As millions of us are struggling to eat healthily and shed some pounds, a new book by a former head of the FDA, tries to explain the psychology of eating.
David Kessler was an FDA chief most notable for his battles against the tobacco industry. In his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, he provides insight based on research as well as his own struggles with weight loss.
From the New York Times:
“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me?” Dr. Kessler asked in an interview. “Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”
In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities [between the tobacco and] the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.
When it comes to stimulating our brains, … individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.
The bliss point is the precise junction of taste where people derive the greatest pleasure from a combination of fat, sugar and salt. Food scientists are constantly working on perfecting their products so they reach this point.
What you need to know:
The book is NOT an attack on the food industry, rather an observation on the helplessness of individuals to stand against the Big Food Machine that spends billions creating irresistible food-like substances, placing it everywhere we go, and advertising it any which way we turn.
Don’t get too depressed…
Dr. Kessler claims that overeating is not a sign of weak willpower, rather a certain biological circuitry in our minds that needs to be rewired. He then provides some pointers on how to start reprogramming ourselves.
Just as many of us now find cigarettes repulsive, Dr. Kessler argues that we can also undergo similar “perceptual shifts” about large portion sizes and processed foods. For instance, he notes that when people who once loved to eat steak become vegetarians, they typically begin to view animal protein as disgusting.
What to do at the supermarket:
One simple strategy is not to bring junkfood into the house. Stay away from the “dangerous” aisles, and buy alternatives that help keep your hunger in check. Instead of Snickers, buy raw almonds and dark chocolate. Instead of soda pop, opt for water and a fruit.
It’s a difficult mission, but your quality of your life and your children’s lives over the years depends on your success. Good luck!
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