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Paleo, food addiction, and dopamine

by (78422)
Updated about 11 hours ago
Created December 30, 2011 at 3:35 PM

First of all, I am looking for an answer to my question. NOT JUDGEMENT on my decisions/addiction issues. If you need to pass judgement, please go elsewhere. That is not helpful to anyone.

OK. Over the holiday season, I gave myself license to eat all manner of non-paleo stuff.

Fast food, cookies, fudge, buckeyes, etc. etc.

It was delicious but left me feeling kind of hollow because now I know what these foods do to my body. The cognitive dissonance was deafening.

To my question, I'm realizing the addictive component of refined flour (and wheat in general), sugar, sugar-substitutes (damn Cherry Diet Dr. Pepper!), etc. They say that obese people (I am currently in this category) have fewer dopamine receptors than "normal" people, and the more obese a person is, the fewer dopamine receptors they have. And the addictive component of food is usually driven by sweeteners and salt. I believe that a lower carb Paleo diet is ideal in my situation to help overcome these addictions. However, I would like to raise the number of dopamine receptors in my brain ASAP to help overcome this addiction.

One suggestion is exercise, which can raise dopamine receptors in the brain. Now, I do strength train 3 times per week, and I am going to add in a daily 10 minute rowing session. However, while I am converting back to Paleo, do you all have any suggestions as to how else (in addition to exercise) raise the number of dopamine receptors in my brain? Studies are great, but I'm also looking for anecdotal evidence from formerly obese people.

Thanks and Happy New Year!!!

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0 · April 09, 2014 at 7:51 PM

Your story really resonates with me, thank you.

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1548 · December 31, 2011 at 5:37 PM

If we only knew what would stop the conversion of dopamine to adrenalin ... As for tyrosine, if we are eating a lot of meat, I don't see why we would be deficient in it, so there must be something else going on. I seriously do find that gluten results in more prolactin/lower dopamine levels (this is after a few hours, regardless of any initial buzz). Potatoes are a bit addictive for me but they don't have this prolactin issue. I do IF and only eat the potatoes in the evening, which seems to keep the addiction in check. The alpha-liopic acid works for my starch cravings too, not just sugar.

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78422 · December 31, 2011 at 1:46 PM

Thanks for the answer. I have the same issues when in ketosis. I've actually had several nights where I slept maybe 2 hours, and that was fitfully at best. And the crazy thing is that I actually felt fine in the morning. I use a combination of magnesium anb B6 along with Valerian root. I sleep very well. My cravings aren't sweets any more, as much as starches. I crave pizza, potatoes, and sandwiches. After reading what you said about Tyrosine, I'm a little iffy. I already get plenty of adrenalin released from drinking coffee, even decaf. I tried giving it up, but I felt awful.

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78422 · December 31, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Wow. What great ideas. I work with a Russian guy, also named Alex who turned me onto some great Gypsy music, and also Gypsy punk, can't think of the band name right now, but good stuff. I'm going to start singing now. Been listening to this song lately (thanks to Rose): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uxdQdEt-R8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 10:43 PM

@Raney, you act like caffeine is a master regulator. Increasing dopamine levels via L-Tyr will lead to down-regulation as well. And the OP is more interested in net agonism than levels of neurotransmitter per se. @Paleolady & Raney, it is the insulin that increases serotonin levels in the brain due to its effects on tryptophan in the blood. And maybe sugar causes side effects for you, but most people handle fruit just fine and I think some carbs are more prudent than 5-HTP.

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37187 · December 30, 2011 at 9:48 PM

@Cody. The conversation about relaxed, mindful eating is important. I break all the rules now and take 40 minutes (in a recliner) to slowly savor and munch a crunchy salad. By the time I dish out the main course, my appetite is nearly asleep and a reasonable portion (you get to define what that is for you) is plenty.

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1648 · December 30, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Sugar only increases serotonin in the brain because it uses up the other competing amino acids (using them to store glucose), so more serotonin gets through the blood brain barrier into the brain. It doesn't actually increase serotonin, just allows more into the brain, and causes way too many other side affects. I do find adding 5-HTP helps me tremendously.

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181 · December 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM

I can completely relate to this answer. It's nice to see/read acknowledgment of something most people think is just excuses. I dropped sugar because of several serious chronic health issues, not to lose weight. And I struggle but stick with it because I don't ever want to land in the hospital again. But that doesn't make it easy to avoid junk food!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Jonesey, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Jonesey, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up! For more Paleo hacks: http://paleohacks.com/questions/86623/paleo-food-addiction-and-dopamine#ixzz1i3KMJTpn

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Jonesy, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Yeah, she is obviously extremely strong as well!

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 8:04 PM

I aspire to such a woman.

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606 · December 30, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Read up on PSMF and sounds like it's for overweight people or body builders trying to cut body fat. I hope you the best in finding the results you are looking for. Good luck, at least you are making an effort and that's something to be proud of.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:47 PM

I saw a video on youtube of a guy doing a Turkish get up with a woman as his kettlebell! Wow! I aspire to such strength! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDQUlshxO_8

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:45 PM

Yep. My favorite is a couple hour hike through the woods. That clears out my mind, gets me back in touch with the world, and makes me feel like million bucks. Unfortunately, I live in Iowa, and it's not the best time of year for that sort of thing and rowing for hours hurts my butt!

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:41 PM

If you feel stress related to kids, you can just pick them up and do some clean and jerks.

