For many of us, myself included, we struggle with what Kessler refers to as cues- things that prompt us to eat, whether we are hungry or not.
It can be as simple as passing a favorite restaurant, thinking about a cookie, seeing a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter, or an add on TV. Not everyone struggles with this, but there are many that do. Kessler interviews people and during an interview will open a bag of M&Ms and offer some to the interviewee and ask them questions about how they are feeling about that bag of M&Ms. I found it surprising that some would tell about not being able to concentrate. That the candy would dominate their thoughts until the craving was satisfied. People also talked about continuing to eat even thought they were full.
People have taken eating to a new level, where it has become a reward, or problem solver. It makes us feel better, for a moment or two, it relieves stress, it reminds us of simpler days when we didn't worry so much, but overall it has become a crutch. We, as a society, have become programmed over time to eat as a reward.
I AM GUILTY OF THIS. I want to make this very clear. I am NOT judging people here. I have done the same things, which is why I read this book which goes over WHY we do these things. We don't want to but we keep reaching for the cookies that we know we shouldn't be eating.
Kessler shares some enlightening facts about the food industry, how they manufature different foods to be more palatable, require less chewing, and are prepared with different combinations of sugar, fat, and salt that make food super palatable, enabling us to eat more food quickly, so that we think we haven't consumed as much as we really have. These factors combined with huge portion sizes has enabled us as a nation to gain weight and many related health problems.
I want to share a selection of his book that discusses the restaurant Chili's. Kessler is at an airport and reports seeing a woman eating the Southwestern Egg-rolls described on the menu as "smoked chicken, black beans, corn, jalapeno Jack cheese, red peppers, and spinach wrapped inside a crispy flour tortilla," and it is served with a creamy avocado- ranch dipping sauce.
"The woman might have been interesting in how my industry source,m who had called sugar, fat, and salt the three points of the compass, described her entree. Deep-frying the tortilla drives down it's water content from 40 percent to 5 percent and replaces the rest with fat. "The tortilla is really going to absorb a lot of fat," he said. "It looks like an egg roll is supposed to look, which is crispy and brown on the outside."
The food consultant read through the other ingredients on the label, keeping up a running commentary as he did. "Cooked white meat chicken, binder added, smoke flavor. People like smoky flavor- it's the caveman in them."
"There's green stuff in there," he said, noting the spinach. "That makes me feel like I am eating something healthy."
"Shredded Monterey Jack cheese.... The increase in per-capita consumption of cheese is off the chart."
"The hot peppers, he said,"add a little spice, but not too much to kill everything else off."
He believed teh chicken had been chopped and formed much like a meat loaf, whit binders added, which makes those calories easy to swallow. Ingredients that hold moisture, including autolyzed yeast extract, sodium phosphate, and soy protein concentrate, further soften the food. I noticed that salt appeared eight times on the label and that sweeteners were there five times, in the form of corn syrup solids, molasses, honey, brown sugar, and sugar.
"This is highly processed?" I asked.
"Absolutely, yes. All of this has been processed such that you can wolf it down fast... chopped up and made ultra-palatable. ... Very appealing looking, very high pleasure in the food, very high caloric density. Rules out all that stuff you have to chew."
By eliminating the need to chew, modern food processing techniques allow us to eat faster. "When you're eating these things, you've had 500, 600, 800, 900 calories before you know it." Refined food simply melts in the mouth.
Exert from p. 68-69 of The End of Overeating by David Kessler.
Other companies and products discussed include Cinnabon, Oreos, Nabisco, Frito-Lay, the Outback Steakhouse, the Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks. Kessler breaks down different foods as what they are most simply- combinations of sugar, fat, and salt.
After explaining the chemistry that occurs with highly palatable food and over-eaters, Kessler discusses how we become hooked and how children have a better gauge of how to eat than adults do. Children, when full, stop eating even if there is food on their plate and if the meal that they had for lunch was very calorie dense, they naturally consume less at dinner. However, this changes as we age. We become influenced by others, media, and by the food itself and the availability of ultra- palatable, calorie dense food.
The last 65 pages of the book discuss how we can overcome over eating. It involves a combination of things. I will lay them out generally but I highly recommend reading the book as it is excellent- I especially like how he keeps the chapters shorter as non-fiction reading takes more time to consume.
- Eliminate cues- avoid things that will prompt you to overeat- for me this is crackers or cookies. If I eat one cracker, it is likely that the box will be empty in an hour. So, I don't keep crackers in the house. My husband eats chips- I don't- and they are kept in his office, not in the kitchen where I will see them and possibly be cued by them.
- Before eating take a moment and really think, focus on the food and yourself, ask "Am I truly hungry? Will this food benefit me (is it healthy or empty calories) ? How will I feel after I eat this?
- Have a verbal response ready when you see something that has cued you such as: "I'll be happier if I don't eat this.", "Eating this will make me feel bad."
- Immediatly think about something else, or better yet, do something else. Many times I have thrown off a subtle disire that if allowed even five seconds of thought leading to "should I eat this or not?", by thinking about something else, a conversation, a book I'm reading, singing along to music in the car, going over what I need to do that day, etc. This generally happens when I pass an Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt store.
- Control your portion sizes.
- Plan your meals. I have found that if I plan my meals and snacks by the week, not only does it make my grocery shopping much easier, it gives me structure to where I have no need or desire to eat outside of my menu because I am eating foods that are satisfying at regular intervals, and if I encounter something that isn't on my plan, I just say, NO, that's not on my plan. No cookies, Bad cookies!
- If we think about the foods that cue us in negative ways we will not be as influenced by them in the future. I used to love Twizzlers. I tried a Twizzler about six months ago and it was disgusting. I have no desire to eat them ever again. If we remind our selves that things that are available to us to eat, aren't that good, and that we don't want them- and say it over and over, it will become less of an issue.
Overall, I learned a great deal from this book and I highly recommend reading it for yourself whether you struggle with overeating or not, the way that the food industry manufactures food to make it more palatable and easier to consume is fascinating. Marketing techniques and the science behind why ultra-palatable food is addictive is also discussed.
Check your local library for a copy!