Dr. David Kessler suggests that millions of people worldwide are afflicted by “conditioned hypereating,” an intrinsic drive to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods that’s been exploited by the corporate food industry. Kessler, former head of the FDA, explores this thesis in “The End of Overeating,” a new book that contends some people really are “wired” to be unable to resist unhealthy foods, and the food industry preys on such people by reinforcing this innate tendency. Result: big profits for processed food makers who load their creations with fat, sugar and salt, and skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes.
The evidence? Kessler writes that research has shown:
Some well-fed rats will consume vanilla milkshakes, and consume yet more as sugar is added. Forty-two percent of people who report feeling loss of control over food, a lack of satiety, and preoccupation with food are obese. That’s compared to 18 percent who are obese without those behaviors. He estimates up to 70 million people are conditioned hypereaters to some degree. When some people smell and taste chocolate inside a brain-scanning MRI machine, they don’t ever get used to it; instead, they find it more irresistible over time. Even drinking a chocolate milkshake does not satisfy them. The reward-anticipating region of their brains continues to be active. Kessler concludes that brain circuitry can be retrained. The first step is to recognize the phenomenon of conditioned hypereating as real; then, consciously seek and eat unprocessed, low-glycemic foods that begin to re-route the pleasure-seeking circuitry. As with any addiction, this is difficult at first, gets easier with time, but is never entirely automatic - the urge to hypereat must be actively resisted on a daily basis.
Books like Kessler's and Gary Taubes’ remarkable “Good Calories, Bad Calories” redefine overeating and obesity as biochemical imbalances, not moral failings. This is extremely valuable. “Becoming a better person who eats less” is a murky goal that is easily abandoned in the face of temptation, but “retraining my brain’s reward centers” is far more feasible and blessedly free of emotional stress. These books also underscore the need to reverse government subsidies that make unhealthy food cheap and healthy food expensive.
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