I’ve been hitting the jackpot lately with the books that companies are sending to me- and this one is absolutely being added to my Healthy Recommendations page on the sidebar!
Ever since I began to eat healthier and get away from virtually all processed foods, I’ve found that my body really prefers the natural whole food goodness. My tastes have developed over time so that I no longer enjoy drinking Coke or eating fast food hamburgers. However, I haven’t been able to figure out why it is that even though I know those foods are bad for my body and I don’t even like them anymore, if someone has a Coke or is eating fast food I sometimes think that I want that food.
It wasn’t until I read this book that I really fully understood how it’s possible that we can not like a food but still want it: Kessler, once a commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, illustrates through his book how it is that we can simultaneously dislike and want an unhealthy food. The number of experts that he confers with on the subject is impressive, particularly when he goes on at detailed length about his conversations with insiders in the food industry.
Throughout his book, Kessler likens the combination of fat, sugar, and salt to that of an addictive drug. He refers to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug addictions frequently, pointing out the frightening similarities between these obsessions and the obsessions with food. Reading repeatedly that different kinds of foods are merely different combinations of fat, sugar, and salt created a rather disgusting yet effective image in my mind as I read: shrimp tempura at a Japanese restaurant is described as the shrimp being “rolled in mayonnaise, fried in a sweetened tempura batter, then rolled again in spicy mayonnaise. That’s fat on sugar on fat on fat” (84). The cinnamon raisin French toast (stuffed with cream cheese and presented with a side of eggs, hash browns, and choice of meat) served at the International House of Pancakes is similarly depicted: “Breaking it down, the French toast is a load of fat on fat on fat and sugar that’s then layered with fat on sugar on sugar and served with fat, salt, and fat” (86). Yum? If that’s not enough to make you think twice about eating out at one of these kinds of restaurants, I don’t know what is.
Kessler refers to these foods as being hyperpalatable; the Western way of eating is to engage as many senses as possible for the maximum experience. Eating for fuel is a thing of the past, and we’re taking all kinds of traditional cuisine and turning it into something unhealthy by adding in unnecessary embellishments. These add-ins really do nothing more than to dull our taste buds and expand our waistlines. [As an aside, I once went to a sushi restaurant and there were approximately two kinds of sushi rolls that did not include mayonnaise or tempura. I was not impressed.]
What rang with me the most was the notion that “we learn to want a food we once liked. We may no longer like that food. But it’s the wanting, not the liking, that drives us to do the work necessary to obtain that food” (52). For myself, I don’t much enjoy milk chocolate anymore. It’s too sweet and I have gotten used to appreciating good quality dark chocolate. But if it’s in the house, or if I see a bar of milk chocolate in the store, my mouth starts watering. I know very well that I won’t enjoy the taste, but I want it nonetheless. And if I start to eat it, I’ll eat the whole darn thing, regardless of whether I’m enjoying it. The power of the sugar-fat-salt combination is terrifying.
Going into great detail about the impact of the food industry’s drive to make more money by consistently designing more and more hyperpalatable foods, Kessler states the harsh facts: “The Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes label indicates that the cereal has 11 grams of sugar per serving. But nowhere does it tell consumers that more than one-third of the box contains added sugar” (103). It’s simply another way to look at a nutrition label, and one which I had not considered at all previously. How many kids (or adults!) eat a bowl of cereal each morning with this same amount of sugar in it? Why would we want to start our day with a meal that is one third sugar?
Another part of this book which I have suspected for a long time but never found any hard evidence supporting my beliefs is Kessler’s discussion on how our self-regulatory systems in our bodies are changing. There was a time when we knew when to start and stop eating, and if we ate too much one day then we would eat less the next without being consciously aware of it: this was especially true for children. However, the times are changing: research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center has shown that small children’s self-regulatory systems have altered from compensating for 90% of extra calories in the 1980’s to compensating for only 45% of added calories in the 1990’s. Children are addicted to high fat/sugar/salt foods just the same as adults, and their learned behavior is going to be that much more difficult to deal with in the future.
I loved how Kessler concluded his book with cautioning against an obsession with food (orthorexia, anyone?). He notes that an awareness and understanding of what is going on, as well as a mental shift, is key to success. If we can alter our habits so that we eat healthy but we are still anxious about food constantly, then it’s questionable if we are successful in beating the food addiction. The mental change, as we often talk about on this blog, is just as crucial as the physical change.
Want to win a copy of this book for yourself? Leave me a comment on this post about your experiences with overeating; be they struggles or triumphs, share your woes and suggestions for how to regain control. Contest will close next Thursday, June 18th, and the winner will be announced on Friday June 19th (U.S. and Canada only, sorry!).
E-mail me if you feel as though you’ve been beating your head against a wall with your struggle with overeating and have yet to find a solution- I’ll post your story here next week and we can all brainstorm together to find ways to help you out!
For another chance to win this book, check out Rupal’s review of this book at 101 Exercises!
*Edited to add that you’re in luck- there’s another chance to win a copy of this book at Cranky Fitness!