May 23, 2012
Looking at a US obesity map, some say it is a Red State syndrome, a cultural trait in tandem with being a Republican. Others say that obesity is related to poverty ~ since healthy eating tends to be expensive (fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and chicken, fish), those with less money eat more junk. Some say it stems from a lack of information about nutrition.
Others blame our sedentary culture: instead of going for the brisk walks of yesteryear we veg out ~ “chip out” is more like it ~ in front of the television or the computer after sitting on our asses all day at work.
Back to the elephant in the room: We keep getting fatter and fatter because we are overlooking, if not ignoring, an important cause of obesity ~ addiction. Certain foods, like certain drinks, trigger an addictive reaction in many people. Once eaten, these foods create a craving for more, more, more. “Bet you can’t eat just one,” the old Lays Potato Chips ad, is as good a definition of alcoholism (or any addiction) as I know.
There are two kinds of foods: those that satisfy hunger and those that create hunger ~ a craving that can never be satisfied until the box is empty. In my household ~ where addiction has many causes ~ we say that those foods talk to us. “
Susan,” the leftover pizza will croon, “I won’t be as good tomorrow. Eat me now!”
They scientifically experiment with taste, texture, color, smell, look ~ and above all the empty calories of sugar, fat and salt ~ to come as close as possible to eating’s “bliss point,” in Kessler’s words, where the brain’s reward system is captured by this immensely complex, artificially designed food that is as powerful as a drug.
It's no accident, for example, that stacks of chocolate stand guard at the check-out line in most Trader Joe's ~ right across from the stacks of beer. This over stimulating environment results in what Kessler calls “conditioned hypereating.” For anyone who has struggled with those last few cookies in the box, Kessler’s theory rings true.
It took me years to figure out that there are certain foods ~ in my case, sugars and certain carbohydrates ~ that just make me hungrier for more no matter how much I have already eaten. Like Kessler (who said he spent seven years writing the book in order to understand how chocolate chip cookies could have such power over him, causing his weight to yo-yo from 160 pounds to 230), I could not figure out how I, a college-educated smart person, could eat a whole loaf of bread in a single sitting while promising myself that each slice would be the last.
Now, I refer to bread as “the staff of death.”
Here is the key to weight loss for those with addictive tendencies: identify the foods that speak to you, the ones that excite your cravings, and do not eat them!
Although Kessler’s book sparked a great deal of attention to the issue of obesity as addiction when it was published three years ago, since then little progress has been made in the US or the rest of the world.
The signs are all too easy to read: as long as we are so afraid of the stigma of addiction that we can’t even mention it in the public discourse, we will continue to wonder why, oh why, we can’t eat just one ~ and we will continue to get fatter.