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The End of Overeating: Taking Control of Our Insatiable Appetite Paperback – 1 Apr 2010
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Fascinating . . . an exploration of us (New York Times)
Disturbing, thought-provoking, and important (Anthony Bourdain, author of 'Kitchen Confidential')
No ordinary diet book (New Scientist)
The End of Overeating is an invaluable contribution to the national conversation about the catastrophe that is the modern American diet (Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food)
About the Author
David A. Kessler, MD, served as commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration. He is a paediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. Under his direction, the FDA announced a number of new programs, including the following: the regulation of the marketing and sale of tobacco products to children; nutrition labelling for food and preventive controls to improve food safety. The recipient of many honours for his work in public health, in April 2008 Dr Kessler was named the '2008 National Hero' by the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley 'for his leadership as the nation's top drug regulator and his courage in challenging the US tobacco industry'.
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Top customer reviews
The writing style is simple, clear and persuasive, making the book easy and quick to read. Some books written in such a style are based on mumbo jumbo science but this is thoroughly backed up by academic work. There is a difference between pure charisma and good quality presentation of rigorous ideas. We can debate which category particular diets fall into but this book falls squarely into the second category. There is nothing mumbo jumbo here.
The book is divided into half a dozen sections. I found the first section the best. It gives a better explanation than I have seen anywhere else of why we overeat and why it is hard to stop. Once you understand that you can't stop eating cake for reasons similar to why people can't stop smoking, you will be able to start thinking seriously about what you need to do to break your habit.
A lot of good scientific research on overeating, and related areas of psychology, is clearly and simply summarised. One experiment I particularly liked showed that many birds, if you introduce a large rogue egg into their nest, will choose to sit on the rogue one at the expense of their own, even if the rogue one is so large it must have come from a much larger species. This happens simply because there has never been a need for a mechanism for limiting the size of egg a bird will choose. Our brains do something similar with food that has lots of fat and sugar or salt.
The second section summarises the American food industry's techniques and practices. He successfully demonstrates that the industry tries to maximise its profit, tries to get its customers to eat more, and tries to serve what they most like to eat. Wow. Food companies are irresponsible about the healthiness of what they serve? Yes, but we don't need to read a book to figure that out. I was hoping to find something comparable to the tobacco industry's suppression of research but I was disappointed. He doesn't find a scandal yet he describes unhealthy food and its marketing for thirteen repetitive chapters.
The final, shorter sections give more explanation of why we overeat followed by some sound logical advice, but are again repetitive. The advice isn't structured, it is more like somebody making a speech. He finishes with a note of hope that food companies may become more responsible in the future.
Another reasonable science book on dieting you might like to consider is "Eat to Live" by Joel Fuhrman.
The later chapters of the book deal more with how to resist the lure of high sugar, salt and fat foods that are the mainstay of evidently irresistible junk food. As someone who has been involved in researching food and physiological responses I felt that his analysis of the available research focused too heavily on the psychological motivations for over-eating and too little on the physiological links between the digestive system and the brain. There are receptors in the digestive system that detect nutrients and send signals to the brain to indicate that food has been consumed and the kind of food. Manufactured foods contain novel fats, for example, not found in natural foods and, as receptors are very specific to the shape of the molecules they monitor, the signal that a load of unnatural fat had arrived in the digestive system would not be registered and the eater may go on eating as the normal satiety signal has not kicked in. A parallel example is the unnatural trans fats created by hydrogenating cheap oils to make solid fats suitable for use in the baking industry instead of butter. These trans fats have led to unexpected damage to the linings of arteries and consequent arteriosclerosis. Never before has the human digestive system had to deal with a relatively huge amounts of sugars found in manufactured foods, especially soft drinks. I recall research done by Professor Garrard in London in which he was trying to load the diets of young men with calories to see what happened to their weight: they couldn't tolerate the extra calories as protein or fat. The only way he could load them with 1000s of extra calories was in the form of liquid sugar: soft drinks in other words.
It's an interesting and at times shocking book, but, sadly, I think the "genie is out of the bottle" in terms of cheap junk foods being so readily available everywhere one goes coupled with a generally more prosperous population such that I fear that obesity will increase and all the consequent morbidity. Maybe legislation is the only answer?
However, this is not really a book to help you lose weight. Mr Kessler focuses on the intense food, marketing cues and dopamine releases (a bit repetitive at times) but less on the challenge of resisting it. He plays down the role of dieting in creating the problem of compulsive eating and largely ignores the psychological effects of feeling unattractive and fetishising about being thin, which affect so many women dieters. If you want to skip some of the science and hear more about the human and psychological story, I recommend Xtensity, Why 5% of Dieters Succeed: Why Calorie Counting Always Fails - What Makes Us Greedy - How the Food Industry Keeps Us Fat. It is based on exactly the same theory (obesity is caused by our modern diet) but offers a more specific and user-friendly solution.
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