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Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt

Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt

3.5 4
by David A. Kessler

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Teen edition of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Overeating

Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration David A. Kessler, M.D., argues forcefully that our brain chemistry is being hijacked by the food we eat: that by consuming stimulating combinations of sugar, fat, and salt, we're conditioning our bodies to crave more


Teen edition of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Overeating

Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration David A. Kessler, M.D., argues forcefully that our brain chemistry is being hijacked by the food we eat: that by consuming stimulating combinations of sugar, fat, and salt, we're conditioning our bodies to crave more sugar, fat, and salt—and consigning ourselves to a vicious cycle of overeating. Adapted from the adult trade bestseller The End of Overeating, Your Food Is Fooling You is concise and direct and delivers the same message, many of the fascinating case studies, and the same advice for breaking bad eating habits in a voice and format that's accessible, positive, and affirming for teenagers. Young people are at most risk of forming bad eating habits—but they're also highly aware of body image and highly responsive to positive messages about health and diet. Your Food Is Fooling You is a readable, authoritative, and entertaining call to action by one of our nation's leading public health figures.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Kessler reponds with a method that doesn't promise a quick fix but instead offers some consoling advice on how to kick an overeating habit.” —Booklist
VOYA - Deena Viviani
In this young reader's edition of Kessler's The End Of Overeating (Rodale, 2010), the author reinforces the simple principle that eating too much can cause obesity. He continues to explain how restaurants and food manufacturing companies create products that are full of sugar, fat, and salt, which "hijack" people's brains when eaten. This causes consumers to crave more of the unhealthy foods and eat them to excess. Kessler breaks down his findings using examples from popular chain restaurants, and concludes the book with "Food Rehab," where he offers ways to overcome food challenges. While his points are often repetitive, the writing style certainly asserts Kessler's thesis: that sugar, fat, and salt affect the chemistry of the brain so that those who consume these products become addicted to unhealthy foods and proceed to overeat them. Teens may get tired of this restatement throughout the chapters, but the information about the contents of restaurant food is interesting and makes it relatable. A huge plus is the section that lists simple behaviors to put into practice for those battling the overeating addiction. Kessler also reinforces the premise that eating is healthy and not something to feel guilty about; it is just overeating the wrong foods that causes excessive weight gain and health problems. Pair this title with books like Eat This, Not That by David Zinczenko (Rodale, 2007) and the memoir Hungry by Allen Zadoff (De Capo Lifelong, 2007). Reviewer: Deena Viviani
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This eye-opening book should be read by everyone as no one is exempt from its message. Written by a former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, it is an adaptation for young readers of his book The End of Overeating, Your Food is Fooling You, a New York Times bestseller. The brief thirty one chapters are organized into four parts: Sugar, Fat and Salt; How the Food Industry Targets You; Understanding Overeating; and Food Rehab. Sugar, Fat and Salt targets those three ingredients as the most detrimental to our health especially in the right combination. How the Food Industry Targets You discusses their overuse of sugar, fat, and salt to keep you wanting more of what they are marketing. Understanding Overeating explains how certain food combinations, especially convenience foods, become addictive. Food Rehab encourages readers to break the cycle of overeating by providing tips on changing your poor eating behaviors. With two-thirds of adults overweight and one-third of all children, the future well-being of our country could hinge on being a well-informed eater. An index is included. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.

Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Your Food Is Fooling You

How Your Brain is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt

By David A. Kessler

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2013 David A. Kessler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59643-848-4


What Is Overeating?

I got the idea to write this book while watching a daytime talk show. On the show a psychologist was talking about why so many Americans are overweight. He asked for a volunteer from the audience. A large, well-dressed woman named Sarah stood up. The psychologist asked Sarah to talk about her problems with weight.

At first Sarah was all smiles. "I eat all the time," she said with a nervous giggle. "I eat when I'm hungry; I eat when I'm not hungry. I eat when I'm happy; I eat when I'm sad."

Then the psychologist asked Sarah to describe how she felt about herself.

