your creamy filling or your life 11.24.10
If I had my way, everyone I know would read David Kessler’s, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.” It has changed the way I eat, taste, and think about food. With the holiday season just about to begin, the timing couldn’t be better.
I spent much of the fall researching and writing about childhood obesity, trying to say something useful without adding to the chorus of blame directed at overweight people on a daily basis. Yes, sure, we all know about eating less and exercising more. But frankly, that advice is not working in any sustainable or large-scale way. David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner for two presidents, adds new perspective to the discussion.
The New Nicotine
Processed American food has become irresistible. It doesn’t matter how recently you ate or how many calories you consumed — a winning combination of sugar, fat, and salt is hard, often impossible, to pass up. The appeal of 21st-century food extends beyond humans. Nutrition scientists have conducted a number of clever studies in which animals were just as prone as us to overindulge.
One set of experiments fed rats a typical American diet to see what would happen to their weight. The rats got an all-you-can-eat buffet of sweetened condensed milk, chocolate-chip cookies, salami, cheese, bananas, marshmallows, milk chocolate, and peanut butter. Weight gain was almost immediate. After ten days the American-diet rats were already significantly heavier and eventually they doubled in size.
Other studies made rats work for their food. If the reward was high in sugar and fat, rats were willing to work almost as hard as they would for a fix of cocaine.
From Cage to Computer
The animal experiments turned on my inner light bulb. First off, animals don’t sit on couches, play video games, or endure school dances. They don’t have to deal with the social pressures that drive so much human overeating. It’s hard to blame a lab rat for its weight.
I don’t particularly enjoy comparing myself to a rat but how else shall I explain my 2pm chocolate cravings, which are often so powerful I lose all power of concentration? Perhaps instead I should compare myself to the well-raised, well-fed children I know who could conquer nations with their unrelenting demands for candy, soda, and other fat-sugar combos. We say we’re hungry but over time, it becomes hard to discern what actual hunger feels like.
Food is no longer simply food. Hunger has been replaced by desire. Stimulating food choices are everywhere, a cornucopia of rewarding sensations, tastes, and textures that melt on the tongue and slide down the throat. We eat for pleasure, comfort, and entertainment, often while planning what we’ll eat next.
There’s plenty more in Kessler’s book, including quotes by a food-industry insider who describes the ingredients in a certain restaurant’s appetizers as “carriers for fat” and “absorbent fat bombs.” Which brings me back to my first comment, read this book.