Thursday, July 26, 2012

Salty, Sweet and Out of Control

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.
by David Kessler
320 pp. Rodale, Inc. 2009

The root of American overeating is summarized in Dr. David Kessler's book, The End of Overeating, in three words: sugar, fat and salt.  Each of these alone will trigger certain amounts of pleasure in our brains, but together, the trio is irresistible.  Kessler launches into many scientific reasons why this is the case and uses anecdotes to show that many smart, rational people he knows cannot resist eating excessive amounts of tempting yet high calorie junk foods, despite knowing better. Few of us need that illustrated by example.

Perhaps more interesting then, is his exposé of the ways in which the food industry manipulates consumers utilizing the latest science on taste and pleasure. As the former commissioner of the FDA he has inside information and quotes industry professionals attesting to the lengths to which they will go to create an addictive product. Combined with their marketing efforts ("Betcha can't eat just one"), the book certainly paints a picture of a food environment where the public is damned to overeating, or as Kessler fancily calls it, "conditioned hypereating." 

Thankfully, he offers up a treatment program, called Food Rehab. Just as in other substance-related rehab programs, it is meant to help people become aware of their conditioned hypereating, rewire their brains, create new habits to restore control over eating and think differently about food. The main distinction in his work from others before it lies in his conviction, backed up by research, attributing the undesirable eating behavior (ie. the conditioned hypereating) to actual biological mechanisms rather than willpower. It's a nuanced approach that takes the blame away from the individual. Overeating isn't a flaw, it's a physiological urge that must be overcome through treatment and training. 

I certainly identify with the type of hypereating Kessler describes. Since I was ten years old I could tell you that I was absolutely powerless in the face of sugar cereals - I could literally eat boxes of them and never feel full. While I know that I'm not alone (my sister has the same weakness), I was intrigued to learn that this constant craving and insatiable desire is by design. Cereals get special attention in the book as they do in the recent Corby Kummer article in Smithsonian Magazine's Food Issue where he too admits to being "helpless before a box of dry cereal." 

As in most research related to caloric intake and weight gain, the science of conditioned hypereating points to yet another instance of our bodies working against us. The brain wants more pleasure. Sweet, salty and fatty foods provide it. One of the reasons many diets and weight loss plans fail in the long run is because they are restrictive and lead to feelings of deprivation. There is tremendous potential for lapses under Kessler's plan, which he freely admits. And I agree with his call for awareness about hunger cues and creating a new relationship with food. And yet I can't help but wonder what would happen if rather than constantly fighting our bodies we find a peaceful middle ground? Can we ever learn to "eat just one"?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summer Reading

After a long break, I'm happy to be back blogging about my summer reading.  When I was a kid, summer reading was certainly not something I would have elected to do.  Assigned reading was more of a chore then, to be squeezed in sometime during camp while I would rather be playing sports or gossiping with friends. Now, having completed my credentials after four years of schooling, I'm excited to have the time and freedom to stock up at the library on the recent books that I missed the first time around.

I should say that I love reading fiction far more than non-fiction, so I plan to pepper my reading with novels (Hunger Games!) and short stories as well. Mostly, though, I will blog about the food and nutrition-related books. And anything else that pops into my head.

Here's my list so far:

The End of Overeating by David Kessler

An Apple A Day by Joe Schwarcz

Cerealizing America by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook

American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom

Why Calories Count by Marion Nestle

It's an ambitious list, and my success will rely upon the help of fellow Seattlelites who have placed numerous holds on these books at the library. They will determine whether/when I can actually get my hands on these.

It is an exciting time to explore the current food landscape. So much has changed in the past few years and while I've tried to keep abreast of the latest work in the field, I can't wait to dive right into the books themselves.

What books do you recommend?