101 Ways to Wellness
FIVE: The End of Overeating
Last summer I found myself engrossed in David Kessler’s book “The end of overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.” Kessler was the former commissioner of our renowned (for better or for worse) Food and Drug Administration, and was most well known for instituting the Nutrition Facts food label, as well as his efforts to regulate tobacco. So what could have led this pediatrician, lawyer, and Presidential government appointee to start digging around dumpsters??
It was his own personal battle with weight and food and a recognition that he is far from alone in his inability to resist or moderately consume certain trigger foods. Kessler began his own personal investigation into the chemical effect some of our nation’s most palatable foods have on our brains – the Cinnabon, Chili’s Southwestern Eggrolls, and not to mention various pizzas, burgers, and sodas. He began by asking industry for the recipes and preparation methods, and when they wouldn’t supply it, he started diving in dumpsters.
What Kessler came up with, and what makes his book so fascinating, is a scientifically sound hypothesis that he calls “Conditioned Hypereating.” The basic premise is that the food industry is “not only generating billions of dollars for itself by designing hyperpalatable combinations of sugar, fat, and, salt—it is also creating products that have the capacity to rewire our brains, driving us to seek out more and more of those products.”
The idea is that highly palatable foods can actually change our feelings (i.e. make us temporarily feel better), and this sets up a pattern of behavior that eventually becomes automatic, and we become literally thoughtless when it comes to the consumption, or overconsumption of certain foods. The real kicker is that over time, what used to be a reward for us, i.e. one piece of cake, no longer provides the same level of satisfaction, so we begin seeking more. Larger quantities, greater variety, and increased frequency. And thus we find ourselves in an epidemic of overeating.
Despite the overwhelming biological, psychological, and behavioral evidence to support the power of food over our brain, Kessler does provide hope that we can undergo our own “Food Rehab” once we are armed with the knowledge of several key facts:
- Conditioned hypereating is a biological challenge, and not a character flaw
- This should be recognized as a chronic problem to be managed, and not something that can be completely cured
- Every time we act on our desire for sugar, fat, and salt out of search for some reward, it becomes harder for us to act differently the next time
- The loss of control that characterizes conditioned hypereating is magnified by diets that leave us feeling deprived – we can’t sustain change if it leaves us hungry, unhappy, angry or resentful
The elements of Kessler’s food rehab include two main tenets:
- Planned eating where you begin to create new habits around what and how much you will eat before all the triggering stimuli are able to come in and hijack your brain (and these must be foods you enjoy and satisfy you!)
- Finding the path of least resistance – don’t set yourself up for failure by consistently throwing yourself in the path of your greatest temptations. Take time to understand and document the foods and situations where you lose control and come up with alternate plans to limit your exposure to these cues.
The ultimate goal is to be able to refuse the things you can’t control – this might mean throwing leftovers in the trash, or finding a different route home from work, but over time these new habits will begin to create new pathways in your brain, and you can slowly move away from those destructive chain of behaviors that “lead to the first bite and then keeping you going until food is gone.”
For anyone that has ever struggled with overeating, or just wanted to better understand how we have gotten to be among the heaviest nations in the world, this book is one of the best combinations of science, policy, and personal experiences to provide us a deeper understanding and allow us as consumers to use the power of our pockets to try and shift these dangerous and deadly trends while improving our own health and well-being. I guarantee you will not look at restaurant foods the same again!
For next time, we will shift to take a look at “The Element”- a book by Ken Robinson which examines the place where talent meets passion – described as where people “feel most themselves, most inspired, and achieve at the highest levels.” This has been a personal quest for myself for quite sometime, and hopefully will hold some nuggets of wisdom for all of you. Until then, be well!
From wellness coach Julie Marks, Phd.