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1968 · December 30, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Awesome! Make sure you just get to that happy place (you'll know it when you see it) where you're pumping out endorphins. This isn't about weight loss or muscles, it's really more about replacing exogenous high (that I also get from carbs/sugar, like I actually feel drunk) with en endogenous one. People use it for all kinds of dopamine signalling problems (addiction, depression). Personally, I'm pretty fit/lean, but with lifting, I can't really get there, even with circuit training, even if I sweat (might be diff. for you). But walking a few miles def. does it.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Thanks for the reminder on mindfulness, Kamal. You are correct. I also need to take more time to just sit with whatever I'm feeling in the moment (usually stress related to kids or work) instead of stuffing it down with food.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:28 PM

Removing diet soda helped me tons, others do fine. Next step for me is removal of splenda, so close. Be careful with starches if only because you might have some blood sugar issues. Crashing blood sugar drives hunger pretty severely.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:26 PM

LOL on the moderately moderate in a moderate approach. Free meals are a part of my plan. Diet soda/soda is a no go, for sure. Flour is a no go, but I'm seeing lots of possibilities in a paleo and maybe safe starch template. A home made mongolian beef over white rice, for instance sounds like an awesome treat. A steak and a baked potato with some sauteed mushrooms. Things like that. I need to stay away from refined sugar/starched for quite some time.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM

So listen to Krisha if you want and you'll probably have fewer slipups. Which reminds me, a good strategy to stop bingeing is to make your free meals with other people.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM

I met my girlfriend over cheap asian wheat noodle soup. It was worth it.

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:24 PM

If you can get to the point where you can eat one unit of one super-awesome food (e.g. chocolate covered peanut butter pretzel) while in a craving state, but stop right after, then you are a Jedi master and nothing can stand in your way.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Thanks Hannah. My daughter is named Hannah, too. ;)

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Look, I'm not saying he should eat 1 cookie every day. I'm saying he should start to incorporate more foods in his diet 1-2 times per week. Start slowly. Be moderately moderate in a moderate approach. Cause if he doesn't wanna be a hermit it's probably an important step. For now, like I said, don't eat trigger foods. But long term he should look into 'free' meals.

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

I'd bet my bottom dollar that you'll reach your goals, seeing as how you've lost so much weight already, are paleo, and have perused Lyle's forums. Rather than strategies to boost dopamine receptors, I wonder if this tweak would come in handy: eat some of your meals very slowly and mindfully. This would apply mostly to meals outside of the post-workout period, as well as cheats. If you train your brain to savor the flavor of foods and break the "shovel food in my mouth" cycle, that may be a way to lessen the chances of a binge.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Thanks Nance! You are very right about serenity. Mastering one's emotional state is paramount to over coming addiction. I'm learning to do the things to take care of myself emotionally. Daily exercise, eating well, daily meditation, reaching out for community (here and other places), etc. etc. Thanks for taking the time to share!

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1968 · December 30, 2011 at 7:18 PM

I totally understand the moderation approach, but some people just can't. Yes, it would be nice to train your brain to eat one cookie and not eat a million, but when you're looking at some serious obesity, now is not the time for other valiant efforts. Trying to get down to mere overweight is valiant enough! Some people do coke once in a while, some people are addicts. So, I'd say don't cheat. Just don't. Foods that make you overeat are demons. You're not bad when you cheat, but they are evil and are trying to ruin you. Run away!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:17 PM

Yep. PSMF makes me not want to eat. Ever again. LOL It works well for me where many other things have failed. I need to work on the transition. Add back in things like sweet potatoes and butter slowly to make sure I don't lose it.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:16 PM

Every question worth asking about nutrition/training has been asked and answered there in my opinion. You get some **very** knowledgeable people posting.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM

Diet deficit really depends on personality... so I can't speak for you. But if you have 3 500-600kcal meals I guarantee you'll lose weight, and 500-600kcal seems to be a nice sweet spot size where you can eat normal food. I'd aim for lots of protein, moderate fat, and carbs as your body responds well to them.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM

I love Lyle's forums. I could spend weeks there. So much knowledge. It would be great to see it all sifted through and have the best nuggets published.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:11 PM

which helps with the energy levels.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:11 PM

I weigh 335 lbs (down from 455 about five years ago). Because of my extreme obesity (I'm guessing), I don't seem to lack any energy on a PSMF. I can strength train three times per week without any real loss of intensity. Of course, I've always been more of a low-volume type of guy, and focused on form and lifting heavy stuff rather than spending hours in the gym. Right now, I'm focusing on Kettlebell Swings, Turkish Get up, push ups, and rows as my main exercises. I do the kettlebell swings, push ups, and rows as a circuit with no rest in between. And I have my cheat meals before my workout

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Actually on his forums he brought it up once how maybe the best approach is to shotgun everything. You combine a sensible diet, with pharmaceuticals, with therapy, with exercise (cardio drives hunger a bit but research still indicates it burns more than it drives you to eat as long as you don't use it as an excuse). So if you want to use pharmaceuticals, go ahead. I think I covered every possibility worth mentioning, and some that were more jokes (eg cocaine).

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Good job for the 120 lbs, even if you never reach 'shredded' remember that you have already significantly improved your health (also the exercise is good).

