Before I move on to the next section of the End of Overeating, I wanted to explore one underlying contributing factor to conditioned hypereating that I had not thought much about, namely our culture of eating in general. Dr. Kessler devotes a chapter to the topic. He opens with an intriguing observation.
The question “Is food available?” once had social and economic implications. We were really asking “Are we facing famine?” “Can we afford food?” That framework has changed in Western societies. Now we usually mean “Can I buy food nearby?” “Can I eat it anywhere?” In today’s America, the answer to these questions is usually yes.
An important change in our culture of eating in the United States is that we now believe it is okay to eat almost anywhere and everywhere. Eating while walking down the street, in class, in a meeting, or while conducting business is no longer considered rude. I’ve grown up in that environment and had never even thought about it before. Dr. Kessler shares the impressions of people from other cultures in a way that really drives the point home.
Of course, our culture of eating is beginning to infiltrate even anti-snacking cultures with extremely strong meal patterns. The French pattern of eating only at set mealtimes was once so strong that restaurants wouldn’t even serve food outside those traditional periods. As that cultural norm weakens, we are seeing a rise in weight in France, though not yet anywhere near the scale we see in America.
With hyperpalatable food readily available everywhere we go and few cultural restrictions on when and where we eat, those susceptible to conditioned hypereating live in an almost constant state of stimulation. It’s little wonder we’re suffering from an obesity epidemic.