Dr. Kessler Takes On Overeating

August 3rd, 2009

The End of Overeating
by David Kessler
Rodale Books
336 pgs, April 2009

Monday is a fresh opportunity to recommit to a healthy lifestyle. However too many of us are derailed by the very thought of our favorite comfort foods. Approximately 70 million Americans suffer from conditioned hyper-eating, or the loss of control when encountering trigger foods. One such individual is Dr. David Kessler, a Harvard educated pediatrician and former head of the FDA. Kessler’s inability to control his longing for chocolate chip cookies served as the inspiration for his best-selling book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale Press, April 2009).

Our brains are wired to desire salt, sugar and fat for survival. Their presence stimulates the brain to release dopamine and makes us want to continue eating. Peddlers of processed food are using this knowledge to reach the “bliss point”; by producing layered foods that contain precise levels of fat, sugar and salt, companies create products that leave us always wanting more. Addiction to these layered foods begins at a young age. “(Children) are getting huge portions of very stimulating foods… huge portions of sugar, fat and salt. Every time they eat those foods it strengthens their neuro-circuitry to eat that food again…Once those cues are laid down… they stay there and drive behavior.” Kessler explains that our struggle with overeating is not simply an issue of willpower, but a battle against the brain’s natural desire.

Overeating is also fostered by the quantities of food surrounding us. We can always find an occasion to eat and highly-palatable foods are available to us 24 hours a day. According to Dr. Tom Farley — New York City health commissioner and author of Prescription for a Healthy Nation — “Our biologic systems aren’t designed to tell us when to turn down food that’s right in front of us… our ancestors frequently had to survive famine but almost never suffered through over-abundance.” Advertising and supersizing encourages us eat larger portions and we oblige.

Dr. Kessler offers “food rehab” advice on how to break the cycle of overeating. We at Meatless Monday encourage you to try his insightful tips. In order to undo the effects of our environment and stifle our outdated survival instincts, we must rethink our perceptions about desirable foods. Before you eat something, think for a moment. Is it a nutritionally dense food or is it filled with layer upon layer of fat, salt and sugar? Kessler reassures us that perceptual changes will happen as our bodies and minds learn to value healthier food.

Dr. Kessler recommends planning and structuring eating so that impulses don’t take control. Regulate your eating all week long by setting a menu on Monday and bringing an ingredients list when you go shopping. It’s also important to recognize when your brain has been hijacked by a certain treat. Check the nutrition label the next time your favorite comfort food is calling you — it’s likely to be full of unnecessary fat, salt and sugar. Ultimately, the more calories you consume, the more of these three you’ll intake.