serotonin receptors from opening up? Could this enable your average 100-pounds overweight Joe to take advantage of low-calorie density foods that induce weight loss while still being able to eat Brie-bombed potatoes and Jambalaya without falling off the deep end once ideal weight has been achieved? I dunno. We’ll see I guess.