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM

flexible dieting becuause Lyle know's his stuff, and I like his writing style. But you make a ton of valid points. I know that with proper diet and exercise, that my brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I'm just looking for a temporary crutch. Anything I can use to get me through the next few months of rapid weight loss. I also plan to meditate, row daily (not for the calorie burn, which will be minimal, but because I enjoy it and because I know that it will help with my mental state)

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:06 PM

How much do you weigh? Try 10kcal/lb bodyweight and report back. That sets most people up for about a pound per week loss. And personally, I have always been more motivated by athletic performance than bodyweight, so on more moderate diets I can actually exercise :)

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM

You make a lot of good points. I am one way or another responsible for my current situation and I am also responsible for changing it. I hear you on the excessive diets, but I've taken the slow approach, and for some reason, it doesn't work for weight loss. After months, I get frustrated and give in to the cravings. So for the first 120 pounds, PSMF was the last weapon in my arsenal that worked. I would prefer not to do it, because the food is aweful, it takes the joy out of eating, and eating just feels like work. Which may be exactly what I need right now? I will read Lyle's book on

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Some people report really decreased cravings on a PSMF, probably via food reward magic or something. Chicken breast and broccoli get old pretty quick. I am not one of those people though, so I urge you to consider a more moderate approach per my recommendation. It also depends on how overweight you are, the more overweight the bigger diet you can get away with without hunger issues (in general).

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:45 PM

Thanks conciliator. I think you are right. I have been obese my whole life and eventually, by sticking to eating right and changing my mindset, it will get better. I think it may be a few years off, though. ;)

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:34 PM

And finally the effects of L-Tyrosine fade after a couple weeks anecdontally. Could this be due to downregulation of catecholamine production? Almost reminiscent about how caffeine develops a tolerance. There's no free lunch.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:33 PM

And finally, nobody is asking how to increase levels of neurotransmitters. That's what you propose he does. He's asking how to increase net agonism of the dopamine receptors.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:32 PM

I still don't see your point. Everything is related, don't single out caffeine for its effects on neurotransmitters. Dopamine effects catecholamines effects serotonin effects dopamine effects serotonin effects catecholamines effects dopamine.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM

I wouldn't say the urge never leaves. You've been obese for what, 10-30 years? And you've been eating healthy for what, .5-2? It'll get better the longer you go without slipups.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:23 PM

The potato thing at bed time is brilliant! And it fits perfectly with Raney's answer to supplement with 5HTP. Both will have the same effect. Very, very cool. I would +5 this if I could!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:21 PM

comforting to hear about the experience of someone who has walked a mile in my shoes. Thank you so much for sharing. I REALLY appreciate it. It makes up for the some of the other responses/comments from the less tactful members of our community.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:19 PM

Your experiences really jibe with mine. When I got sick as a kid, there weren't hugs or love. There were chocolate chip cookies. My family celebrates holidays with massive amounts of food. It is incredibly over the top. Hence my Christmas over-indulgence. You are right. The urge for these things never leaves. Never. No matter how long I've been doing well. I've lost 120 pounds so far. Yet I stil slip up. I still lose it. And I find all kinds of ways to justify it. But today, I'm taking your advice and starting with acceptance. This is how I am for now and for the forseable future. It is very

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Good lord people. Context. I wasn't eating 800 calories a day before. I'm doing a specific weight loss technique to get the weight off quickly. Go and read about what a PSMF is and then come back and make educated comments, please?

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606 · December 30, 2011 at 6:06 PM

If I was only taking in 800 calories a day I would also feel like crap and want to eat anything I could get my hands on. Maybe I read it wrong, but taking in only 800 calories in day sounds very unhealthy.

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2231 · December 30, 2011 at 5:52 PM

800 calories just MIGHT have something to do with addicitions to sugar/chemicals...

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Awesome!Thanks!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:16 PM

I know what to do. Exactly. However, what I need help with is correcting the situation I am currently in with my addiction to sugar, wheat, and chemicals. I'm looking for anything that can bend the odds in my favor. And dopamine receptors seem like a big one.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Rowing is cardio. And thanks for the lecture. Obviously, it is a bad idea to eat non-paleo. And obviously, in an addiction situation, you find ways to justify it. I already know the right thing. However, I appreciate the fact that you are trying to help, and I appreciate the spirit of your answer. Right now, I am doing a PSMF, paleo style, using Lyle McDonald's version. Category 3, 800 cals per day, that is why I am limiting the aerobics. My free meals will be full on paleo. Probably steak and sweet potatoes. However, my question is not on weight loss. Again, I understand HOW to lose weight.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:11 PM

Conciliator: I specified "insulin spiking"; as long as you're eating whole fruit with fiber intact, there is no spike from fruit.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Hmm. In looking at this http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/caffeine.htm, it looks like caffeine limits adenosine production (which has a calming effect on the body) while also increasing dopamine, increasing dopamine can lower the number of receptors, because as certain chemicals are released in large amounts, their receptors get downregulated. I suspect that is why Raney suggested limiting coffee. Conciliator, you should probably google the topic in question before downvoting and leaving a comment. It took me 30 seconds to find out further info on caffeine and copamine.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Conciliator: caffeine and the implicated adenosine receptor disruption will cause the brain to decrease the amount of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine available (eventually down-regulating the number of active receptors as well.) I suppose it's "okay" to do either, but if you're trying to increase neurochemical levels, I wouldn't recommend breaking their neuromodulator.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Correct, and no: serotonin actually helps sleep quality, that's why I'd recommend taking it before bed. 100mg of 5-HTP and some natural calm (magnesium) before bed, you'll be amazed how good you feel upon waking. L-Tyrosine, however, will cause sleep disruption if you take it too close to bed. Personally I like Country Life: http://www.amazon.com/Country-Life-L-Tyrosine-Vegetarian-100-Vegetarian/dp/B001185XGQ or NOW: www.amazon.com/NOW-Foods-L-Tyrosine-500mg-120cap/dp/B000ELR896

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Taking L-Tyrosine *increases* dopamine levels throughout the brain, not dopamine receptor levels in the reward center. Last time I checked dopamine caused oxidation of the receptor or something akin to that, which was hypothesized as one cause for parkinson's.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:03 PM

And why do you want to limit sugar intake when sugar increases serotonin? Obviously he shouldn't drink sugarwater but in you're response he should be limiting fruit.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Why is it okay to artificially change levels of neurotransmitters with an L-Tyrosine supplement, but not okay to change them with caffeine?

