The end of overeating
Taking control of the insatiable American appetite
I don’t have to present evidence to support the statement that a growing number of American’s are battling obesity. The evidence to support this statement is everywhere you look. From a 60 percent overweight statistic for our youth, to a recent quote by President Obama stating that the single most salient factor in our out-of-control health care costs is obesity and its complications.
But, in conjunction with the growing obesity epidemic, there appears to be a growing number of people who are struggling with compulsive overeating. In fact, the DSM-4, the diagnostic manual for clinical psychologists, recently added a category of eating disorders that identifies people who are driven to over-consume on a regular basis, but who do not engage in the purging behaviors associated with bulimia. And surveys in women’s magazines are identifying a large number of individuals who, under the cloak of anonymity, admit to secret and frequent compulsive eating episodes.
An astronomical number of books addressing these two health concerns flood the shelves of bookstores around the country. Go into any health or self-help section of a book store and you will find an endless supply of books on diet, behavior modification, will-power, and magic combinations of foods that are supposed to help the many people struggling to eat appropriate portions of food.
Many of these books contain questionable information, but every so often, there is a book that stands out.. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler, MD, former FDA commissioner is that book. In fact, I am actually contemplating making it required reading for all my clients battling weight loss and struggling with portion control.
Kessler presents compelling information on indentifying the components of compulsive overeating, how the food industry is creating products that get us “hooked”, similar to addictive drugs like cocaine, how our brains actually become physically and chemically changed to perpetuate the compulsive eating, and what to do to stop the out-of-control eating if you identify yourself as victim of compulsive overeating and obesity.
He coins two terms in the book which serves to identify the problem of the insatiable American appetite: “hyperpalatable foods” and “conditioned hypereating”.
Hyperpalatable foods are foods that are various combinations of fat-sugar-salt. This combination has been identified through animal studies and functional MRI studies on humans to “light up” the areas of the brain that are associated with what is called the “reward centers”. The food industry manufactures and markets food products that are designed in precisely the right ratios and combinations that in animal studies, rats have been made to work beyond exhaustion in order to receive a food reward with the same ratios of fat-sugar-salt that we are being fed every day. According to the research Kessler sites in his book, the rodents worked to the same degree of exhaustion as they did for cocaine because they got the same brain chemistry reactions to this combination of ingredients that they got from the drug. The implication staggers the mind. We are a nation of addicts and we are getting bigger and bigger as the food industry creates more products and restaurants serve more entrees and appetizers that both blatantly and covertly put this addictive combination together.
We are being fed a steady diet of hyperpalatable foods which leads to conditioned hypereating. Conditioned hypereating is a syndrome that combines emotional reactions with memories of feeling good and classically conditions us to over-eat when these emotional triggers are combined with the hyperpalatable foods.
Kessler argues, convincingly and with evidence, that we are eating foods that are designed as “entertainment experiences” and we are getting hooked! In one chapter, the ingredients that are in a chicken dish in a popular chain restaurant are described by him as follows:
“The chicken had been chopped and formed much like a meat loaf, with binders added, which makes those calories easy to swallow. Ingredients that hold moisture, including autolyzed yeast extract, sodium phosphate and soy protein concentrate, further soften the food. I noticed that salt appeared eight times on the label and sweeteners were listed five times, in the form of corn-syrup solids, molasses, honey, brown sugar and sugar.”
Kessler outlines a four-point plan for how to de-condition yourself from hypereating. He designed his plan after interviewing people in a variety of disciplines including behavioral psychology, neuropsychollogy and addictions treatments.
Basically, his plan is:
Increase awareness of your own individual emotional triggers and foods.
Plan for competing behaviors to replace hypereating of hyperpalatable foods.
Plan for competing thoughts when triggered by hyperpalatable foods.
Seek out and utilize on-going support because you cannot do this on your own through the execution of willpower.
If you are witnessing yourself increasingly struggling to maintain portion control with certain foods or at certain restaurants, or if you often eat to the point of becoming overfull, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It may be the key that unlocks the door to motivation for a change of lifestyle. Just thinking about yourself as a “lab rat” who is being fed (without your consent or knowledge) highly addictive substances is enough to make you stand up and say, “I am no longer willing to be an addict who is continuously being given a drug that makes me behave in ways against my own will.”
Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She can be reached at 469.0815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: In the May issue we covered popular weight loss methods. Dr. Mark Nelson, a local cardiologist, took issue with the opinion of our fitness writer on what she wrote about Metifast. Please contact Dr. Mark Nelson about Take Shape for Life, an Optimal Health Program at email@example.com.