Saturday, September 30

Lowcarb and Learning Theory

"Learning theory" is a phrase used to describe the (ongoing, ever-evolving) results of a field of study about how humans perceive, process, and respond to information. It relates to what causes change in the human based on information processing (for better or worse).

As a layman's paraphrase of the generic basics for an example, let us say that the "action" we wish to 'train' is throwing a basketball, aiming to get it through the hoop.
  • If you provide accurate feedback to a human following an action, the body/mind perceiving the information -- such as "when you threw it exactly like that, it went in" or "when you threw it exactly like that, it bounced off the rim to the left" -- will be able to "learn" from this. The feedback is corrective or confirming, both of which 'teach' us. So: practice improves most anything, we all know this.
  • If you provide inaccurate feedback to a human following an action, the body/mind will learn just as well -- it's simply that what it learns is wrong. For example, if a basketball hoop were specially designed to ever-so-slightly move to the left just after the ball left your hands for the throw, eventually you would use that "corrective" information and begin throwing the ball slightly to the left, in order to succeed.
  • If you provide feedback that is highly negative, e.g., every time you throw a basketball someone comes and punches you in the head, then you create an aversion effect, where mysteriously you seem to be losing your desire to shoot hoops (I wonder why!).
  • If you don't provide ANY feedback following an action, or if you provide feedback that does not directly relate to the goal-attempt of the action, eventually you train-out the behavior. If barking at the moon did not get you strawberries, you'd have no reason to do it, and when you wanted strawberries that is not an urge you'd have, as it'd be unrelated to your getting them.

The lack of feedback, and even moreso, "inconsistent" feedback -- sometimes accurate, sometimes wrong, sometimes none, sometimes negative -- can literally train-out a quality or skill. I believe this is called an Extinction Paradigm. You have basically extinguished that tendency or skillset in the human.

Dr. Batmanghelidj, author of Your Body's Many Cries for Water, has an interesting idea. He believes that our culture, over time, feeding ourselves and our children drinks that are not water---the body doesn't by nature know anything but water--we have programmed-out our own innate thirst-reflex. He suggests that when the body asks for water and we give it other stuff, from slightly-off (like koolaid or coffee) to massively-off (like sodas), the body eventually is "entrained" to not ask for water because it isn't going to get it.

So eventually, the body quits asking. If a desire for clean water brings the minor poison of a soft drink cola, that is not only an inaccurate feedback for 'thirsty for water', it's actually a 'negative' aversion feedback.

He believes that over time, we become dehydrated literally to the cellular level. As it is gradual and has been happening over such a long time, we are oblivious to it. All the cells make do with a little less eventually, until finally, side effects start showing up, and then major problems.

He described a linear serious of ailments that can result from chronic dehydration, immensely aggravated by 'fiber' supplements that allegedly deal with the symptoms that dehydration caused in the first place, but leech massive water from the body when used, making it worse, making one yet-more dependent on them. I might have been more skeptical about his book except that my father has had every single one of the symptoms and ailments he described, in exactly the same order. I mean what are the odds. Most of these are things that the medical system has no good explanation for the causation of, except "bad luck."

By the time the body finally asks for water, it is only because it is so incredibly desperate for it, that it is simply is doing anything it can, no matter that the approach seldom works, to try and get your attention to get some.

The doc believes that replenishing the body all the way to the cellular level takes several months of drinking sufficient water daily. Like sleep, it is not something you can just make up all at once.

Soda is NOT water despite that it has water in it. It has to do with how the body processes the water -- he has nice little diagrams and simple explanations that even I was capable of understanding. (Although I felt he attributed too much to dehydration, in terms of health problems, aside from that I felt it was a book well worth reading.)

So, let's look at food. We need nutrients and protein most of all. Our body gets hungry. It starts in childhood, with many. And so we feed it -- mac&cheese? A happy meal with fries and coke? At best, that is somewhere between inaccurate feedback and non-feedback if it doesn't have the nutrients we needed. At worst, given the content of the food and affect on the body, it may be actual aversion training!

Not on a conscious level though. On a conscious level, we love sweet, we feel happy, we're inundated with marketing, McDonald's has the Star-Wars toys!, and the sheer mass quantity of sugar/carbs in the meal makes us feel "up-up-up!", while the drink is cold and fizzy (feel the burn! yeah!). Consciously we're getting nothing but positive feedback -- at first.