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 3:57 PM

I'm focusing on body-weight and kettlebell exercises at the moment, so there is a bit of a cardio aspect there, and I'm trying to superset and limit rest. I go straight from pushups to rows, for instance.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 3:56 PM

5-HTP is a seratonin precursor, right? Did that negatively impact your sleep at all? Any recommendations on L-Tyrosine sources?

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1968 · December 30, 2011 at 3:53 PM

I realize you wanted suggestions other than exercise, but I'd push up the aerobics to more than 10 minutes, if you can (i.e. longer bouts of walking, etc.) or else really go all out for those 10 minutes, since it really does make a huge difference in both dopamine and insulin resistance that I'm not sure lifting can get you, unless you're already a pretty good lifter (i.e., you're probably not able to push yourself hard enough to get the endorphin hit etc. without hurting yourself).

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9 Answers

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871 · December 30, 2011 at 5:58 PM

Hi Cody,

I truly understand exactly what you are going through. I have very similar experiences with regards to sugar/wheat/chemical ADDICTION. I also find it frustrating when people just chalk it up to (oh I just had a slip up) and ate sugar, but I'll get back on the horse etc.. because I think you understand that it is far more of a physical/psychological overtaking of ones whole being and isn't just (oops had some cake) I totally get it.

Having said that, here is what I had to do, might not work for you, but I'll share anyway.

I lost 30lbs by going cold turkey, I mean extremely cold turkey. I cut out everything, all sugar all starch all dairy anything. I ate lean proteins and green veggies for months straight. (I am not going to lie, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, and i did have absolute moments of mental insanity) i had two set backs, where I lost it, and started bingeing, but somehow mustered up enough strength to start again.

I am celebrating my 6 month Sugar-free Anniversary this month, and it is my greatest victory thus far in life ( I have achieved many other things that others would consider to be great successes, but to me, this is by far the greatest)

I want to mention this, I come from a long line of hereditary and environmental addictive blood/behaviour...my mother is a dysfunctional alcoholic etc so it did not surprise me at all when i realized that I was completely 100% no question in my mind, addicted to Sugar and sugar related foods (all junk type food)

Here is how I operate now (6 months in) ...first, everyday is always a challenge. Sugar and all foods that have sugar surround us 24hours a day. For an alcoholic when they get sober ...they avoid social parties, they avoid beer stores etc etc...for a sugar addict...well...its almost 100% impossible to avoid it, we will live side by side with our substance of choice for life...this took me a VERY VERY VERY long time to accept, and I don't think I have fully accepted it yet. (When my wonderful significant other, who can eat anything he wants) sits down next to me and eats a bag of M&Ms, I still want to scream, or cry or leave the room or something out of frustration that I can't jut be normal, have a couple of them and be done with it. But i know it will never happen, this takes a level of self-honesty that is above anything you will ever experience.

I create very intentional boundaries for myself, I know that if I am going somewhere where there will be desserts and things that I will be tempted by, I start my prepping myself mentally, out loud i talk myself through what I am committed to, ( I AM COMMITED TO NEVERGOING BACK TO BEING ADDICTED TO SUGAR) and having it take over my life...I very vividly recall the feelings I had when I was in that state and that is the first step to prepping myself to NOT go near the temptations. I also set up physical boundaries ( Christmas --> my father serving chocolates and cookies to everyone, me ---> excruciating mental pain because i want so much to share in the joy of my childhood Polish chocolates that were a part of my heritage and identity) I HAD TO LEAVE the room, I went a ran a relaxing epsom salts bath, with tea and candles and calmed down, because i wanted to cry in that moment.

I know these all seem logical and you may be thinking (Oh yeah right! the next time there is chocolates and deserts around, Im gonna go have a bath) But i promise you, that in time this will actually become your serenity.

Check out a book called Sugar Shock - She is 30 years Sugar Free ( my dream) She is a great author.

I hope this wasn't just a lot of over sharing...and perhaps you can find solace in some of this.

Keep pushing, every single day is another opportunity to beat it, to overcome it, to have the life you really want...it WILL be yours!

All the best....

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:19 PM

Your experiences really jibe with mine. When I got sick as a kid, there weren't hugs or love. There were chocolate chip cookies. My family celebrates holidays with massive amounts of food. It is incredibly over the top. Hence my Christmas over-indulgence. You are right. The urge for these things never leaves. Never. No matter how long I've been doing well. I've lost 120 pounds so far. Yet I stil slip up. I still lose it. And I find all kinds of ways to justify it. But today, I'm taking your advice and starting with acceptance. This is how I am for now and for the forseable future. It is very

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:45 PM

Thanks conciliator. I think you are right. I have been obese my whole life and eventually, by sticking to eating right and changing my mindset, it will get better. I think it may be a few years off, though. ;)

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181 · December 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM

I can completely relate to this answer. It's nice to see/read acknowledgment of something most people think is just excuses. I dropped sugar because of several serious chronic health issues, not to lose weight. And I struggle but stick with it because I don't ever want to land in the hospital again. But that doesn't make it easy to avoid junk food!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:21 PM

comforting to hear about the experience of someone who has walked a mile in my shoes. Thank you so much for sharing. I REALLY appreciate it. It makes up for the some of the other responses/comments from the less tactful members of our community.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM

I wouldn't say the urge never leaves. You've been obese for what, 10-30 years? And you've been eating healthy for what, .5-2? It'll get better the longer you go without slipups.

