Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Review: The End of Overeating

I have a cold, the third since I started this blog a year ago, which is one of its many virtues: keeping track of my colds. I did NOT get this one from smooching my husband. He's perfectly healthy and I'm trying to remember not to kiss him, which is surprisingly difficult. It does give me an excuse to lie around and prepare book reviews.

I've run into numerous mentions of The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and my finger kind of slipped on the Kindle and now it's mine. It's a good read, providing a fascinating scientific framework for what many of us have intuited. So if you're waiting to take it out of the library versus pushing the wrong button on your Kindle, here's the general idea.

Kessler, a former director of the FDA, notes that obesity rates were rather stable until the 1980s. Then they started to cliiiiimb. He doesn't mention artificial sweeteners or HFCS. He comes right out and blames most of the change on sugar, fat, and salt, "the three points of the compass" for food manufacturers, and how processed food is produced to provide such a tremendous reward that our brains literally become rewired. Junk food is just below cocaine in terms of how motivating it can be-- for rats, anyway. Food manufacture and marketing is calculated to sell as much product as possible, and in our part of the globe they've succeeded all too well.

The first part of the book describes the brain science of why Cheetos are so hard to resist. If you read blogs of recovering compulsive eaters, it resonates with what you read here-- there is something literally in the wiring that reinforces compulsive eating in spite of the fact that it's physically uncomfortable, emotionally disturbing, and socially devastating. I don't think of myself as a compulsive eater, but I've certainly felt the call of certain foods and noticed the way that they can occupy the main part of my thoughts, which is odd, really, when you think of it. That box of Pinwheel cookies can assume the importance of a loaded gun on my counter.

The second portion of the book describes the food industry's tricks to come up with "hyperpalatable" foods-- stuff that makes sense, if you want to sell a lot of Hostess Cupcakes. Successful junkfoods melt in your mouth-- little chewing is required. They are "layered," with interesting extra bits... think the white squiggle on the chocolate frosting of the cream-filled cupcake. They employ fat, sugar, and salt in startling amounts, because that's what makes them so alluring. That's before you get into orchestrating the other aspects like the design and sound of the wrapper, the smell, the advertising that helps you connect the product with warmth, indulgence, fun, belonging. Food manufacturers don't do this to be evil. They do it to sell lots of Bloomin' Onions and keep their jobs.

Part three describes how "conditioned hypereating" emerges. Parts four and five deal with the author's thoughts on how to combat it, among them:

1. Avoid junk food cues when you can, which will not always be possible, so you'll need to

2. Develop strong rules: "I don't eat fries." You can and should make the rules personal, but some guidewires will help you when you're remapping your brain.

3. Engage in competing behaviors-- take an alternate route to avoid the pie stand. Swerve early. Don't let it evolve into a standoff at the Golden Corral.

4. Change how you talk to yourself about food: "Food is fuel to keep my body running right."

5. Find the right kind of support (blog!)

There's a lot here that fits with my own experience. Eating "clean" is (let's face it) partly about calming down those hyperstimulating food cues. When I'm eating nachos or biscuits, it's hard for me to find that perfect stopping place. It's so good, I would eat a little more than I should-- twice a day, for years, which adds up. (Even now, on Cheat Days, my satiety signals are confused and junk food calls my name.) I am not going to overeat on soy nuts or turkey wraps because, though I like them, my interest will wane before I'm overfull.

The "strong rules" piece makes sense for me too. Cheat Days mean I still get cake, if I want it. But the rest of the time I don't have to struggle with myself, or try to define "moderate." Those days give my brain a chance to rewire, balancing my rewards so they aren't just about food, and they also allow my body to run the way it should, without having to cope with toxic doses of sugar and fat. I'm not pushing Cheat Days, by the way, which are an imperfect solution. The author seems to feel that a just-say-no approach is indicated until you get your wiring under better control, at which point you can develop your own cautious rules for reincorporating hyperpalatable foods.

End of Overeating, while it doesn't really promise what's offered in the title, does shine a floodlight on the trap so that you can at least see the serrated jaws before you stick your foot in there. The more I read, the more distressed I'm becoming about junk food, and as the mother of teenagers, whose diet is getting more and more out of my control, it's not making me too happy. The answer is to eat real food at regular intervals and treat junk food with the wary respect you'd offer a poisonous snake. What I need next is a book to convince my kids.

5 comments:

  1. I listened to the audio of this book. It's very interesting.

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  2. I've got to re-read that. I read it about a year ago and it made quite an impact on me. I need a refresher, especially those "strong rules."

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  3. I read it too. It was very interesting. My favorite one is the "make strong rules" I do that in my life and it does help.

    I hope you feel better soon!

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  4. Here's a good book that I am in the middle of (watch out finger on that Kindle)
    Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
    and it is not all religious as the title may suggest, it is really more spiritual and what is in our core.

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