Kessler is a former FDA Commissioner known for his work on food label issues and for tackling the tobacco industry. I almost didn't buy this book because I was afraid it would be a book of excuses, or that it would try to rationalize away a problem that I think is acute, ubiquitous and dangerous. However, his work presented in this book focuses on identifying the problem of overeating with greater understanding, including the science behind our draw to food, food industry tactics, full acknowledgement of the societal problem, and behaviors and responsibilities of overeaters; in addition he provides some sound steps to personally combating the issues to take back control. He starts by describing some of his early interviews with people who have difficulty controlling their eating, in an effort to better understand the behavior as only someone who struggles with it can describe. Kessler also reveals in early chapters his own challenges with particular foods. Because this doesn't seem to fall into the currently adopted groups of defined eating disorders, not much has been done to describe and tackle it.
Kessler outlines a description of the growing trend of overweight and obesity in our country (which has recently been documented yet again by other sources that obesity is not declining in any state). He then walks us through what is actively being studied and observed about behaviors toward certain foods, sharing notes and interviews from renowned scientists. It becomes very clear that there is a stimulus-response-behavior process in effect, which may, as he points out, explain why we are overeating during a time when we are not inherently afraid of food shortages and we may not even have access to exceptional food.
Somehow, without food being particularly exceptional, it has become more palatable, as Kessler describes. Our salt, fat and sugar laden food is the culprit, and keeps us coming back for more. This part of the book was amazing to me, and it took me a while to really absorb it. One sentence in particular seems to sum it up for me: "When offered a varied selection and large portions of high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt foods, many of us will eat them in excessive amounts."
Of course, the food industry hates this I'm sure, but he also shares some of their tactics as well from some industry insiders. You better believe that every tiny detail of an eating experience is being studied and fine tuned to keep us coming back for more. Our food has more sugar, fat and salt in it than anyone realizes. The foods you would never think contain these ingredients may have them added before they ever hit the restaurant where they undergo a "preparation" process. Keep your eyes open and don't fall asleep during this portion of the book.
Kessler has a knack for sharing the science and yet ends up explaining it where we all can understand. I think that is important because it's not just an opinion book, or based on sheer psychology. There is clear science, process and strategy behind this. Another component he describes in a picturesque fashion is how we have numerous "cues" for this response process. Don't be fooled that you're only cued if you walk into a restaurant and smell the food. Cues come from fond memories, social events, favorite friends, good times, meaningful landmarks in our lives. I know this to be true from personal experience. One of my favorite desserts to this day, cherry cobbler, has a lot more to do with my grandmother than the taste in my mouth when I eat it.
Kessler coins the term "conditioned hypereating" in this book. I think it's an accurate term. Many of us have eating habits that are based much more on reward and satisfaction of a stimulus than on the actual need for food as fuel. You'll be appalled to realize some facts about the food we're eating away from home, but don't despair. A good reason to read this book is to try to identify yourself and your loved ones in it, so that steps can be taken to reverse this process. He devotes the entire last section of the book to ending this problem. He helps us understand emotional learning and habits, how to take ourselves through rehab and make better choices in order to undo bad habits and establish healthy ones in relation to eating.
Overall, I think the book is a must-read and it absolutely receives a get fit with kelley recommendation. I'd love your comments and thoughts if you have read this book!
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