Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Salt & food reward

As I've mentioned before, since I've dropped much of the salt in my diet, I have been looking to a lot of paleo type cooking blogs & recipe books because they often (not always) are much more adaptable to low sodium cooking than more typical American fare. I'm not a die hard by any means... I've been finding that it's easier to stick with eating real natural foods if I have a balance of starches & protein. Extremism doesn't work for me, never has.

Through that route, I've come across the blog of a gentleman named Stephan Guyenet and his series on the issue of 'food reward'. His thinking is somewhat similar to David Kessler's in The End of Overeating, a book which I found fascinating if a little flawed. The more experience I have with a radically reduced sodium intake, the more I think that these guys are onto something with their characterization of American industrial food as hyperstimulating. Kessler calls out salt more explicitly than Guyenet (though I may be wrong, as I've only gotten about halfway through Guyenet's series), but I think it's a huge factor.

You see, I've always been a fairly healthy person with a bit of a compulsive eating problem. I eat (and cook) for entertainment and sometimes to soothe my emotions. I sometimes have days where I really feel COMPELLED to eat a ton of stuff that I know isn't very good for me, and often I don't even find it very enjoyable, but I keep doing it. It's never risen to the level of an eating disorder, I'll go out on a limb and hazard a guess that LOTS of Americans eat that way some of the time. For me, it's not been too damaging to my health, when I've been inactive or injured I sometimes get moderately overweight, but otherwise if I eat well and am active things are generally pretty good.

And then this Meniere's thing hit. If I prepare my own food from scratch, I keep my sodium levels low (800-1200mg) and generally avoid vertigo attacks. If I eat out in restaurants, like on our recent vacation, no matter how I try to keep my sodium down it creeps in. And, not surprisingly, I get an attack. So I've been pretty good about keeping my sodium levels low for several months now. The thing is, I sometimes still binge eat. I guide it a little bit now, I'll go for ice cream (which is low sodium) over a bag of pretzels (which are high sodium), but it's been a hard thing for me to completely stop. However, I've been using a nutrition app to track my food and I've noticed one really important change since I've dropped my sodium intake... when I do binge, I binge on far less food than I used to. I feel grossed out, bloated and done with eating after eating maybe 1/4-1/3 of the food that used to constitute a binge.

My theory is that with less salt in my diet the food reward response has begun to be blunted. Kessler theorizes that the trinity of hyperstimulating ingredients is fat, sugar & salt. The only thing that's been a solid consistent change for me is that I've cut the salt.

I'm in the planning stages for a bit of an experiment this fall about what happens if I eat a really REALLY bland & repetitive diet. Not unpleasant. Just bland. I'm curious to know if it would make a major adjustment in my susceptibility to hyperpalatable industrial foods.

*** And for the record, eating very low carb makes the binge eating worse rather than better, so it's not simply an insulin thing. That is generally why I avoid extremes in terms of low carb, low fat or low protein because eating a diet that's relatively balanced with plenty of fruits & veggies seems to be the best thing for preventing binges.

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