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July 14, 2009

Weekday Book Report – The End of Overeating

The End of Overeating The End of Overeating:
Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

David Kessler

336 pages


The idea for Dr. David Kessler’s latest book came to him one day when he was watching the Oprah Winfrey show in which a young woman who was overweight grew distraught as she tried to confront the issues surrounding her insatiable food cravings.

If you are like us, you’re probably asking yourself, “What in the world is a grown man doing watching Oprah?”

Also, "Why do I suddenly feel like eating carrot cake?"

The book, “The End of Overeating,” explores the reasons why Americans tend to find so many modern foods irresistible.  In fact, Dr. Kessler uses his own struggle to illustrate the point:

“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me? Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”

As a non-magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College and absent an M.D. from the Harvard Medical School, you’re probably thinking, “Heck, I could have solved that mystery in seven seconds: ‘Because it tastes good.’”

However, the answer is far more complicated than that and requires an advanced understanding of neurochemistry and the complex biological processes of the brain:

“When we first put a highly palatable food into our mouths, taste buds in the tongue respond by sending a signal to an area of the lower brain responsible for controlling many of our involuntary activities, such as breathing and digestion.”

"When the lower brain receives that signal, it activates the neural circuitry that contains natural opioid molecules. From the lower brain, the sensory experience of taste travels through the midbrain, reaching the regions where the sensory signals of food are integrated. Those signals are ultimately related to the “nucleus accumbens.”

Okay, fine, “It tastes good.”

But it sounds much more smarter when you use scientifiky-sounding talk.

So, we’ve established that people desire food that tastes good.  But why does it taste good?  Why do we crave buffalo wings and chocolate-covered pretzels? That’s the second blockbuster revelation of this book:

We like sugar, fat, and salt.

Mystery Solved

Mystery Solved!

But it goes even beyond that. Dr. Kessler notes that restaurants are careful to avoid creating foods that are either too bland or too overwhelming by “manipulating” the amounts of sugar, fat, and salt.

This manipulation is known in some quarters as “cooking.”


What can we do about our desire to eat food that tastes good and an industry that refuses to provide us with meals we'll dislike?

In the closing chapters of his book, Dr. Kessler lays out a number of actions you can take, all of which involve not eating those foods.

So, to sum up “The End of Overeating:”

  • We eat food that tastes good.
  • Sugar, fat, and salt taste good.
  • Don’t eat those.

There, we just saved you fifteen bucks.


Disclosure: I read this book with the same care, dedication, and attention to detail, as our congressional representatives display when reading important legislation.  Probably more so.  Still, there is only so much I’ll do for my craft!

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July 14, 2009 at 05:50 PM in Books | Permalink


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If you had a medical degree from Harvard you wouldn't figure out why you like peanuts until 2016.

Posted by: Planet Moron | Jul 17, 2009 9:46:27 AM


Besides, I like peanuts.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 16, 2009 11:16:26 AM

The easiest way to overcome cravings is the same way as you overcome the temptation to sound stupid. Keep your damn mouth shut!

Posted by: barryjo | Jul 15, 2009 12:33:50 PM

I suppose that's a judgment call. He goes to great lengths to point out the many ways in which food is made both irresistible and easy (and so quick) to eat, that many of the same pleasure pathways that light up when you take drugs or alcohol (but I repeat myself) are present in the pleasure response to food, that the more sugar, fat and salt you eat, the more you crave sugar, fat and salt because it's so pleasurable, and so on.

I gave it two Planet Morons because it has some passably interesting passages in that regard. As far as dealing with cravings, it's all about avoiding what you crave, and then training yourself to enjoy, and so desire, healthier foods by eating those instead.

All of which I find shallow and obvious.

But then, I''m told I'm a hopelessly cynical SOB.

Posted by: Planet Moron | Jul 14, 2009 6:44:51 PM

Is it really that shallow? (Dressed up with medical terms notwithstanding.) I would hope if he's discussing cravings that it would be more substantive than "just don't eat it." The whole point of something being a craving is that you can't just ignore it, and as such the goal of many diets and supplements is to avoid triggering cravings and thus make it the avoidance easier.

So if he had a point on specifically why cravings are stronger than mere desire, that would be something. But if the only point is that we want things because we like them, that seems a bit pointless.

Posted by: Amarsir | Jul 14, 2009 6:21:31 PM

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