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 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

End of OvereatingSo, the End of Overeating next addresses the big question — why is homeostasis under assault? And there are multiple levels to that answer.

First, it’s critical to understand the scientific concept of palatability. In our common usage, it just means that food tastes good or is pleasant. In scientific usage, it refers to the capacity of a food to stimulate the appetite, thus prompting us to eat more. And the most palatable foods, in that sense, are usually foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. Why? In large part, that seems to be because those are relatively uncommon in natural food, yet are pretty important to our survival.

However, it’s not simply the case that we can keep piling on sugar or lard and make something palatable. We will quickly begin to interpret that sensory input in negative ways as cloying or greasy or too salty rendering the food unpalatable. No, it’s the particular combination of sugar, fat, and/or salt that makes a food highly palatable. And both human and animal research indicates that the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt creates foods that many of us will eat in excessive amounts.

Dr. Kessler provides many examples throughout his book of the ways different foods are processed and cooked to make them highly palatable. By way of illustration, I’ll quote just one such example here. It’s the Bloomin’ Onion, something I used to enjoy at Outback before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

“Bloomin’ Onions — the trademark Outback Steakhouse dish — are very popular, and they too provide plenty of surface area to absorb fat. Fried in batter and topped with sauce, their flavor comes from salt on sugar on fat.”

Our constant access to foods high in sugar, fat, and salt is pushing up our bodies’ settling point, the homeostatic point which your body believes is your proper weight. And once the settling point has been adjusted upwards, it’s very difficult to reset it to a lower weight. That’s one reason our weight as a population is increasing even as our obsession with diets also increases. In a way, that’s somewhat ironic.

Sugar, fat, and salt are also clearly reinforcing. In animal studies, scientists focus on two questions to determine if a substance is reinforcing.

Are they (the animals) willing to work to obtain it?

So they respond to other stimuli they’ve learned to associate with the substance?

In this section of the book, Dr. Kessler outlines many scientific studies illustrating the ways that sugar, fat, and salt — especially in combination — are reinforcing. He also details studies that show that three additional features exert a powerful influence on our desire for more.

First, quantity. Give a rat two pellets of food rather than one, give a person two scoops of ice cream rather than one, and they’ll eat more. Portion size matters.

Second is the concentration of rewarding ingredients. Adding more sugar or fat to a given portion boosts its desirability (although only up to a point; in excess, either one can lessen its appeal).

Finally, variety plays an important role.

Dr. Kessler then spends a number of chapters exploring the different ways these stimuli impact and condition our brains. He makes the studies extremely accessible to the lay reader; I learned a lot as I read this part of the book. One of the interesting things I discovered was that we become conditioned by stimuli suggesting that a rewarding food is nearby. Our brains release dopamine when we encounter such cues in order to encourage us to seek out and obtain the food. We are rewarded more for the hunt in some cases than for the actual experience of the food itself. When you think about the way things work in nature, that makes sense, of course. But it works against us in an environment full of highly palatable and highly available foods.

Emotions also help make foods memorable. If you think about meals you remember in your past, most of the time it’s not so much the food itself that makes it memorable. It’s the setting, the people, and the events associated with the meal that fixes it in our memory. And all of that leads to an emotional attachment through association. A particular food spurs a memory of emotion and we begin to link the emotion with the food. The food industry tries to tap into that sort of association in much of its advertising.

Ultimately, our brains can be rewired and a particular eating behavior habituated. I was struck while reading this section of the book how much that habituation resembles what the Christian Fathers have called a ruling passion. It’s a process where trigger leads to action without the deliberate activation of our will. We do something without thinking about it and sometimes even without awareness. Obviously, some of us are more likely to reach that point with highly palatable food than others, but as a population we are clearly susceptible.

 


End of Overeating Intro – Dr. David Kessler

Posted: April 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating Intro – Dr. David Kessler

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating was released in 2009 and led to a number of news stories and interviews. I purchased it in 2010 and have read and absorbed it over the intervening years. As those who read this blog are probably aware, I don’t rush to review the latest thing. When I decide to write about something, it tends to be more in depth and after a period of time.

I want to begin this series with a brief introduction of Dr. David Kessler. He’s both a doctor and a lawyer — which is a significant achievement in and of itself. He was also the Commissioner of the FDA from 1990-1997, first appointed by President George H.W. Bush and later reappointed by President Clinton.

The content of the book and the collection of the science behind it was researched and developed over the course of seven years spurred by a desire to discover what drove people to eat to excess — even when they reported that they hated themselves for doing so. And specifically, what has changed over the past fifty years to make us significantly heavier as a population?

Dr. Kessler introduces the book with a simple statement: You are the target. It’s not accidental, even if those producing our modern highly palatable foods know little or nothing about the neuroscience behind their creations. Those foods are designed to create repeat customers.

In 2009, Dr. Kessler gave a talk at Google. It’s an interesting presentation and covers some of the highlights of the book. His talk is worth the time it takes to watch.