The sunny smile on her face faded. Sarah said she felt like a failure. She called herself "fat" and "ugly." She said that she ate too much even though she knew it wasn't good for her. Afterward, she often felt angry with herself for not being able to stop.

"I feel that I can't do it," she said, choking back tears. "That I don't have the willpower. My whole thought is about why I eat, what I eat, when I eat, with whom I eat," she said. "I don't like myself."

The psychologist asked how many in the audience had ever felt like that. About two-thirds of them raised their hands. They all had a problem with overeating.

Eating Is Making Us Sick

I use the term overeating a lot in this book. You've probably never heard of overeating before, but I bet you know what I mean. Too many Americans are just eating way too much. We're eating more than our bodies need. All that extra food gets turned into fat.

And it is making us sick.

About one-third of all adults in the United States are overweight. Another third are obese. That means they are not just overweight, but extremely overweight. Being obese leads to many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of cancers. Taken together, that means that two-thirds of Americans weigh more than they should to be healthy.

This is very personal for me because I am one of those Americans who has struggled with weight and overeating. I have lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again — over and over and over. I have owned suits in every size. When I heard Sarah on that TV show, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

I'm a doctor and I have often wondered why so many people, including myself, have so much trouble with eating. It's natural to eat when you're hungry. It's also natural to stop eating when you're full. Yet something is turning off the natural switch in our brains that tells us to stop eating.

That's what I call overeating. It's when people eat all the time, whether or not they're hungry. It's when people feel they have lost control and have to eat no matter how bad it is for them.

A Problem for Kids, Too

Overeating is a big problem for kids, too. Like grownups, more and more kids just never stop eating. That means that more and more kids are gaining dangerous amounts of weight.

About 17 percent or more than 12 million kids aged two to nineteen are obese. Another 12 million are overweight. That means that 34 percent, or more than one-third of all young Americans, weigh too much.

A strange part of the overeating problem is that many thin people struggle with it, too. These people may not be obese, but they spend all day thinking about food, tempted to eat. Eating or not eating becomes a constant battle for them. Instead of something to enjoy, food becomes their enemy, something they have to fight against. At the other end of the spectrum are eating disorders where people become fearful of food or try too hard to control what they eat. That's not good, either.

If you're young and you're not overweight, you may not even think about this. You may be consuming snacks like candy or high sugar "energy" drinks all day long without even realizing it. You may be eating super-size portions that you don't need. In other words, you may already be overeating without knowing it. You may not be overweight now, but if you develop the habit of overeating when you are young, you are going to have problems with eating later in life.

Being aware of the dangers of overeating is the best way to make sure you don't have to struggle with food for the rest of your life.

Overeating Everywhere

Once I started looking around, I saw people overeating everywhere. It wasn't hard to spot. I'd see people in restaurants, lifting food to their mouths, even though they hadn't finished chewing the last bite. When their plates were empty, they'd reach across the table to spear a french fry or bite of dessert from someone else's plate.

I realized that everywhere I looked, people were always eating. People ate while walking down the street. They ate while sitting in their cars. They ate all day long, during meals, between meals, whenever they could.

But why? And why couldn't they stop? The answer to that question is what this book is about.

You Are the Target

What I discovered is that overeating is not happening by accident. Americans did not all decide to just start eating nonstop. We did not suddenly lose our "willpower" or become weak. We overeat largely because of the way food is now manufactured and marketed. Foods are designed and sold to us in ways that make us want to eat more.

What foods are these? You probably know the answer. Some are foods like sweetened drinks, chips and cookies, candy, and other snack foods. Then, of course, there are fast food meals — fried chicken, pizza, burgers, and fries. And there are thousands of other processed foods like frozen dinners and breakfast cereals and "energy drinks" and more.

A lot of this processed food is marketed to young people. Fast food restaurants, high-energy drinks, candy bars, and other snacks are all heavily advertised to teens. You may even have candy and soda vending machines in your school. Your school cafeteria may be serving this highly processed food.

Food companies make these foods with very large amounts of three ingredients — sugar, fat, and salt. Let me repeat that because it's important:

Sugar, Fat, and Salt

These three ingredients, when put together in the right amounts, make us eat more. Think about that. Instead of satisfying our hunger, these foods train our bodies and our brains to want more. And food companies, including fast food chains, understand this very well. They are hard at work to make new foods that will get us to keep eating.

