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|May 7-13, 2009
• Filling the Continental shelf
Full Belly excels with Euro delights at cheap prices
by Clay Fong
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
Ex-FDA chief serves up answers on U.S. appetite for overeating
by Monica Eng
Dr. David Kessler wanted to know why chocolate chip cookies could beckon him from across the room. And why fried dumplings at the airport drove him to distraction. So, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief put in seven years of research and wrote The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale, $25.95).
In the book, Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner from 1990-97, describes how the food industry develops and markets products layered with fat, sugar and salt to turn us into “conditioned hypereaters.” Now teaching at the University of California at San Francisco, he spoke to us by phone.
Q: So, how did this happen?
A: Through research we did and existing studies, we found that food is being designed to activate the neural reward centers of the brain and keep them engaged, so that we don’t even know we are full. The food industry also has engineered food to be highly palatable and almost predigested. They inject it with fat and marinades so that it’s almost like baby food, it goes down in a whoosh and this combination makes you want to reach for more and more to activate those reward [dopamine] centers again... I estimate about 70 million people are affected.
Q: What would you have done differently if you had known this when you were at the FDA?
A: We would have done a better job on food labeling itself. We would have recognized the real importance of calorie counts on restaurant menus. They’re essential, and people have a right to know that they’re consuming 2,000-plus calories in a single meal.
Q: Are there other factors in American society that contribute to this?
A: Yes. In France, they have highly palatable food, but their social norms create barriers to overeating. It was not acceptable to eat between meals or walk down the street eating until recently. But in America, we have not only put fat, sugar and salt in so much of our food, but we also put it all over the ads and on every corner, and we say it’s acceptable to eat anywhere at any time.
Q: What can conditioned hypereaters do?
A: Create their own eating environment. Choose [alternative] foods and plan how to eat them. Diets don’t work and deprivation doesn’t work. But you can cool down the stimuli for certain foods if you can refocus on, say, natural and simple foods and exercise. I used to look at a big plate of food and say, “Wow, that’s great value,” but now I think, “That might taste great for a few minutes, but I’m not going to like myself after I eat it.” We have to change how we, as a country, look at food. We need to focus on food that won’t just stimulate but be nutritious and satiate.
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