No ordinary diet book

Ever since I was eighteen-years-old and caught in a hideous overeating cycle (long since broken out of, I’m happy to say), I’ve maintained that for a lot of people, food becomes like a drug.


Which means no amount of ‘helpful’ diet tips can help you lose weight – in much the same vein that no amount of hiding cigarettes or buying a lighter version of their favourite brand can stop smokers lighting up.

What can make a difference is understanding your reasons for overeating in the first place. And while attributing your overeating issues to the addictive nature of (certain) food will not help resolve the problem, understanding how powerful its grasp on our physiology can be a liberating first step.


Which is why, if you’re looking to regain control of what you eat – and lose a few pounds in the process – you should read new ‘diet’ book, The End Of Overeating by David Kessler, published earlier this month.


As former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, Kessler crusaded against the tobacco companies and their conspiracy to keep smokers hooked. Now, in a sequence of short, readable chapters, Kessler gets right to the heart of the matter with food.

In essence, he says, the problem is that many modern foods have become far too palatable. Rich in fat and sugar, they over-stimulate the brain's reward pathways, conditioning us to seek more and more.

Manufacturers of processed foods and major restaurant chains all exploit this neurological vulnerability by loading up food with fat and sugar to create ‘craveability’. So instead of being made to nourish and satisfy, so much of the food available today is made to stimulate.

And it gets worse. When we eat these hyperstimulating foods and experience the neural rewards they offer, the foods become even more stimulating the next time around. Eventually, the cues that accompany the foods - location, time of day, emotional state - become triggers that drive food-seeking behaviour.


While there’s nothing really surprising in this – most of us already know our bodies and brains are hard-wired to crave the fats and sugars that were once scarce but are now abundant, and that over time we can learn to eat from habit rather than from hunger – what is interesting is the direct connection Kessler draws between food’s power over people and the pull of alcohol and drugs.

But unlike alcohol and drugs, you can’t give up food altogether. So what’s the answer? In the final chapters of his book, Kessler looks at neurobiology and the psychology of habit reversal to give advice for breaking the tyranny of food cravings and addiction.

The most important thing, he says, is to make strict rules about when you can and can’t eat. By narrowing down the scope for choice – and availability – you can muffle the brain’s cravings and eventually get to a point where eating your favourite chocolate bar doesn’t trigger a binge.

Emotionally, it works, too. Once you realise you can get through your work crisis or a evening of boredom at home without the aid of an edible crutch, it becomes much easier to resist the allure of a quick food fix.

In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Kessler explained that he’d written his book to help people ‘who don’t understand why they overeat.’

I suspect that’s a lot more of us than would let on.

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