Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What We're Reading: The End of Overeating

The cover of The End of Overeating by David Kessler perfectly illustrates the problem with food these days. Few, when presented with the choice between a carrot and a carrot cake, would select the vegetable over the baked good. Why do those salty, sweet, and fatty foods have us coming back for more...and more, and more? Kessler looks at the science of hyperpalatable food and speaks with food consultants and industry experts, researchers and restaurateurs, to explain why something as simple as a chocolate chip cookie can have such power over the brain. It's something of a punch in the stomach (almost literally) when he has a conversation with a food consultant, who breaks down popular appetizers at restaurants to their essence; the Bloomin' Onions at Outback Steakhouse, for instance, are "fried in batter and topped with sauce, their flavor comes from salt on sugar on fat".

There are a number of authors who discuss the dangers of eating processed food - Michael Pollan immediately comes to mind. Kessler focuses more on why these culinary creations have such an addictive quality. Still, there are interesting tidbits about the food industry - for instance, that cereal is broken up into many different types of sugar, so that sugar does not appear at the top of the ingredient list. It's genuinely difficult to determine how much sugar, salt, and fat hides in the things we eat.

After explaining why we are conditioned to eat the way we do, Kessler offers advice on how to break the habit and adopt a new way of looking at food. While stumbling is likely - the circuitry in our brain is hardwired and the pull of reward is great - it is possible to develop new associations with the foods we crave. The End of Overeating is a great encouragement and help in switching from automatic to mindful eating.

No comments: