Dissecting the Book “The End of Overeating” – Part 2

I started my “review” of David Kessler’s book “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” in my last blog entry (Part 1). I got interested in this book both through the review Barbara gave it on Refuse to Regain (“Don’t Get Me Started”) and the interview with Kessler in the July/August edition of Nutrition Action Newsletter.

In Part 1, I wrote how I was glad to finally have an explanation (Point #1 – Dopamine) for why certain foods make me “happy” and why I used to eat them way past satiation. I’m talking WAY off the full-o-meter. I also disagreed with Kessler’s assertion (Point #2 – Distraction) that we should merely ignore wanting these foods. I believe it’s important to look at the reasons why we want them so much before launching into complete diversion.

So just what are “these foods”? Or more importantly, what’s IN these foods that make them so irresistible? On to Point #3 – Sorry Meatloaf, two out of three IS bad

Nutrition Action Newsletter interviewer Bonnie Liebman: “Is everyone equally vulnerable to these foods?” (The ones containing what the food industry calls the “three points of the compass”: fat, sugar and salt.)

Kessler: “No. You can ask people if they have these three characteristics: 1) Do you lose control in the face of highly palatable foods? Is it very hard to resist them? 2) Do you feel a lack of satiation – a lack of feeling full – when you’re eating? 3) Do you have a preoccupation? Do you think about foods in between meals? Or as you’re eating something, are you thinking about what you’ll be eating next?

“When you ask these questions, some people have no idea what you’re talking about. But about 50 percent of obese, 30 percent of overweight, and 20 percent of healthy-weight individuals score very high on those three characteristics.”

I used to do 1 and 2 and not 3. (However, now I do 3 and not 1 and 2, which I’ll explain in Point #4).

It gives me a facial tic admitting that I would “lose control” in the face of highly palatable foods. I picture “losing control” as swallowing gallons of ice cream, consuming dozens of cookies, eating a bucket of fried chicken and then passing out on the couch. But in order for me to understand my past eating habits, I have to change how I think about the phrase “lose control.” It doesn’t always mean binging. It also includes what I used to do.

*deep breath*

I, Lynn Haraldson-Bering, admit that I used to LOSE CONTROL when faced with mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, Mom’s chocolate cake, et. al. Lose control as in eating two (large) servings instead of one and/or picking at the leftovers over after-dinner conversation or while putting away leftovers (a rare occurrence). Losing control meant I wasn’t conscious of the consequences of eating so much fat-laden food. I was caught up in a happy food orgy replete of stress or emotional roots. Eating that food in that moment made me happy. It was a dopamine orgasm.

But the truth is, after eating too much, I felt awful. I needed an antacid almost every night, my heart raced, my face would flush, I dreaded getting off the couch, and yet I did it week after week, year after year, stopping only for a few “diets” here and there. The joy of the food (or what I thought was “joy”) took precedence over my own physical well being.

Point #4 – Relearning to eat

Kessler said that every time we are cued and consume stimulus foods, we strengthen our neural circuits, so the next time we’re cued, the more likely we are to overeat again. “Strengthening those circuits is what we define as learning, even though it’s not the kind of conscious learning we think about.”

Liebman: “Does that explain why it’s tough to keep weight off?”

Kessler: “Yes. Why don’t diets work? Sure, I can deprive someone by cutting their calories for 30, 60 or 90 days. And they’ll lose weight. But, first of all, deprivation increases the reward value of food unless you substitute something you want more (my emphasis). And after you lose the weight, the old circuitry is still there.

“Unless you’ve replaced it with new circuitry – new learning – if you’re put back in your old environment, you continue to get bombarded by the old cues, so of course you’ll gain the weight back.”

I still don’t quite understand how all the pieces of the puzzle came together five years ago – both from an emotional and “love of food” standpoint – but they did. Simply (well, hardly simple to do, but the concept is simple) becoming aware of what all that food was doing to my body woke me up and I asked myself, “Is it worth it?” I had to change my environment – the one in my head that said after every diet, “Hey, now you can eat whatever you want again!” I’ve learned that no, I can’t, and so I won’t.

For me, eating simply (as Michael Pollan suggests, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) is more important than the taste and “feelings” of mashed potatoes or pizza or chocolate cake, at least in the extreme. I can eat chocolate cake if I want to, but it’s a conscious decision backed with the strong desire to not “lose control.”

The bottom line – my “maintenance secret,” my key to control, my beacon in stress – is that I really do love feeling thin more than feeling full. And during those stressful writing times when I want so badly to stuff my face with whatever, I breath deep and tell myself it will pass – it always does – and pop another Tic Tac.

It’s taking Kessler’s negative food characteristic #3 – Do you have a preoccupation? Do you think about foods in between meals? Or as you’re eating something, are you thinking about what you’ll be eating next? – and turning it into a positive. My “preoccupation” with food is now thoughtful planning. Sometimes I think I think about food too much, but at least I’m thinking about it and not mindlessly shoving it in my pie hole like I used to.

Was all this relearning easy? At first it wasn’t, and there are still some days that, well…it’s tough. But mostly I’ve “substituted” the feeling of food for the feeling of thin and healthy, making thin and healthy more important than food. I still love a good cheesy mashed potato, a decadent chocolate dessert, and coffee or oatmeal with real cream, but I also love a big ass salad, egg white omelets with fresh basil and chives, vegetable paprikash made with fat-free sour cream, and my homemade refried beans. These foods help make me “happier” and healthier than I’ve ever been, and nothing the food industry and their “three points of the compass” serves up can replace that.

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