Lab Rat

23 Jun

So its been an interesting last couple of days. I really hit a low yesterday, but today I woke up with a new sense of vigor. Everyones comments were really helpful. No really they were very very helpful!!! I really am quite chuffed with the people who read this blog, and if there are any more lurkers wanting to join in make yourself known. As soon as I let loose to the world yesterday I immediately and noticeably felt better so your comments are always welcome. Unless its someone laughing at my failure like what just happened at Darwins Table about an hour ago. I don’t know why they think Im gonna post their comments??? Some angry vegetarians.

So back to the point. My main problem lately is I have become incredibly frustrated with the loads of different opinions out there in the paleosphere, and beyond, and just how conflicting it can be. Also it can often lead to cat fights, which drives me nuts. Sometimes you feel you are doing the right thing, but yet you here from someone else your rubbish. All I know is this.

Everybody thinks they are right + everybody disagrees = ice cream.

Now thats an equation any dieter can understand. As a scientist I am absolutely useless at not knowing. I have to have concrete answers, and in nutrition this is horribly difficult. Now obviously Im exaggerating somewhat and their are plenty of good bloggers out there who know loads of information. But no one is perfect and no one is absolutely right. Someone can only do what is best, or seems best, for them. Which leads me to my conclusion that I came too after my intense mind battle of what I should do. I just need to read the research and make my own decisions based off that.

Then I read a paper which I will post about shortly. But basically it shows that the researchers were able to get rats addicted to food by putting them on either a high sugar diet or a high fat diet. But rats fed chow were unable to become addicted (low density food, neither fatty nor sugary). They argued that it was calorie rich foods that caused the reward centers to fire, and become addicted to that food. Now normally I would have poo poo’d the high fat part, but this is what was found right? So I wondered two things. Firstly, as long as the rats didn’t go too far in one direction (ie lots of carbs or lots of fats) then they tended to remain non-addicted rats. Secondly, high calorie, or highly dense foods were obviously bad for them.

So again this got me thinking. I have lost weight in the past. When I started the paleo diet I lost almost 20 kg or 45 pounds. If I have done that before surly I can do it again. But what did I do then as opposed to later when I fell off the wagon. Looking back I find I ate only lean meats, and had more starchy carbs. For some reason when I started having less carbs and more fatty meat my weight loss declined significantly.  Perhaps the unprocessed carbs I was eating were helping my diet to be less energy dense, and stopped me from swinging too much in one direction. In this case my diet became too high fat, which in the rats was shown to cause addiction. The same would have happened if I had eliminated fat, and went all out on carbs such as in a low fat diet.

Thus, as humans it would pay for us to eat low density or unprocessed foods. Perhaps as long as you are getting good protein, and unprocessed carbs or fat then you are fine. We already agree that processed fats are bad. Do you eat vegetable oils? Perhaps what we need to be avoiding is processed carbs like refined flour, rice, pasta etc. Perhaps there is such a thing as good carbs, bad carbs. It wasn’t that long ago that we thought all fat was bad, now we know thats not true. Butter is fine, vegetable oil is not. Isn’t it logical this may be true for carbs too? A potato is going to be less energy dense and processed than ice cream or bread. Perhaps it is these refined foods (fat or carbs) that cause addiction rather than carbs per se.

If I am addicted, and I believe I am, I need to start taking lessons from these studies and apply them to myself. I need to be one of those lab rats. So I will be. For the next week I will be eating unprocessed carbs more often and lowering down the fat intake. My overall goal is to make my food less energy dense, have it unprocessed, and stop it swinging in either a carby or fatty direction. I would like to state that I am NOT anti fat. But I am wanting to base my eating patterns off the addiction literature, and this is what I am doing. I may fail, in fact if history is anything to go by I will fail, but imagine if I DONT!!!!

