The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable North American Appetite
David A. Kessler M.D.
Rodale Books 2009, 336 pages, hardcover
I am one of those people who cannot walk past a plate of cookies. I’m not a binger – I’d never dream of eating the whole plate at once. But over the course of a day, I’d find excuses to wander past and have one. Or two. Only to discover at the end of the day that I’d consumed a dozen without even realizing it.
Dr. David Kessler has written a book just for me, offering techniques and tips on how to end overeating and lose weight.
Okay, so if you don’t believe that line, I can’t really blame you because Kessler’s book left me feeling about as frustrated and annoyed as if I had been lied to.
What is most frustrating is that The End of Overeating is really two books in one.
Kessler’s theory that fat, salt and sugar are the evil ingredients that cause us to crave (and not be able to resist) most foods is a reasonable one. Fat, salt and sugar make things tasty and palatable. Don’t believe me? Try some plain Brussels sprouts compared to some that have been tossed in butter, a bit of salt and pepper and a dollop of honey or brown sugar.
He also explores how mainstream restaurants and processed foods layer these three things to create dishes that are almost addictive; for example, children’s breakfast cereals that contain 3 different types of sugar (in part to allow manufacturers to not have to list sugar as the primary ingredient), or dishes like a Cinnabon or fried chicken wings doused in sweet sauce. He uses the term “eatertainment” to describe the engineering of the experience of eating – the manipulation of not just flavours but textures, and even activity (dippables, for instance) that all create feelings of satisfaction – for a while.
With more research and detail, Kessler’s chapters on processed foods could have been a book all on their own – many other authors have already addressed these issues, but another tome on the evils of processed food can’t hurt, and no one has gone in-depth with mid-range family restaurants serving processed and engineered menus.
Part of Kessler’s problem though, is that he’s concentrating almost exclusively on processed foods. In a chapter where he compares Canada’s weight problem and restaurant portion sizes to that of the US, he visits an area of Toronto rife with mid-range chain restaurants, and doesn’t really look at any independent places, takeaways featuring healthier options, or consider the idea that Toronto is a city that is really into the fresh and local food movement. He begins to lose me at this point, because I can’t help but feel that he’s culling information to support his points and not looking at an overall picture. Yes, maybe this is how middle America eats, but it’s not how all of us eat, and that doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
The second half of the book is where things go askew, as Kessler preaches avoidance techniques. He is insistent that these are not “willpower” but rather a method of designing techniques to completely avoid the trigger foods full of fat, salt and sugar. Driving home a different route so as to avoid the drive-through, for instance.
But do we need a medical doctor to teach us these techniques? I avoid that plate of cookies, for instance, by immediately popping the whole batch in the freezer, and doling out a few each day with my afternoon tea. When dragged to the all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant where the servers bring huge skewers of meat to your table, I purposely fill up on salad first. Maybe Kessler’s book can teach people to be more conscious of these cues for overeating and resistance techniques, but most of the things we can each do are basic common sense, and nothing that hasn’t been written about for decades in the annual “how not to blow your diet over the holidays” articles that run every December in magazines and newspapers.
There is also an underlying theory that people who have foods that lower their resistance, whether it is chocolate, cookies, burgers, etc, must prepare themselves for a life without that food. One cookie could be your undoing apparently, if you cannot train yourself through cues and techniques to avoid them.
But cookies exist out there in the real world, and sometimes we’re going to find ourselves in situations where they are front and centre. Kessler’s advice section ranges from flaky and philosophical to trite, and ultimately comes down to being organized enough to plan meals, plan healthy snacks so as to avoid unhealthy ones and plan alternatives to the junk food. There’s nothing new here, and his dependence on BMI statistics shows that he’s just spouting the status quo.
Kessler’s chapters on processed and restaurant food are interesting and shocking enough to make most people take notice. We don’t think enough about what goes into our prepared foods or how they’re cooked, and a whole book along this theme would be up there with Pollan, Nestle, Schlosser, Spurlock, etc. in terms of raising awareness. Where Kessler fails is in attempting to write what really boils down to yet another diet book, prescribing tips and tricks that most people won’t follow through on.