I’m not obsessing about food. Really. But my reading of Sarah Wu’s book led to David Kessler’s The End of Overeating, so you could say I’m just following a chain. But I’m not obsessed about food. Really. (Caveat: I compulsively overeat things like pizza and ice cream, but it doesn’t really show on me. This is not an “I’m better than you” post, just a look at an interesting book that illuminates my own relationship with food.)
Former head of the Food and Drug Administration under the Clinton Administration, Kessler led a national drive to reduce smoking, implemented nutrition information labels on packaged food, and made it easier for experimental drugs to make their way into the marketplace. Reading his CV (Dean of the Yale Med School, top awards from major public health institutions), you know that if anyone has credibility on the topics he addresses, it’s going to be Kessler. And American overeating is a huge (pun not intended) topic.
We know we overeat, but we don’t know why. We also don’t really understand why some people can overeat and not gain significant weight and others become morbidly obese with all the attendant problems. In exploring the decisions we make about food, he conducts informal tests on his employees and observes behaviors that you can see in your own life. Some of those tests would make him a pariah in this library, but hey, he’s the boss. But, lest we hasten to place all the blame on evil food companies, Kessler reminds us that we do have a measure of control over our eating decisions.
Not that the food companies – from growers to retailers – don’t try to capture our taste buds by creating links between their products and our brains. Humans crave fat, salt, and sugar; when put into a precisely designed product, balanced among those ingredients and the feel of the food in your mouth, we are almost unable to resist. (One term that stays with me is “bolus” – the scientific name for the wad of food you get as you chew. Kind of makes the process a little less enjoyable.) One area I think Kessler overlooks is the relationship between processed food and the speed with which we eat. Those chicken tenders we pick up at the drive-thru have had the muscle broken down, making it easier to chew and digest as we speed from one commitment to the next. What do you do when that much thought is given to arranging fast, tasty product consumption?
Well, you change your routine to avoid food temptation and limit your exposure to the foods that make you overeat. By knowing how much food it takes to make you feel full until the next scheduled mealtime, or the proper size of a snack to bridge that gap, you can scale portions back. By knowing alternate routes home, you can avoid the temptations of all those brightly colored restaurants that line our highways. And, in part, knowing how food is processed before it reaches you might encourage you to take the slow food path back to a healthier relationship with your diet. It isn’t easy, but it is worth a try.
Check the WRL catalog for The End of Overeating