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0 · April 09, 2014 at 7:51 PM

Your story really resonates with me, thank you.

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675 · December 30, 2011 at 5:10 PM

Check out The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It's fantastic. Totally blew my mind and changed the way I thought about food and moods. She writes all sorts of interesting things about food chemistry, supplementation, sleep etc.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Thanks Hannah. My daughter is named Hannah, too. ;)

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1548 · December 31, 2011 at 8:53 AM

Willpower is great but I don't underestimate the power of physiology as a powerful influence on feelings and behaviour.

I don't know why some of us seem to have a naturally low dopaminergic tone. Nor do I know how to increase the number of dopamine receptors, or to increase their sensitivity. There seems to be a genetic component, as the body will down-regulate receptors if it determines that levels of dopamine are too high. To some degree, it looks as though some of us just have to put up with lower dopamine levels than other people.

Having said that, there are some things that I have found to help.

After a few initial weeks of eating low carb (less than 25g/day) and improving my blood glucose levels I stopped getting the dopamine buzz when I ate sugar/wheat.

Carb restriction and ketosis increase sympathetic activity generally and the levels of all catecholamines, including dopamine in particular. Unfortunately this effect is so strong in me that I have to eat some carbs (up to 50g/day, mostly in the evening) to get better sleep.

I cheated a bit over Christmas and found I quickly tire of sweet things as the buzz has not come back. (No doubt it would, if I abandoned the healthy diet).

B6 and magnesium can easily get depleted eating carbs. Supplementing with these helps me to increase dopamine synthesis (to a level that is perhaps normal for me).

Both ketosis and B6 have the highly desirable side-effect (via the dopamine) of reduced prolactin.

In me wheat/grains seem to increase prolactin (which in turn probably reduces or blocks the effect of dopamine).

I tried a tryosine experiment, only once, as the results weren't great - it seemed to turn straight to adrenalin.

Finally, don't underestimate the effect of uneven blood glucose levels on cravings. Carb restriction helps here, obviously, but if it persists don't forget that past refined-carb eating could have caused nutritional deficiencies. You may have problems with insulin sensitivity and your liver may also need support. Eating liver and kidney can help a lot. I supplement with alpha-lipoic acid and glucose tolerance factor, and between them they have hugely reduced carb cravings. In fact, if I get a craving I take the alpha-lipoic acid and chances are the hunger has gone within 30-60 minutes.

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78422 · December 31, 2011 at 1:46 PM

Thanks for the answer. I have the same issues when in ketosis. I've actually had several nights where I slept maybe 2 hours, and that was fitfully at best. And the crazy thing is that I actually felt fine in the morning. I use a combination of magnesium anb B6 along with Valerian root. I sleep very well. My cravings aren't sweets any more, as much as starches. I crave pizza, potatoes, and sandwiches. After reading what you said about Tyrosine, I'm a little iffy. I already get plenty of adrenalin released from drinking coffee, even decaf. I tried giving it up, but I felt awful.

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1548 · December 31, 2011 at 5:37 PM

If we only knew what would stop the conversion of dopamine to adrenalin ... As for tyrosine, if we are eating a lot of meat, I don't see why we would be deficient in it, so there must be something else going on. I seriously do find that gluten results in more prolactin/lower dopamine levels (this is after a few hours, regardless of any initial buzz). Potatoes are a bit addictive for me but they don't have this prolactin issue. I do IF and only eat the potatoes in the evening, which seems to keep the addiction in check. The alpha-liopic acid works for my starch cravings too, not just sugar.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Okay, I'm going to tell you what I think you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Downvote all you want.

You know the basics, stick to whole foods, exercise (cardio, sprints, and weights are all you need), get enough sleep, etc.

Dopamine be damned, there is absolutely no chemical reason you have to eat crap food. Yeah, maybe you have an addictive personality and dopamine plays a role. I've been there too, a lot of people have. But as of right now there aren't any good ways to help with addiction. 5-HTP, L-Tyrosine, St. John's Wort or other SSRI (some depression causes carbohydrate craving), bromocriptine, LSD, caffeine, ephedrine, amphetamines, wellbutrin, cocaine, nicotine.... all stuff that will kill the cravings.

But unless you plan on taking drugs for the rest of your life you need to re-evaluate, not to mention most of these drugs will lose their efficacy with time.

On the other hand, there's absolutely no reason you cannot eat fast food or other junk, just keep it to moderation. I know its hard, but I think with sufficient training the tendency to binge can be overcome. The key is to start slow. Have 1-2 meals per week where you allow yourself to eat moderate amounts of junk. Keep it towards the evening, junk in the morning increases tendency to binge all day.

So stop looking for external solutions and realize that the only problem is that person looking back at you in the mirror.

In my opinion, don't do a PSMF, read Lyle's Guide to Flexible Dieting. Far more useful in my opinion. Especially because being in a caloric deficit will make you hungry, and that will drive you to seek crap foods in excess.

