Overeating Hysteria

Before returning my borrowed copy to the library, I want to write a bit of a review about Dr. David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

Dr. Kessler explores the reasons why he thinks highly palatable food is so hard to resist. He describes “conditioned hypereating” as a state of mind similar to drug addiction. As former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, I’m sure Dr. Kessler understands the addiction model. Yet, he applies this model to food stating, “Fat, sugar, and salt change the brain.” Further, he asserts that the food industry is irresistibly combining these three ingredients into “hyperpalatable foods.”

Near the end of his book, Dr. Kessler candidly acknowledges his own history of overeating and weight cycling. “I have lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again—over and over and over. I have owned suits in every size,” he admits.

It seems reasonable, then, for Dr. Kessler to perceive food and eating as addictive. For those like Dr. Kessler who have banned certain foods or limited food quantity for the purpose of weight loss, thoughts about food become pervasive. Food seems like an addictive substance and eating seems like an addictive behavior.

A more accurate explanation lies in the recent dramatic discoveries about how the human brain and body function together to influence food choices. The primal need for food is very well regulated. The human brain responds to hunger by stimulating food seeking behavior, finding pleasurable food and eating until the body senses that it has had enough. Scientists describe this response as a balance between the homeostatic and hedonic systems.

Focused on his attack on the food industry, Dr. Kessler has skipped the brain science as well as the behavioral science on the subject of food and eating. He is stuck on the same old ideas of hyper-regulating and hyper-resisting.

The title of the book is the first clue that his ideas are off-track. After all, everybody’s appetite is satiable; and control is not the answer.

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4 comments so far

  1. Felicia on

    I have a funny story regarding appetite. My mom told me that she was watching TV with my 9 year old nephew when a diet commercial came on that said the product would help you lose your appetite. My nephew told my mom “Why would you want to lose your appetite? I hope I never lose my appetite. I like cheese and I don’t want to stop liking cheese.”

    • Peggy Crum on

      Out of the mouths of babes!

  2. Ellyn Satter on

    Thanks for this review, Peggy. I finally broke down and put this book on reserve at the library, as well. I simply won’t spend my money on something that is so lacking in rigor, both intellectually and with respect to the research underpinnings.
    Why do you think this book is so popular? What nerve did it hit with respect to the eating public?
    BTW, I love the story about the 9 year-old and appetite.

    • Peggy Crum on

      Dr. Kessler has great name recognition and held a position which commanded respect and authority. That carried over to his book. Also it gained him a spot on the talk-show circuit. People are looking for answers–over and over, they hear about the problems they have with food.


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