To say that overeating is a bit of a problem in North America would be like saying Jimmy Hendrix played a little guitar. Dr David Kessler (MD) explores the world of food addiction, food companies’ secrets, and how to break free of the vices that compel us to eat.
Kessler uses sound research, interviews, as well as personal and professional experience to create a convincing and riveting account of why we crave certain foods. He takes us through the biology and psychology of overeating – exploring the circuitry that compels us to eat too much of the wrong foods.
Why We Overeat
- We have a region in our brains that houses a “reward system”. There are powerful biological forces that push us to pursue things that make us feel better.
- Sugar, fat and salt make us eat more sugar, fat and salt. Palatability involves not only taste, but the motivation to pursue that taste.
- Many animal and human studies show a stimulation of neurons when exposed to highly palatable foods – this is part of the opioid circuitry of the brain.
- Opiods give food the pleasure, while dopamine motivates our behaviour and impels us towards food.
- Incentive salience is a phenomenon many of us fall prey to – this is the desire, activated by cues, for something that predicts reward.
The Food Industry
- Restaurants and food manufacturers weave the appeal of aroma texture, and consistency into their products – evoking pleasant memories and an intrinsic warmth.
- Compelling imagery – in the face of pleasure, a well-placed picture of a gooey slice of pizza suspends rational thought, with the pleasure becoming a distraction.
- The most palatable, most indulgent foods are also the most profitable.
- There is an interesting parallel in that the food industry acts like the entertainment industry – providing not just a meal but an escape from the stress of daily life.
- Restaurants indulge the mentality their consumers’ perceived entitlement to indulge.
- It’s no surprise that almost all menu items contain some combination of fat/sugar/salt. These fat-on-sugar-on-fat-on-salt-on-fat creations generate multiple sensory effects.
- The American concept of food complexity is built on layering and loading rather than intricate and subtle use of quality ingredients. Traditional food is meant to satisfy, while American food is meant to stimulate.
- In lieu of real food, the food industry is baking with a chemical mix of preservatives and oil.
- Cues, priming and emotional triggers all drive conditioned hypereating.
- In essence, we have to be mistrustful of our brains. Success is dependent on employing a wide range of cognitive and behavioural tools.
- In the beginning, a lot of diligence is necessary to reverse long-standing habits. It requires repeated practice – awareness is the first step.
- Having a countermanding action for a risky situation is vital. For example “if this happens than I’ll say/do this”.
- Altering behaviour means changing our emotional appraisal of food. We need to learn to view the pursuit of sugar, fat and salt in a negative light.
- We need to stop looking at overeating as a lack of willpower, but rather a biological challenge.
- Kessler recommends having structured meals, eating foods you enjoy (healthy ones), and employing imagery to help mentally prepare you for the inevitable onslaught of unhealthy fare.
If you struggle with overeating or find that you are ruled by unconscious urges to eat, this is an excellent resource. The End of Overeating is a fantastic book for anybody interested in the complex factors that govern overeating. I certainly learned a lot and gained a more thorough understanding of the science and cultural implications of eating too much.