Tl;dr yeah there are some things that can damn you hormonally, but that's not the case here. Try whatever over the counter stuff you want, just realize the main ingredient to your success or failure is always yourself. And my advice would be to restrict healthy non-trigger foods without dieting, at least for a couple weeks until you're in control. Then, if you ever want to have a normal life, start incorporating cheats if only as a way to test your willpower. Once a week is fine to start, keep it to the evening. Avoid an excessive diet as it appears you have food control issues.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:11 PM

which helps with the energy levels.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:26 PM

LOL on the moderately moderate in a moderate approach. Free meals are a part of my plan. Diet soda/soda is a no go, for sure. Flour is a no go, but I'm seeing lots of possibilities in a paleo and maybe safe starch template. A home made mongolian beef over white rice, for instance sounds like an awesome treat. A steak and a baked potato with some sauteed mushrooms. Things like that. I need to stay away from refined sugar/starched for quite some time.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Thanks for the reminder on mindfulness, Kamal. You are correct. I also need to take more time to just sit with whatever I'm feeling in the moment (usually stress related to kids or work) instead of stuffing it down with food.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Actually on his forums he brought it up once how maybe the best approach is to shotgun everything. You combine a sensible diet, with pharmaceuticals, with therapy, with exercise (cardio drives hunger a bit but research still indicates it burns more than it drives you to eat as long as you don't use it as an excuse). So if you want to use pharmaceuticals, go ahead. I think I covered every possibility worth mentioning, and some that were more jokes (eg cocaine).

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM

flexible dieting becuause Lyle know's his stuff, and I like his writing style. But you make a ton of valid points. I know that with proper diet and exercise, that my brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I'm just looking for a temporary crutch. Anything I can use to get me through the next few months of rapid weight loss. I also plan to meditate, row daily (not for the calorie burn, which will be minimal, but because I enjoy it and because I know that it will help with my mental state)

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:24 PM

If you can get to the point where you can eat one unit of one super-awesome food (e.g. chocolate covered peanut butter pretzel) while in a craving state, but stop right after, then you are a Jedi master and nothing can stand in your way.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 8:04 PM

I aspire to such a woman.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:11 PM

I weigh 335 lbs (down from 455 about five years ago). Because of my extreme obesity (I'm guessing), I don't seem to lack any energy on a PSMF. I can strength train three times per week without any real loss of intensity. Of course, I've always been more of a low-volume type of guy, and focused on form and lifting heavy stuff rather than spending hours in the gym. Right now, I'm focusing on Kettlebell Swings, Turkish Get up, push ups, and rows as my main exercises. I do the kettlebell swings, push ups, and rows as a circuit with no rest in between. And I have my cheat meals before my workout

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:47 PM

I saw a video on youtube of a guy doing a Turkish get up with a woman as his kettlebell! Wow! I aspire to such strength! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDQUlshxO_8

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM

I love Lyle's forums. I could spend weeks there. So much knowledge. It would be great to see it all sifted through and have the best nuggets published.

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1968 · December 30, 2011 at 7:18 PM

I totally understand the moderation approach, but some people just can't. Yes, it would be nice to train your brain to eat one cookie and not eat a million, but when you're looking at some serious obesity, now is not the time for other valiant efforts. Trying to get down to mere overweight is valiant enough! Some people do coke once in a while, some people are addicts. So, I'd say don't cheat. Just don't. Foods that make you overeat are demons. You're not bad when you cheat, but they are evil and are trying to ruin you. Run away!

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM

So listen to Krisha if you want and you'll probably have fewer slipups. Which reminds me, a good strategy to stop bingeing is to make your free meals with other people.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM

Diet deficit really depends on personality... so I can't speak for you. But if you have 3 500-600kcal meals I guarantee you'll lose weight, and 500-600kcal seems to be a nice sweet spot size where you can eat normal food. I'd aim for lots of protein, moderate fat, and carbs as your body responds well to them.

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:41 PM

If you feel stress related to kids, you can just pick them up and do some clean and jerks.

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24523 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

I'd bet my bottom dollar that you'll reach your goals, seeing as how you've lost so much weight already, are paleo, and have perused Lyle's forums. Rather than strategies to boost dopamine receptors, I wonder if this tweak would come in handy: eat some of your meals very slowly and mindfully. This would apply mostly to meals outside of the post-workout period, as well as cheats. If you train your brain to savor the flavor of foods and break the "shovel food in my mouth" cycle, that may be a way to lessen the chances of a binge.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Look, I'm not saying he should eat 1 cookie every day. I'm saying he should start to incorporate more foods in his diet 1-2 times per week. Start slowly. Be moderately moderate in a moderate approach. Cause if he doesn't wanna be a hermit it's probably an important step. For now, like I said, don't eat trigger foods. But long term he should look into 'free' meals.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM

You make a lot of good points. I am one way or another responsible for my current situation and I am also responsible for changing it. I hear you on the excessive diets, but I've taken the slow approach, and for some reason, it doesn't work for weight loss. After months, I get frustrated and give in to the cravings. So for the first 120 pounds, PSMF was the last weapon in my arsenal that worked. I would prefer not to do it, because the food is aweful, it takes the joy out of eating, and eating just feels like work. Which may be exactly what I need right now? I will read Lyle's book on

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:16 PM

Every question worth asking about nutrition/training has been asked and answered there in my opinion. You get some **very** knowledgeable people posting.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:06 PM

How much do you weigh? Try 10kcal/lb bodyweight and report back. That sets most people up for about a pound per week loss. And personally, I have always been more motivated by athletic performance than bodyweight, so on more moderate diets I can actually exercise :)

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM

I met my girlfriend over cheap asian wheat noodle soup. It was worth it.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Good job for the 120 lbs, even if you never reach 'shredded' remember that you have already significantly improved your health (also the exercise is good).

