This book discusses how a driving desire for sugar, fat and salt impacts people, regardless of weight. It is not a weight loss or diet book; simply a plan to take back the control that food has over us. How our brain responds to food is investigated and why we can’t say no may be surprising.
The author, David A. Kessler, MD, previously served as the commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration for seven years. He has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California for a total of 10 years. He is also a pediatrician and has two children. Naturally I was interested in what he had to say.
The author has an impressive education (Harvard Medical School and the University of Chicago Law School) so I was initially concerned this book may be a complicated theory book. I was very impressed with how easy the book read. It is written entirely in layman terms which I really appreciated since I was reading it purely for recreational reasons.
The author tackles the big question of why people struggle so much with what, when, and how much they eat. The beginning of the book sets up some scenarios of people that do not have eating disorders, but are consumed with thoughts of food. The scenarios illustrate how the people can exhibit willpower over everything in their life, except certain foods.
The book moves on to explain how sugar, fat and salt are being layered in food products. Dr. Kessler seems to have some very good industry connections. I was very enlightened with the comments of industry insiders that Dr. Kessler interviewed. He mentions the thought process of some really well-established companies in the book like McDonalds, Chili’s Bar and Grill, Cinnabon, Kraft, and the Kellogg’s Corporation. He shows the relationship of these three ingredients in the creation of the products they sell and how they are received by the consumer. From a business perspective it made perfect sense.
Society seems to be on a health kick now and demanding products without ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. I have noticed the food industry has taken this to heart and the words “no high fructose syrup” is on the front of nearly every container now. I was enlightened to the hidden truth Dr. Keller points out in regards to how the food industry has been able to continue to deceive the consumers about ingredients while boosting their own image.
This book shows how the food industry uses science to decide on how products will look, feel and taste. Dr. Kessler doesn’t make this personal. This is how they do it; this is how the body reacts. He doesn’t point fingers at the industry as being the culprit to the obesity problem. He doesn’t imply that consumers have character flaws resulting in weight gain. Simply stated, it’s a biological normal response to the stimuli. The author’s emotions on the subject are totally removed from the conversation.
I have always wondered why it is so hard to say “No” when someone walks by with a plate of food; something I didn’t want to begin with until I saw it. It was very interesting to learn how the brain works in this situation. Dr. Kessler does a great job of explaining the four steps creating this response and how it applies in our life.
Dr. Kessler discusses case studies by psychologist that study the behavior around food, especially sugar. There were some interesting test scenarios to illustrate the biological versus learned responses in the types of food we choose. Does our body have a mechanism that naturally chooses what it needs, or what tastes better? Will the test subject stop eating when they are full, or will they overeat if the food is offered? Does an overweight person have the same response as someone who is not? It was also very interesting to learn if a test rat’s response toward an ingredient was preferred. Would the rat work harder to get to one food over the other? There were some really interesting test scenarios presented in the book without turning scientific with charts.
Near the end of the book Dr. Kessler spells out his food rehab plan with a list of principles to keep in mind in an effort to break the cycle. Dr. Kessler points out that this can be managed but never cured. The concepts are aimed at viewing the trigger food in a new way. The rehab plan describes why doing certain things to change the emotional experience with particular foods can be successful over time.
I found it very interesting to learn how the food industry creates the foods that we crave and why our bodies want it. The author was able to be informative without sounding like a textbook. It also didn’t sound like he was on his soapbox for or against the food industry.
The study of the cause was much more detailed than the treatment section. The treatment is still in the theory stage, it seems. I am glad Dr. Kessler went the extra step and provided a rehab plan for getting away from the habits that have been created. He explains that eating is personal, so this isn’t the magic pill we’ve been hoping for. In fact, he was very realistic in the book and pointed out it may not work for everyone and managing it is the best anyone can do.
This isn’t a diet of any kind. It’s not about eliminating sugar, fat and salt from our diets. It really seemed to me like the documentation of Dr. Kessler’s personal journey to discover the truth behind his own ties to food by taking what he knows (the food industry), incorporating his medical knowledge (the brain in this case), and attaching it to the psychology of how the food makes a person feel (the resulting behavior).
The treatment reminded me of a mix between the 12-step program for alcoholics and the anti-drug campaign to keep people off drugs. Some scientific studies show sugar is as addictive as cocaine and it affects the brain function the same way that cocaine and heroin does. Maybe it's worth thinking about the type of treatment plan Dr. Kessler mentions.
I think the complexity of the biological and emotional aspects of eating are much larger than can be put in a 250 page book. This is a good start. I really enjoyed reading this book and got a lot out of it.
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