Interesting theory on what makes us eat more

I just read a very interesting article by Seth Roberts, "What Makes Food Fattening.  (The Freakonmics blog pointed me to it.)  Nobody knows what makes food fattening but Roberts had a lot of interesting theories.  The article was well worth reading but if you don’t have the time to read all 77 pages, here’s my summary.  (Note that all the figures were at the end of the article.)  I’m going to state these as facts but the paper makes it very clear that they are all still theories.

  • We have body fat "set point", a level of fat or weight that our body tries to maintain.
  • This set point is variable and depends on what we eat.
  • Food has a flavor and an amount of calories.  The higher the amount of calories, the better the flavor will taste.  This is flavor-calorie association.  So if a banana had 200 calories, it would taste better than bananas do now with only 100 calories even though the banana flavor is the same.
  • The faster your body notices the calories, the higher this flavor-calorie association is.  So if it’s flavored sugar water, it reaches your digestive stream quickly and it’ll have a higher flavor-calorie association than food that needs to be broken down and processed by your stomach.
  • Foods can be paired together and have a joint flavor-calorie association.  French fries don’t have much flavor, so their flavor-calorie association would be low, but when we eat them with high flavor foods (like hamburgers), the hamburger/french fry flavor-calorie association is high with hamburgers contributing to the flavor and french fries (and hamburgers) to the calorie part.
  • The more flavor-calorie foods you eat, the higher your fat set point is.  This has something to do with when foods are plenty, food is more diverse and flavor-calorie associations go up.  When food is scarse, they go down and our fat set points go down.
  • Japanese are thinner because their food has less flavor and so the flavor-calorie association is weaker.
  • Fast food has a very strong flavor-calorie association and it’s very consistent.
  • The more consistent a food, the more likely you will develop a flavor-calorie association with it.

His advice?

  • Eat new foods often!  Your body doesn’t have a flavor-calorie association for it.
  • Vary food flavors often.  If you cook at home, make your dishes just a little different each time.
  • Consume calories with no flavor.  This will decrease your set point.  (Roberts claims drinking fructose water between meals will actually decrease your set point and cause you to lose weight.)

I’m not sure what I think about it all yet, but it’s a lot of food for thought.

2:36pm: I forgot one:

  • Eating the same food all the time makes it boring and lowers the flavor-calorie association.  All liquid diets are boring and so people eat less of them.