“The End of Overeating”

April 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Nonfiction, Slow Food | 5 Comments

“Why can’t I stop eating Snackwell’s?”  It’s a question that should rank right up there with “Follow the money” as the launch of a legendary investigation.  David Kessler, a formidably educated and accomplished man and a medical doctor, asked himself why certain foods made him want to pig out.  Then he started asking neuroscientists and food industry people.  What he found out should have people rioting in the streets.

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The answer is shocking: food has been deliberately designed to act on the brain like a drug and to induce what Kessler calls conditioned hypereating.  In other words, just like the cigarette industry, the food industry is manipulating us to addict us to unhealthy foods, driving up health care costs, just to make money.

The End of Overeating is an understated masterpiece.  I read it aloud to my husband, who has struggled with his weight for 30 years but has just succeeded in taking off 20 pounds since the holidays.  (Nobody can get fat off my cooking, I joke).  He would keep chiming in, often anticipating the final sentence of a paragraph, progressively more outraged.  He started sharing what we’d learned with a friend of ours at work, who said, “You just ruined my nachos for me.”  The book truly is gripping.  While the chapters measure only 3-5 pages in length, nearly every one could merit its own book.  Kessler could easily, easily have written and sold this as an 800-pager.  Instead it’s about 250 pages of graceful text.

A caveat:  The first section of the book goes straight into neuroscience, which can be a bit daunting.  Let me assure you that it swiftly moves along into more approachable discussions of the food industry, and finally, what the individual can do to fight back.  In between are a multitude of descriptions of engineered foods, and individuals responding to them, that are nearly pornographic.

What Kessler tells us is that the food industry needs to regulate itself or be regulated.  It’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic, and it’s easy to see why it started when it did.  That’s the main point of the book – to inform us of what’s going on and get us worked up enough to do something about it.  In the meantime, he helpfully includes some tips to help us try to resist the magnetic pull of sugar, fat, and salt.  (I’ll end with mine, as I sit here smugly in my size four jeans:  Switch to a diet based on organic vegetables and whole grains and start cooking at home at least 80% of the time!)


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  1. I remember hearing this about Oreos a few years ago. Tried to give them a wide berth after that, but I’m weak. Luckily, they’re really difficult to find here.

    • Oreos are unfortunately “accidentally vegan,” meaning I have to keep them out of the house! I only buy them for gatherings where RS and I won’t be tempted to eat them all.

  2. Yikes, I definitely believe this – it can be so hard to avoid some junk food! I am going to be looking for this book soon. And your diet sounds great, I wish I was home more to be able to cook for myself – there is nothing like work trips in the southern states to make you dream of home cooked, organic vegetable filled meals!

    • It does take time – and space, for that matter. I wouldn’t be able to cook the way I do in my tiny old kitchen, that’s for sure.

  3. […]  Yet Naughton doesn’t interview any visibly obese – OR athletic – people.  In The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler explains that the one factor overweight people have in common is that they are […]

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