On a side note this is not completely unpaleolithic. There is certainly evidence that hunter gatherers ate starchy tubers (read post here), and there are many HG tribes that have a diet very high in carbohydrates. Also, their is evidence that many hunter gatherer societies ate very lean meat with fatty meat becoming copious seasonally. So what if most HG’s only had limited time to acquire fatty meat or it was a limited resource. Then it would make sense for their brains to reward them BIG TIME when they did capture and consume that fatty food. Something that may lead to addiction in todays society. Fat may itself not be bad for you, but if it drives your brain to crave more and more of it, and continue eating non-stop, then it may end up that way for some addicted types. Same would go for high sugar foods that were probably seasonally abundant or limited. Im not trying to start a paleo war here of who is wrong or right. I am trying to say that there is some evidence for this opinion.

So thats my idea……oh hang on I think I can hear people unsubscribing:)


32 Responses to “Lab Rat”

  1. Primal Toad June 24, 2010 at 12:13 am #

    I definitely see where you are coming from. It is easy to become addicted to fat as well, but much easier for carbs as is proven by society as a whole.

    I am one that does not like most studies because it seems as if anyone can prove anything by manipulating the study. Results are what matter. I eat a high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet like Mark suggests and have seen unbelievable results along with thousands of others.

    I am not even one who wants to lose weight. I wish to lose a little fat but gain a fair amount of muscle and overall gain a little weight.

    I don’t count my carbs or anything. I just simply eat whole foods. I enjoy a sweet potato once a week and even a few bites of other potatoes sometimes.

    I probably do consume up to 150 grams of carbs or more but that is because i eat A LOT of veggies and also enjoy a fair amount of fruit, mostly berries but I LOVE pineapple, canteloupe, banana for many thins including smoothies, watermelon, etc.

    Basically, one needs to eat enough protein to gain muscle and then make sure they eat healthy fats focusing on omega 3 and saturated fat from healthy animal sources and then coconut, etc.

    Ok, long enough comment!!

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:05 am #

      I would agree that carbs are worse. I also agree that I feel great on paleo when not trying to lose weight (i.e maintaining). But trying to lose weight is a very different fish. But just so you know my carbs are not likely to be much higher than what you are eating.

  2. Carla June 24, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    Do what’s best for you – it’s the only way to stick to something!

    I am also not against fat at all – but I DON’T lose weight unless I keep it down somewhat (and I only eat good fats). I find it amazing to see some people eating tons of meat and fat and still lose weight. It just doesn’t seem to happen for me! I think it’s important for people to be careful not to eat too much of ANYTHING. It’s not good for our bodies, or for the planet!

    I also think fruit is good. Many studies have shown that people who eat lots of fruit are healthier. I don’t think that this can be disputed. I am not addicted to fruit and I never will be. It just doesn’t have those addictive properties like processed carbs do. If it comes from the ground, I will eat it in it’s natural form. Yes, that includes potatoes!

    I totally admire what you are doing here. You are figuring out what to do to be healthier. You are going to try to see what works and what doesn’t. And I can tell that you are going to be successful!

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:07 am #

      Your the first person to tell me that. I thought I was the only one who had to watch my fat intake. When I don’t my weight stays the same. Generally people can get very defensive like Im attacking the all mighty fat.

  3. Michael June 24, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    Morning Dr. Dan,

    Just my humble opinion, but I think, of course hunter gatherers ate starchy tubers. Why wouldn’t they? They are a easy to find food in the wilds, available in many climates. They are listed in several wild edibles books. I have been thinking and rethinking alot of my newfound Paleo ideas. I like the direction you are taking here. Right now the Paleo thing is working great for me, but I am waiting for the other side to appear. I do go off and eat too much fat or meat or fruit now and again. So far, only a weigh gain (and loss) in the ten pound range or so. I think I read something a long time ago (sorry to not have documentation for it) but the Atkins dieters in studies seemed to gain weight back after a period of time. I know, Paleo is different than Atkins, and maybe the studies were slanted towards low fat, low carb diet plans. But, I find myself waiting for the other side of this great Paleo thing I found.