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Yeah, she is obviously extremely strong as well!

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37187 · December 30, 2011 at 9:48 PM

@Cody. The conversation about relaxed, mindful eating is important. I break all the rules now and take 40 minutes (in a recliner) to slowly savor and munch a crunchy salad. By the time I dish out the main course, my appetite is nearly asleep and a reasonable portion (you get to define what that is for you) is plenty.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:28 PM

Removing diet soda helped me tons, others do fine. Next step for me is removal of splenda, so close. Be careful with starches if only because you might have some blood sugar issues. Crashing blood sugar drives hunger pretty severely.

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543 · December 30, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Kathleen DesMaisons talks a lot about that, I think. She has a whole program to help people get off sugar and wheat and things like that, and to change their brain chemistry so they're not addicted anymore. i'm pretty sure she talks about dopamine, serotonin, all kinds of things like that. Radiant Recovery

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:23 PM

The potato thing at bed time is brilliant! And it fits perfectly with Raney's answer to supplement with 5HTP. Both will have the same effect. Very, very cool. I would +5 this if I could!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Awesome!Thanks!

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 3:53 PM

I would suggest supplementing with L-Tyrosine (1 - 3g a day) to increase the amount of dopamine available in the brain. Make sure you are limiting caffeine, to keep levels of neuromodulators such as adenosine steady, and I think this goes without saying: but you'll also want to limit your sugar intake, due to the up/down swing of serotonin caused by insulin spiking.

The amount of receptors tends to regulate up or down based on available amounts, as I understand it.

Anecdotally, I noticed a bit of increased clarity and ease in getting over cravings when I was using 100mg of 5-HTP at bedtime, 1g of L-Tyrosine upon waking, and another 1500mg of Tyrosine mid-afternoon, which is when my cravings were the worst.

I've also heard of chromium picolinate for regulating cravings and helping weight loss progress; I have no personal experience with that. Here's a study on chromium picolinate and carbohydrate cravings.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Conciliator: caffeine and the implicated adenosine receptor disruption will cause the brain to decrease the amount of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine available (eventually down-regulating the number of active receptors as well.) I suppose it's "okay" to do either, but if you're trying to increase neurochemical levels, I wouldn't recommend breaking their neuromodulator.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:03 PM

And why do you want to limit sugar intake when sugar increases serotonin? Obviously he shouldn't drink sugarwater but in you're response he should be limiting fruit.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Why is it okay to artificially change levels of neurotransmitters with an L-Tyrosine supplement, but not okay to change them with caffeine?

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:32 PM

I still don't see your point. Everything is related, don't single out caffeine for its effects on neurotransmitters. Dopamine effects catecholamines effects serotonin effects dopamine effects serotonin effects catecholamines effects dopamine.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 3:56 PM

5-HTP is a seratonin precursor, right? Did that negatively impact your sleep at all? Any recommendations on L-Tyrosine sources?

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1648 · December 30, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Sugar only increases serotonin in the brain because it uses up the other competing amino acids (using them to store glucose), so more serotonin gets through the blood brain barrier into the brain. It doesn't actually increase serotonin, just allows more into the brain, and causes way too many other side affects. I do find adding 5-HTP helps me tremendously.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:34 PM

And finally the effects of L-Tyrosine fade after a couple weeks anecdontally. Could this be due to downregulation of catecholamine production? Almost reminiscent about how caffeine develops a tolerance. There's no free lunch.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Correct, and no: serotonin actually helps sleep quality, that's why I'd recommend taking it before bed. 100mg of 5-HTP and some natural calm (magnesium) before bed, you'll be amazed how good you feel upon waking. L-Tyrosine, however, will cause sleep disruption if you take it too close to bed. Personally I like Country Life: http://www.amazon.com/Country-Life-L-Tyrosine-Vegetarian-100-Vegetarian/dp/B001185XGQ or NOW: www.amazon.com/NOW-Foods-L-Tyrosine-500mg-120cap/dp/B000ELR896

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 4:04 PM

Taking L-Tyrosine *increases* dopamine levels throughout the brain, not dopamine receptor levels in the reward center. Last time I checked dopamine caused oxidation of the receptor or something akin to that, which was hypothesized as one cause for parkinson's.

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4875 · December 30, 2011 at 4:11 PM

Conciliator: I specified "insulin spiking"; as long as you're eating whole fruit with fiber intact, there is no spike from fruit.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Hmm. In looking at this http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/caffeine.htm, it looks like caffeine limits adenosine production (which has a calming effect on the body) while also increasing dopamine, increasing dopamine can lower the number of receptors, because as certain chemicals are released in large amounts, their receptors get downregulated. I suspect that is why Raney suggested limiting coffee. Conciliator, you should probably google the topic in question before downvoting and leaving a comment. It took me 30 seconds to find out further info on caffeine and copamine.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 6:33 PM

And finally, nobody is asking how to increase levels of neurotransmitters. That's what you propose he does. He's asking how to increase net agonism of the dopamine receptors.

