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

Book Review

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
By David A. Kessler, MD
Rodale (2009)
Reviewed by Bethany Thayer, MS, RD


Most of us know what it feels like to fall under the spell of food — when one slice of pizza turns into half a pie or a handful of chips leads to an empty bag. But it's harder to understand why we can't stop eating even when we know better. When we want so badly to say "no," why do we continue to reach for food? The author, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, met with top scientists, physicians and food industry insiders to crack the code on overeating. For the millions of people struggling with weight, as well as for those of us who simply don't understand why we can't seem to stop eating our favorite foods, Kessler's investigation offers new insights and useful tools to help find a solution.

Synopsis of the Diet Plan

Through interviews with researchers and the food industry, Kessler explains how human biology, personal experiences and a determined food industry create "hypereaters." Particularly foods high in fat, sugar and salt show biologically similar addictive responses as to what can be experienced with tobacco, drugs and/or alcohol. Coupled with positive personal and emotional experiences and a food industry that capitalizes on this by developing different ways to layer fat onto sugar onto salt and leverage as many of our senses as possible, food becomes literally irresistible. For example, Cinnabon cinnamon rolls are carefully crafted to be aromatic, include a variety of textures like softness, syrupy and creamy, visually appealing, just the right combination of sweetness all while evoking an emotional response with memories of grandma's cinnamon rolls.

Through experts and examples, Kessler makes his point that repeated exposure to foods high in fat, salt and sugar drive many to want more. Many people find themselves unable to stop thinking about these "hyperpalatable" foods when they see them and once they start eating them they can't stop eating until the food is gone. In the final third of the book he introduces suggestions for breaking the cue-urge-reward-habit cycle and states hypereating is really a chronic condition that needs to be managed but cannot be completely cured. He gives guidelines such as replacing meal/snack chaos with structure, learning just-right eating, choosing foods that satisfy you specifically, eating foods you enjoy (noting most combinations of fat, salt and sugar remain in the danger zone) and mentally rehearsing how you are going to make these guidelines part of a healthier life.

Nutritional Pros and Cons

This book is really focusing on behavior change with very little about what makes a healthy diet other than not overeating foods high in fat, sugar and sodium. While there is great advice on strategies to avoid overeating, Dr. Kessler makes an assumption that the reader already knows which foods are high in fat, sugar and sodium and which foods are preferred for a healthy diet.

Bottom Line

Kessler thoroughly explains mechanisms that contribute to the insatiable appetite of many, and he includes great guidelines for those who are willing to take the time to work toward breaking the cycle. It isn't easy, but perhaps by reading this book, many will become aware of the problem and be willing to start taking the steps necessary to begin a healthy relationship with food.