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 8:57 am #

      I agree I think it is obvious. Hunter gatherers are a diverse group. Obviously the Inuits are mostly fat and protein. But these were N = 1. People often tout these as evidence for why they can have no carbs and really high fat. But many HG socieites exist which were high carbs too. Hence the reason it might be best to either sit in the middle. It would seem that the addiction literature is starting to suggest this too, and its this literature I am trying to follow more than anything.

      • Michael June 24, 2010 at 10:34 am #

        Hello again Dr. Dan,
        If its not too difficult, in laymans language, what does that n=1 stuff mean? I am reading another really interesting website called He uses the n=1 thing, and maybe I am slow, but I don’t know what that means?

      • TPSW June 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

        Not trying to be or answer for Dr. Dan but since he is probably watching the New Zealand World Cup match right now I will jump in. n=1 is used to mean a single subject experiment, as in the individual using themselves as the only lab rat in a research study. Ususally n is used for number, so if you are experimenting on yourself you will be the 1 subject in the study. I hope this is making sense.

    • TPSW June 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

      BTW, you are not slow Michael. There are so many different “codes” or abreviations that paleo people throw around that beg for translations.

      • michael June 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

        Thank you for the explanation and kind words. I was going to ask you also because I noticed you also wrote the n=1 thing. I think I understand it. I am not real sure why this would be important, or why would one write such an equation? So, if I get it, then n=1 means something like one person is used as an experiment? n=2 would mean two subjects are used to test a theory? What does n stand for? Number? I like reading things like this that are above my current understanding, they make me learn. I look forward to your post on your blog using the n=1 thing.
        My wife just came back from her conference. She was excited from the talk of one speaker about how the world is changing. She shared something he asked the audience with me about what he called conventional wisdom. He asked what color is a YIELD sign?
        Apparently, it is red and white, not yellow and black like in my mind. Apparently it has been that way for 40 years now. His point was that things change and we sometimes see things as they were. Not sure what this has to do with the n=1 thing, but I wanted to share it anyway.

      • Judith June 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

        Michael, thanks for asking. I have seen that code many times also. And thanks for the excellent explanation, TPSW.

      • TPSW June 24, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

        Yup, you have it Michael, n for number, if you and your wife are both doing the same thing it would be n=2. I know that I use it as shorthand to refer to the fact that each one of us is different and will get somewhat different results no matter what we do. Since we are all individuals we do need to our self experimentation to find what works best for each of us. It is kind of a disclaimer of “hey, this worked for me” to not sound like ya’ know what will work for someone else. Dr. Dan is a little more elegant in his writing than I.

      • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

        Michael. Probably already answered. In any scientific experiment you need to show how many things were counted. So if you had 50 obese people been trialed on a new diet then N=50. N is simply your sample number. A low N is considered as very bad because it can be very biased. For example, if you have 50 obese people on a new diet and only one of them loses weight then you can be fairly sure the diet sucks. But if you only had the one obese person who lost weight in your sample (N=1) then your results would have been very biased. In general the bigger the N the better and more statistically powerful. Thats why people say N=1. Its like saying that it could very well be biased and your only basing your findings off yourself, which is NOT scientific.

  4. Patrick June 24, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Hmmm, “So what if most HG’s only had limited time to acquire fatty meat or it was a limited resource.”

    Well, in society today fat is not a limited resource. But time often is. And that need to get in that fat intake in limited time is easiest satisfied though the drive-thru. Oh how I used to feel like a culinary champion when I could race off, into a drive thru and finish that fattening bag of goodies before I got to my destination. Mmmm, ugh 😦

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

      Haha. This is true. And if your gonna wolf something down let it be high calorie.

  5. Frank Hagan June 24, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    There’s some evidence that a few genes determine how well we respond to either a low carb, low fat or “balanced” diet. I blogged about a study at that tested the hypothesis.

