If you sometimes feel that food manufacturers and restaurants are conspiring against your healthy eating efforts, you may be right. David A. Kessler describes what is going on behind the scenes in his book “The end of overeating.”
I read the book after it was recommended to me and mentioned on several blogs. The title was intriguing. Maybe I would finally find some answers and end my own overeating.
Did I? Weeellllll, not really. But I did learn a few things that I will share. The following points highlight my own take on what I found to be most interesting in the book or particularly applicable to me right now.
- Eating certain foods makes us want to eat more of them. And there is science to back this up, not just my own binging experience. The overeating trifecta is sugar, fat, and salt. Eating these foods actually does things to your mind and body that leave you wanting more.
- Palatability is more than just taste: it also involves the motivation to pursue that taste. Sugar, fat, and salt can not only stimulate the appetite, but even the anticipation of that stimulation is enough to make us eat long after our caloric needs are satisfied. Palatable foods both arouse our appetite and act as an incentive to eat.
- The food industry is manipulating consumers’ minds and desires by the ingredients they include in foods and how they market them. Also, by processing foods beyond their natural state, the foods become something that requires little effort to eat. It “goes down easy; you don’t even think about eating.” Food has been refined to a point that it is very easy to get calories from it and the body’s signals that should tell us “I’m full” are being overridden.
- We have a cycle of cue and reward based on our past associations with food. “A history of personal experiences gives particular food an emotional charge, and those emotions become lodged in our memory.” We learn to want a food based on the cues in our life. And location is one of the most potent cues.
- Habits can be good or bad and are very difficult to change. When cues prompt us to react a certain way, our behavior becomes so routine that we respond before we are even aware of the stimulus. “We are following an eating script that has been written into the circuits of our brain.”
So what did I decide I can take away from this book?
Maybe I was not far off the mark thinking that much of my evening overeating is habit based. Kessler would liken my behavior to Pavlov’s dog – I have a conditioned response to sitting in front of the TV or with a book in my lap. He would tell me that I need to reverse the habit by overcoming the conditioning and gaining control of my behavior. Which in my experience is easier said than done. But I’m working on it:) I am also still thinking about the notion that my evening eating is out of boredom and that may or may not have an emotional basis as well. (If you missed that controversial discussion you can read about it here.)
Is it any wonder that controlling our eating is so hard when there are so many possible reasons why we do it? So many differing theories. I have to admit that I keep waiting for the aha moment, the theory I read about that hits home like the world’s brightest light-bulb over my head, the words that hold the magic that makes me suddenly “get it” in such a way that it really does once and for all end all my issues with food. I know that isn’t really going to happen. But maybe all the little pieces will eventually add up for me. Until then, I will keep plugging along.