“Sugar, fat, and salt are hijacking the brains of millions of people,” says David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. “I’ve learned to recognize overeaters in restaurants, because people who have been conditioned to overeat behave distinctively. Certain foods seem to have a magical power over them.”
Between 1960 and 2000 the average weight of women aged 40–49 increased from 140 to 169 pounds. Today, two out of three American adults and one in six children between the ages of 2 and 9 are overweight or obese. Kessler, a physician, lawyer, and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, was motivated by his own struggle with obesity as he set out to learn why so many of us overeat and what can be done about it.
Dr. Kessler’s research uncovered a food industry that practices dietary manipulation by focusing on indulgent combinations of sugar, fat, and salt.
The more multisensory you make a food, the more reinforcing it becomes. Sugar itself is only a moderate reinforcement, but with fat, crumbled cookies, hot fudge, and crushed Heath Bars, an appealing texture, smell, appearance, and temperature – you have an ice cream snack that’s super-charged with calories, fat and salt. Add the emotional gloss of advertising to make sure the food (or the thought of it) is available 24/7, and the brain responds by craving the whole experience.
At Chili’s, the nation’s second largest fast food chain, Dr. Kessler points out that the actual ingredients in Southwestern Eggrolls mentions salt eight times and sugar five times. Their 910 calories provide 57 grams of fat and 1,960 grams of sodium. It should not be surprising why Chili’s and other fast food chains fight so strenuously to keep their ingredients, and nutritional contents secret.
These hypercaloric foods stimulate the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center. Once eaten, such foods cause the brain to release opioids, which bring emotional relief. In time, the brain becomes wired so that dopamine and opioids create pathways that light up at the sight or suggestion of the food, regardless of hunger.
Not everyone is vulnerable to what Kessler calls “conditioned hypereating,” but there are three characteristics to look for; inability to resist highly palatable foods, eating without ever feeling full, and being preoccupied with food even when you’re not eating.
Seventy million people can be classified as “hypereaters” and Kessler feels it’s more a syndrome than an eating disorder.
Once you know the facts, it may be easier to take control of your appetite again. Dr. Kesslers Food Rehab plan helps replace chaos with structure and anticipates your food moves like an elite athlete preparing for a competition. The point is to recognize what triggers overeating and then stop, change the (thought) channel and, if necessary, reroute your trip to avoid driving by Chili’s.