    Its not “popular” among either low fat or low carb devotees to talk about this, as what works for them should surely work for everyone “if they just apply themselves to it.” But the reality is that both diets fail people. I’m leaning toward the results of this study, that we are individuals with individual needs and reactions to various foods.

    Anyway, keep blogging and testing. You will get there.

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

      I completely agree!!! I think there definitely tends to be variability between different people. What I find interesting is how when you are wanting carbs its because you are craving it, when you want fat its because you need it (or vice versa). That is what I am trying to figure out. What do I crave.

  6. haig June 24, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Regarding that study, humans and rats have evolved along very different paths since their common ancestor was roaming about. Rats scavenge and eat whatever they can find, they have not evolved to eat animal fat as a consistent part of their diet like humans. For rats, both sugar and fat are the equivalent of what just sugar is to humans, a highly energy dense but scarce food that is rarely eaten, of course the rats are going to display similar addictive patterns to both foods. Humans have adapted to a consistent abundance of animal fat for sustenance. We are humans not rats, I wouldn’t impart too much relevance onto that study.

    Second, I previously recommended an ad lib meat/fat diet initially mainly not as a weight loss technique, but to jump-start keto-adaptation and to cope with carb/sugar addiction. Your body composition should change by increasing muscle and decreasing fat, but your scale weight might not move. That’s ok in my book, as long as your body fat % is decreasing, but that is a much slower process than the common metric of scale weight, which includes water loss and muscle loss when on calorie-restricted diets.

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

      Hi there. I think that rats make a good comparison to humans. Both species are highly omnivorous and generalists – eating anything that they can. For example brown rats in the North Sea eat ducks. Ducks are very high in fat!!

      I am just experimenting. If this doesn’t work then I may look at reducing my carbs right down.

      • haig June 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

        In the end, the human body is massively complex and it may be that the best way to come to a conclusion is to self-experiment. I wish you luck with that and am interested to see how it turns out. There is a growing trend of self-experimentation and if you haven’t already, you should check out .

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

      Cheers I will check out that link. I think self experimentation is a good thing. Thanks for your comments!

  7. Dani June 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    If your a scientist then I think you need to track what works for you specifically. I don’t think that there’s one food plan out there that works for everyone, because we all have our own chemistry, genetics, and issues. The best thing would probably be to track the effects that different foods have either on your brain or your body and then add or subtract from that.

    I teach a low-glycemic diet to my clients, but I also begin the group by saying that although this is what I’m teaching you, you have to use common sense on what works for you and pay attention to what your body is telling you. As you mentioned, you can see how certain foods affect you in either positive or negative ways.

    Processed food for instance cause an addiction, because they surge through your body so quickly leaving it needing more. If you have higher fiber, unprocessed carbs your body will be energized and stay satisfied longer.

    It’s also not only about weight loss, but about maintaining that weight over a period of time and being able to stay sane and happy about it. Life is too short to be counting calories and fat grams.

    I’ve had eating issues my whole life and have finally learned to take control over them after realizing that I just have an all-or-none addictive personality. Sure there are some foods that trigger me in a bad way, but mostly it’s my emotions that cause the problem. I’ve learned to deal with them in a better way that doesn’t revolve around food. Once I learned how to do this the weight seemed to fall into place, because I was happier and became more intuitive to my wants and needs.

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

      Yes I find I am a lot happier when I just let myself eat good food but when I am hungry. Unfortunately, for me I am happier but I never lose weight. I need to watch my calories. Or at least I think I do.

  8. ElizabethG June 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Dan, we are all lab rats. And if I look around (I’m in the United States), the experiment has gone horribly wrong with 67% of the American people overweight or obese. I will be following your journey with interest.

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

      Thank you.