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 10:43 PM

@Raney, you act like caffeine is a master regulator. Increasing dopamine levels via L-Tyr will lead to down-regulation as well. And the OP is more interested in net agonism than levels of neurotransmitter per se. @Paleolady & Raney, it is the insulin that increases serotonin levels in the brain due to its effects on tryptophan in the blood. And maybe sugar causes side effects for you, but most people handle fruit just fine and I think some carbs are more prudent than 5-HTP.

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446 · December 30, 2011 at 9:16 PM

On a different note entirely (and completely off the wall), but have you thought about encouraging dopamine release by listening to music?

I find that there are pieces from all sorts of odd genres that lift psychologically me into the ether. It's rather nice to load them on an ipod and just go for a slow saunter or sit somewhere and just look at something.

Plus, if you experiment a little with music you may not automatically listen to as a rule, it will build new neural connections. My n=1 is that the more complex and richer the sound -- be it classic, some mad electronica, some really insane prog-rock, some unusual Ottoman or Russian folk (I listen to really odd things these days for the sake of experimentation with my brain :o) ) -- I seem to be able to make different connections and patterns of understanding in my everyday life, and my brain seems to work quicker. I think unusual sound combinations challenge your brain and it rises to the occasion.

Plus ... have you tried having a little sing now and again? That is said to release dopamine. And there are some great vocal exercises on youtube to get you started if you do not think you have a singing voice.

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78422 · December 31, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Wow. What great ideas. I work with a Russian guy, also named Alex who turned me onto some great Gypsy music, and also Gypsy punk, can't think of the band name right now, but good stuff. I'm going to start singing now. Been listening to this song lately (thanks to Rose): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uxdQdEt-R8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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37187 · December 30, 2011 at 6:45 PM

I agree with your implied statement that recovery includes forgiveness. It's about what you're going to do next rather than what you just did.

I happen to be resuming my ancestral eating regime today after 6 weeks of "open eating season" so I can relate to where you are.

One area in which I might have slight disagreement with you is on the importance of your dopamine receptors vs. your state of mind. In my case, with no assumption that we're alike, the behavior of my dopamine receptors follows my state of mind vs. the opposite.

My state of mind and brain starts with serenity and a quiet belief that I can/will do better today. As an act of faith with myself, my menu for the day will include yogurt with fruit (flavor) a leafy salad (crunch and volume) and a meaty bone broth stew (flavor, satiety.) If I need more, I have a can of sardines sitting on the counter. I also have a bottle of water kefir chilled because (and I don't know why) it seems to kill afternoon carb cravings.

I hope your recovery goes smoothly and you have a very Happy New Year!

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Thanks Nance! You are very right about serenity. Mastering one's emotional state is paramount to over coming addiction. I'm learning to do the things to take care of myself emotionally. Daily exercise, eating well, daily meditation, reaching out for community (here and other places), etc. etc. Thanks for taking the time to share!

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606 · December 30, 2011 at 4:09 PM

I suggest not giving yourself a license to eat all manner of non-paleo stuff. It's just senseless. Cheating is ok from time to time, but to be all out bad isn't the best thing for you. You need to exercise more. Strength training three times a week with a 10 minute rowing session isn't going to help you lose weight especially with your eating habits. If you're trying to lose weight on Paleo you need to be more strict about it. Are you doing any form of cardio?

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Good lord people. Context. I wasn't eating 800 calories a day before. I'm doing a specific weight loss technique to get the weight off quickly. Go and read about what a PSMF is and then come back and make educated comments, please?

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:16 PM

I know what to do. Exactly. However, what I need help with is correcting the situation I am currently in with my addiction to sugar, wheat, and chemicals. I'm looking for anything that can bend the odds in my favor. And dopamine receptors seem like a big one.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Jonesey, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up! For more Paleo hacks: http://paleohacks.com/questions/86623/paleo-food-addiction-and-dopamine#ixzz1i3KMJTpn

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606 · December 30, 2011 at 6:06 PM

If I was only taking in 800 calories a day I would also feel like crap and want to eat anything I could get my hands on. Maybe I read it wrong, but taking in only 800 calories in day sounds very unhealthy.

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606 · December 30, 2011 at 7:50 PM

Read up on PSMF and sounds like it's for overweight people or body builders trying to cut body fat. I hope you the best in finding the results you are looking for. Good luck, at least you are making an effort and that's something to be proud of.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 7:17 PM

Yep. PSMF makes me not want to eat. Ever again. LOL It works well for me where many other things have failed. I need to work on the transition. Add back in things like sweet potatoes and butter slowly to make sure I don't lose it.

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2231 · December 30, 2011 at 5:52 PM

800 calories just MIGHT have something to do with addicitions to sugar/chemicals...

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Rowing is cardio. And thanks for the lecture. Obviously, it is a bad idea to eat non-paleo. And obviously, in an addiction situation, you find ways to justify it. I already know the right thing. However, I appreciate the fact that you are trying to help, and I appreciate the spirit of your answer. Right now, I am doing a PSMF, paleo style, using Lyle McDonald's version. Category 3, 800 cals per day, that is why I am limiting the aerobics. My free meals will be full on paleo. Probably steak and sweet potatoes. However, my question is not on weight loss. Again, I understand HOW to lose weight.

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Jonesey, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up!

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2890 · December 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Some people report really decreased cravings on a PSMF, probably via food reward magic or something. Chicken breast and broccoli get old pretty quick. I am not one of those people though, so I urge you to consider a more moderate approach per my recommendation. It also depends on how overweight you are, the more overweight the bigger diet you can get away with without hunger issues (in general).

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78422 · December 30, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Jonesy, I have a lot of respect for you for actually looking it up!

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