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The Food Industry's Conspiracy to Keep You Hooked

Posted Aug 04 2009 5:33pm

Over the last few years a great deal of information has been uncovered about how the tobacco companies knowingly engineered their cigarettes to become more addictive, usually by adding chemicals to cigarettes that increase the addictiveness of nicotine and keep smokers hooked.

What if the food industry was doing the same thing?

According to David Kessler, MD, that's exactly what food manufacturers have been doing for years, and that's at least partially responsible for the epidemic of overeating and obesity we're now witnessing.

Kessler, the former Commissioner of the FDA, has written a terrific and compelling book called " The End of Overeating". The book makes several arguments:

  1. Food has been "engineered" to contain various combinations of fat and sugar and salt that have never before been found in the human diet
  2. These combinations- particularly of fat and sugar together- are designed to stimulate brain chemistry in a way that makes it virtually impossible to resist these foods (Remember "betcha can't eat just one?")
  3. These foods "amp up" the neurons in the brain, getting them to fire more. "The message to eat becomes stronger, motivating the eater to act more vigorously in pursuit of the stimulus", he writes
  4. The most important goal of food "design" is not nutrition but to create a feeling of anticipation and desire by activating the pleasure centers of the brain
  5. Once the pleasure centers of the brain have been "hijacked" by these foods, our desire for them no longer has anything to do with hunger and more resembles addictive behavior than anything else

Now there's a lot more to the book than that, and I strongly recommend that you read it. But a few points that Kessler makes are worth mentioning here.

Kessler thinks that to overcome the addictions to certain "trigger" foods, it may be best to eliminate them completely – at least for a while. This is exactly what we do on the first two weeks of Diet Boot Camp and here's why: When you're addicted to something (cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, grains)- the idea of "everything in moderation" is useless. An alcoholic can't drink in moderation, a person with an allergy to peanuts can't eat peanuts in moderation, and those of us who are addicted to lethal combinations of sugar and fat might have to treat the foods that contain those combinations in the same way- abstinence!

Kessler also believes, however, that it's very difficult to stay on an eating plan that completely eliminates foods you're in love with. He suggests that you (very carefully) begin to add back certain foods you really love, but with a renewed consciousness about their dangers and a different attitude about portions. (This is what we do after the first two weeks in Diet Boot Camp.)

I think " The End of Overeating" is an important contribution to the literature about appetite, brain chemistry and obesity. After reading it, I find myself thinking a lot more about what I'm eating, why I'm eating it and how much of it I'm consuming. All of a sudden cravings aren't seen as just compulsions to be obeyed, but as the result of a carefully engineered plan on the part of food manufacturers to keep me "hooked".

Read this book and you're unlikely to ever look at a chocolate chip cookie in quite the same way as you did before reading it.

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