End of Overeating 5 – The Culture of Overeating

Posted: April 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

End of OvereatingBefore 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.


End of Overeating 4 – Conditioned Hypereating

Posted: April 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 4 – Conditioned Hypereating

End of OvereatingNext the End of Overeating explores why the syndrome Dr. Kessler calls conditioned hypereating is an emerging threat in our modern world. For centuries, homeostasis kept our consumption of food as a population more or less in balance. That balance has now been overturned. In large part that’s because our brains are actually being rewired. Dr. Kessler notes this phenomenon in his book.

I began to develop an overarching theory about eating for reward: Chronic exposure to highly palatable foods changes our brains, conditioning us to seek continued stimulation. Over time, a powerful drive for a combination of sugar, fat, and salt competes with our conscious capacity to say no.

So, how do we become trapped in this cycle of conditioned hypereating? When the chemical reward from eating a hyperpalatable food has made us feel better in the past, we become conditioned to associate that feeling with the food. And it tends to work. We crave that Butterfinger because we have felt good when we’ve eaten them in the past. So when we obtain one and take that first bite, we tend to feel that same sensation.

In many ways, conditioned hypereating is like many afflictions with both a genetic and environmental component. That’s similar to celiac disease. Some people never suffer from conditioned hypereating, just like a third of the population lacks the genes necessary for celiac disease. But even among those with the genetic predisposition for hyperconditioned eating, like those with the genes for celiac disease, not everyone will manifest the condition. For the rest of us, again like celiac disease, conditioned hypereating could be triggered at any time.

However, it’s certainly clear that a significant portion of the global population is susceptible and as we import the highly processed and hyperpalatable American diet into other parts of the world, the obesity epidemic begins to take root in those countries as well.


End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

Posted: April 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating begins with something that we are only now truly recognizing. For thousands of years, typical human body weight was pretty consistent. In fact, it was so stable and consistent that scientists believed we had biological systems operating in most of us to keep our weight within certain norms — automatically balancing our consumption with the calories burned.

In the eighties we began to realize something had changed. Or rather, one researcher, Katherine Flegal, began to recognize the new trend. At first, she thought her numbers were wrong. They indicated that in fewer than a dozen years, 20 million people had joined the ranks of the overweight. Her team checked and double-checked their data and finally published the results in 1994. The average weight of Americans had greatly increased since the sixties and the rates of obesity had exploded.

This discovery upended conventional scientific understanding. Dr. Kessler’s book attempts to gather both existing and new research together in a way that makes it accessible to those of us without a scientific background.

One of the first points, and a critical one, is that we get fat mostly because we eat more food. While that may seem obvious, it was not clear in the research initially. And one of the reasons it wasn’t clear is that people tend to underreport how much food they eat when they track it themselves. It’s not that people are being deliberately deceitful. Rather, we tend to hide the reality from ourselves and we tend to underestimate how much we are actually eating. So we had to improve our study techniques. Dr. Kessler puts the finding this way.

How much we eat predicts how much we weigh. Sometimes the most obvious explanation turns out to be the right one.

Ok, so it’s important to start with the right basis. But our bodily homeostatic system, which scientists thought was more powerful than it actually appears to be, kept our weight as a population more or less in balance for much of our history. What has changed over just the last few decades to overpower it and render it less effective?

The answer seems to be that the reward system in our brains has overpowered our homeostatic system. In the first part of his book, Dr. Kessler explores the different ways our reward system has been supercharged and the impact that has had on us.