  9. Judith June 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Well I won’t be unsubscribing, Dan! Every body is different, so everyone has to find a way of eating that suits them and that they can stick to and that they enjoy. I agree that “as humans it would pay for us to eat low density or unprocessed foods. Perhaps as long as you are getting good protein, and unprocessed carbs or fat then you are fine.” Getting rid of the processed foods is the key, IMHO. Never eat anything with a label! I am lucky though, I have the time to prepare all my meals from scratch. Not everyone has that luxury. Good luck!

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

      I always avoid labels. I always shop on the outside! Its a good rule.

  10. Meeses June 24, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Hi Dan,

    I am quickly unlurking just to say:

    1) I personally find your new blog very inspiring & comforting, and I read every post.
    2) Congrats on the grant!
    3) I remember that I gained fat weight when I added coconut oil (of all things) to my (low carb paleo) diet. I also never lost weight on any kind of “fat fast.”
    4) I believe Robb Wolf mentions in some of his podcasts that he added a lot of fat to his diet when his goal was mass gain, but for his normal weight, day-to-day existence, he found he didn’t need that much.
    5) I assume the body designates preferred ranges of nutrient levels at some point during the developmental process, depending on the environment that has been provided for its genes. So the genetic expression for satiety set points would be an individual thing that varies within a wide range of possibilities over populations but stays more or less constant for each person. Maybe?
    6) I was never prone to binging or food addiction until I started intermittent fasting, but then suddenly I was. Not quite sure what to make of that (trying to separate the signal from the noise), but for me it’s an interesting data point.

    I make no claims about my knowledge of science, btw. 🙂

    Cheering you on,

    • Dan June 24, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

      It is so interesting how the image of paleo is so different than what people actually find when doing it. I only ever hear about the miracle of coconut oil. Its interesting you didn’t find it helpful.

  11. PK June 26, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    “Perhaps it is these refined foods (fat or carbs) that cause addiction rather than carbs per se.”

    I’m not sure if it’s helpful to simply things so much. I’ve read (though not the actual studies or science myself, but on others’ blogs) that wheat has an opiate effect in the brain, sugar affects our brain hormones, etc etc (I’m sure you’ve read all this too). So while refining something could certainly cause an effect to take place more quickly, I think we also have to look at the biochemistry, the molecules of a certain food, and measure what effect it has on our brain. I think only then will the idea that one can be addicted to food like one can be addicted to cocaine, and that it will be accepted that the usual “everything in moderation” or “just eat a little bit and stop” really can’t apply to some people. Then we can stop blaming people for not being able to control themselves. Right now, I’d say people are more sympathetic to people who are trying to quit smoking than people who are trying to lose weight. No one argues that quitting smoking is easy but anyone who’s of a normal weight can’t fathom the desire for sugar, the sneaking around and late night drives to donut shops just to get a fix.

    • Dan June 26, 2010 at 10:03 am #

      Brilliantly said PK and its best not to simply things I agree. I actually thought I was attempting to complicate things. I wanted to say that seeing carbs as bad, and thats all their is to it, is a bit black and white. We need to realise that some carbs can be bad and good. We don’t know which ones yet I was offering a possible division. We can do this with fats now (vegetable oils = bad, butter = good) so why is this difficult with carbs.

  12. Valda Redfern June 27, 2010 at 5:20 am #

    “What I find interesting is how when you are wanting carbs its because you are craving it, when you want fat its because you need it (or vice versa). That is what I am trying to figure out. What do I crave.”

    Me too – how does one distinguish between an addictive craving and a craving that just indicates a need for a particular nutrient? I also wonder how well ‘subjective’ likes and dislikes map to individual physical makeup: should someone who dislikes cabbage, for instance, eat it anyway because it’s good for him – or should he avoid it because it probably isn’t good for him, even if it is good for most people? I’m inclined to think that once one has gotten used to eating real food, one’s tastes are a reliable guide to optimal nutrition; but how long does it take for tastes to normalise?

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