David Kessler’s The End of Overeating explores the psychological and biological reasons behind our tendencies to overeat. The main points argued in the book are:
1. Foods unnaturally high in sugar, fat and sodium can be addictive
Processed foods that contain added sugar, fat and salt stimulate the reward centers in our brains. This engages the opioid circuitry, a pathway that can create an addictive response and lead to overeating. Studies show that rats will work almost as hard for hyper-palatable food high in fat and sugar as they will for cocaine.
2. The food industry knows about these addictive properties, and capitalizes on them
Everywhere you go, you can find food companies promoting or selling foods high in sugar, fat and salt. French fries (the most popular “vegetable” in America), are made by taking a potato, deep frying it in fat and sprinkling it with salt. Dip that in ketchup (which contains sugar as a primary ingredient) and you’ve hit all three points: sugar, salt and fat. Many other foods popular foods feature sugar, fat and salt as primary ingredients as well: chocolate, ice cream, hamburgers, cookies, chips, salad dressing, soda, cake, fried chicken, cheese… the list goes on and on.
3. Stop overeating by taking steps to break free of the addiction to hyper-palatable foods
View calorie-dense foods in a new light- as something repulsive and unhealthy rather than desirable. It is possible to train your brain to respond differently to stimuli. Previously, cigarettes were viewed by most people as cool. Today, now that the health risks of tobacco are well-known, the majority of the population views cigarettes as unhealthy and undesirable. Through awareness of the unhealthy and addictive properties of calorie-dense foods, we can begin to view these foods differently as well.
Consciously seek whole foods that are nutritious and not addictive. Whole foods (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat and dairy with minimal processing or unhealthy added ingredients) contain fiber and other nutrients designed to fill you up for fewer calories. With time, your taste-buds will learn to appreciate the subtle, complex flavors of whole foods, and highly processed foods will seem monotone and overdone.
Serve yourself “just right” portions. With practice, we can learn to serve ourselves “just right” portions. A “just right” meal is one that will keep you satisfied for approximately 4 hours. It will typically contain 400-600 calories, on average. A “just right” snack will keep you hunger-free for about 2 hours. It will typically contain 100-300 calories.
At mealtime, serve yourself a “just right” portion, and put the rest of the food away. Mentally tell yourself this is just the right amount for you, and there is no need to go back for seconds. If you find yourself hungry again later, you can always serve yourself a “just right” snack.
Plan ahead, and take steps to avoid temptation. Don’t leave it up to chance or willpower when you’re hungry to refuse hyper-palatable food. Plan ahead by choosing healthy meals and snacks to eat in advance, and keeping them readily available. Take steps to avoid temptation by refusing to buy hyper-palatable foods at the grocery store, and avoiding restaurants or events where you know you will likely give in to temptation.
I disagree with a few aspects of this book. One is using negative reinforcement to change behavior. For example, the author recommends putting an unflattering photo of yourself on the refrigerator as a reminder to make healthy choices. This practice is likely to do more harm than help. Positive reinforcement is more effective and better for self-esteem. Also, there is research showing that avoiding and depriving yourself of foods can trigger overeating. I prefer the intuitive eating approach, which includes unconditional permission to eat.
Overall, The End of Overeating was a fascinating read.