Unfortunately, the negative feedback of exhaustion, allergies/asthma, and more don't come until later, and as learning theory studies have always shown, the sooner the feedback, the greater the likelihood of learning from it. So, 30 minutes or an hour later when your blood sugar might drop is too late for that feedback to do any good for the conscious mind; we don't necessarily even correlate the two events. Our meal is already long past and forgotten by then.

So at a subconscious level, we have a body-function that eventually is trained out of bothering to really ask for what it wants because it doesn't get it, or seldom, and often gets something quite bad if it dares ask. No different than a family with an alcoholic angry parent, eventually the child, not sure if they'll get a kindness, ignored, or often abuse, in response to a question, is just going to avoid asking questions at all. So our bodies learn to avoid asking for what they want.

And at a conscious level, we have a body-psychology that is eventually trained into craving sugar, carbs, cold fizzy drinks, hot coffee, and the feeling of comfortable oversatiation that only eating too much bread-based carbs can give you.

We force the dissociation between body and mind from a young age.

The good doc Batman believes that you can rehydrate your body, heal it, and that gradually when you drink a lot more water regularly, your thirst -- for water, not soda or coffee -- will actually begin to gradually return. I have experienced this myself. It's not easy to do since in my case I didn't like water. I liked soda. But after drinking at least 3qts of water a day for about 10 days, the actual thirst-response started coming back. I started getting thirsty far more often (despite all that water!) and specifically for water, not sugary-carbonated junk.

I correlate this with the fact that some lowcarb docs note that insulin resistance can be lessened, and even Type 2 diabetes lessened greatly, as one eats low-carb and adequate-protein and nutrients finally, and the body gradually begins to heal.

(Not, mind you, that it's ever going to revert to what we think of as normalcy, as LC Dave points out.)

I am coming to believe that the basics of human learning theory are, unintentionally perhaps, working against us in our culture from the moment we start eating solid foods.

Some think -- rightly I suspect -- that placing importance on food such as a 'reward' is the wrong message to send to oneself, as it ties into the "emotional" issues with eating.

But on the other hand, food is central to physiological survival, and since the dawn of time man's been generally obsessed with it for necessary reasons. We may not want to have eating tied to our psychology, but the fact is--it is. I don't think we can wish that away. I think it's hard-wired into our biology, even if every human culture didn't steep its people in it.

So my armchair philosophy for the day goes something like this:

  • The more that we make lowcarb food important to ourselves;
  • the more enjoyment we get from eating it;
  • the more positive feedback we get from self or others from experimenting with it, cooking it, sharing with others about it, etc;
  • the more we literally create a 'celebration of food' gestalt with lowcarb eating;
  • then the more we are working to "correct and re-adjust" the psychology about food.

If we eat what we don't much like or what bores us because we "should," we are not only NOT working to "correct" our psychology (as much as our insulin-response), we are actually contributing in a negative way to that level of things.

And it seems to me that while we are healing ourselves, we have to consider the mind as well as the body. Our reaction to food goes from the most primal survival level to the most abstracted marketing inference: food doesn't just move through us, it moves us through and through.

So here's to creative culinary efforts; to sharing recipes and social bonding over that; to learning to enjoy food preparation; and to making food something special. Drink that protein shake in a princess goblet. Make that chicken with peppers dish or array of veggies and deviled eggs pretty on the plate, it can be done. Those are small ritual elements, but it's more our effort to pursue them, to take the time to make food a luxury for us, that matters.

Make lowcarb food for the mind and heart, as well as the body.



Anonymous said...

[quote]If we eat what we don't much like or what bores us because we "should," we are not only NOT working to "correct" our psychology (as much as our insulin-response), we are actually contributing in a negative way to that level of things.[/quote]

This is SO true. I wasn't getting my veggies in, so I tried making a rule that I had to eat them with every evening meal. Result? I started avoiding eating so that I wouldn't have to eat them, I hate them so much.

Not productive!

Bat Spit

PJ said...

I totally did that. When I was working on a much more 'balanced' eating plan, the stress of trying to get multiple foods, veggies I hate, and cook regularly, resulted in my literally fasting 2/3+ of the time. If I don't eat, I don't have to deal with it! Problem solved! Well until my body eventually freaks out from lack of nutrients...