The End of Overeating

One of the most important things I've learned is that we don't have to be afraid of food. Foods that come to us without added sugar, salt, and fat are healthy and delicious — and they do not make us overeat. We can enjoy eating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and meat as long as they don't have added sugar, fat, and salt.

For some people, overeating may not be a problem. But if you're already eating snacks throughout the day, plus eating super-sized portions at every meal, then you are going to have to learn a new way of eating. It takes some time and practice to retrain your brain. But the good news is that it can be done. The first step is to understand why some foods make us crave more food. Then you can learn how to stop the cravings.

Once you've done that, you can stop worrying about food. You'll eat when you're hungry and enjoy your meals without feeling bad.

I hope reading this book helps you as much as writing it helped me.


America Gained Weight

Americans are overweight. I'd be surprised if you haven't heard that dozens of times. Maybe you learned it in school or saw a report on the news, or maybe you've seen shows like The Biggest Loser on TV.

More than two-thirds of all adult Americans are either overweight or obese.

Sometimes, when we hear the same thing over and over, we start to tune out. But the news about Americans and weight is something we can't afford to ignore. Here's how serious it is: As of 2008, 68 percent of adult Americans were either overweight or obese. As I pointed out in the previous chapter, that's more than two-thirds of the country!

Why is this so serious? Because being overweight or obese leads to serious health problems. Here are some of the diseases caused by being overweight:

• Heart disease

• Type 2 diabetes

• Some types of cancers

• High blood pressure

• High cholesterol

• Stroke

• Liver and gallbladder disease

• Breathing problems

• Arthritis

• Infertility

It's not just adults. As I mentioned earlier, one-third of all American kids are either overweight or obese. That includes babies and toddlers under the age of five. Kids who are obese are more likely to grow up to be obese adults. They are on track to have one or more of the diseases just listed. For example, type 2 diabetes used to unheard of among children. Today, more and more kids are getting this disease.


What's the difference between overweight and obese? Overweight means you weigh more than is healthy for you. Obese means you are very overweight. Obese people are much more likely to have serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and some kinds of cancer.

It is healthy to have some fat in your body. You just don't want to have too much. What is a healthy weight? There's no single number that fits everyone. Your healthy weight will depend on your height, your age, and whether you are a boy or a girl.


Your body produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin controls the level of glucose (sugar, carbohydrates) in the blood. A lack of insulin is called type 1 diabetes. A block in insulin action is called type 2 diabetes. Obesity interferes with insulin action and can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, if not treated, result in high levels of blood sugar and cholesterol. Over time, deposits of glucose and cholesterol accumulate in blood vessels and nerves and lead to heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and gangrene. Eighty percent of heart attacks are due to diabetes. Most amputations of feet and legs are the result of diabetes, and diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

It Wasn't Always Like This

You've grown up in a world where many people are overweight. You might think this is just a fact of life. Many adults also believe this. They think it's just natural that many people are overweight and obese. They believe it's just natural to gain a lot of weight as we get older.

But this is not true. We know it's not true because until about 30 years ago, there were very few obese Americans.

That's right. Until just a short time ago, we did not have a weight problem in America. In fact, throughout history, for thousands of years, human body weight stayed pretty much the same. Yes, there were some people who were obese or overweight, but most people had no trouble with their weight. They ate the amount of food they needed and no more.

Then, in the 1980s, something changed. Americans started gaining weight — a lot of it.

Katherine Flegal was one of the first scientists to see what was happening. She worked for the U.S. government. Around 1991, she was studying the results of a government survey of Americans. What she saw was so surprising she didn't believe it at first. The numbers showed that one-third of all adult Americans were overweight.

This was a very big change, and it had happened very quickly. In fewer than 12 years, about 20 million people had become overweight. The change was so big and so fast that Flegal thought she must have made a mistake. She and her team went back and checked and double-checked. But the results were the same. A huge number of Americans had become overweight in a short time.

Flegal's team published its report. Then other researchers came up with the same results. In every group they studied, men and women, young and old, black and white, they found the same thing. The rate of obesity in America had exploded.

Overweight for Life

Something else stood out in the survey. A lot of the weight gain was happening to kids. Before 1980, almost everyone followed the same path. Most teenagers were thin. Most adults added just a few pounds between the ages of twenty and forty. That's not true anymore.

Today more and more kids are overweight or obese. That means they weigh more when they become adults. Then they keep adding pounds as they get older. The average young person enters adulthood approximately 18 pounds heavier than just four decades ago.

We Didn't Change — Our Food Did

What had happened in such a short time to add so many millions of pounds to so many millions of people? I spent a long time researching this. The answer I came up with surprised me.

Something had changed in America, but it wasn't us. It was our food. Not just any food, but the kind of processed food made by big food companies.

I'm sure you've heard that junk food or fast food is bad for you. Maybe you've heard that it has too many calories, too much fat. You may know that fast food doesn't give you the right mix of proteins, fat, and and carbohydrates your body needs to be healthy. But there's one thing I bet you haven't heard before.

These kinds of foods make us fat because they make us want to eat more. These processed foods, loaded with sugar, fat, and salt, make it almost impossible for some people to stop eating.

Controlled by Cookies

Like Sarah, the woman I saw on television, millions of Americans are struggling with being overweight or obese. They know it's bad for them. They know it is making them very sick. And, like Sarah, eating so much makes them feel bad about themselves. Yet, also like Sarah, they cannot stop eating.

Some thin people have the same problem. They eat all the time. They cannot control themselves. When they see food, they just have to eat it.

After I saw Sarah on TV, I decided to perform an experiment. I walked into a bakery and asked for two chocolate-chip cookies. Back home, I pulled the cookies out of their bag and placed them on a paper plate. I put the plate just beyond my arm's reach. The cookies were thick and gooey — filled with chunks of chocolate.

The experiment began. I wanted to see if I could resist eating them. I sat and looked at the cookies. I sighed deeply and bit my lower lip. I found I was so focused on those cookies, I couldn't think of anything else. After a while, I noticed that I had moved my right hand a few inches closer to them. But I didn't intend to move my hand!

I tried reading the newspaper or thinking about something else. No matter what I did, I kept glancing back to the cookies. So I forced myself to head to my upstairs office, which is about as far away from the kitchen as I can get. But even from that safe distance, I could not fully shake the image of the cookies.

Finally, I left the house without having eaten those cookies. I felt I had won a big battle. But I hadn't, not really. Hours later, I went to a café I knew. A large glass jar filled with homemade cookies sat on the counter. I ordered an orange-chocolate cookie and ate it at once. Those cookies in my kitchen had won.

This was exactly the kind of behavior that made Sarah so unhappy. I just couldn't get those cookies out of my mind. Even though I knew I shouldn't eat them, I couldn't help myself. Like so many people, I felt I just could not control my urge to eat. I was determined to find out why.


Excerpted from Your Food Is Fooling You by David A. Kessler. Copyright © 2013 David A. Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David A. Kessler, M.D., served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School, and the Harvard Medical School, he is the father of two and lives with his wife in California.

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Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
SapphireDG4L More than 1 year ago
I could not stop reading this book. I finished it in less than 3 days. It was such an eye-opener. I already suspected most of what the author was saying. I just over-thrilled to see it all in plain black and white. It's a really good read. It's not to technical or scientific. It's in laymen's terms. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about finding out the truth about food. This book truly spoke to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought about it and i always over eat like at mcy ds i eat the burger and im full and dont pay atenchen then i eat all the frys... and that is a lot of fat so am i im only 14 and i am 120 pounds that is bad and this book helped me for one week alredy i dident cram my face at one meal and when i was full i stoped no matter how good and im feeling a lil proud here thx for writting this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am 158lb. and only 13 years old. To me,you are the luckiest person alive. Please, tell me anything you can. I can summerize my life in two words. HELP ME!!!!!!!!!!! Love, Fat chick
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not agree with every thing