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

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

3.2 166
by David A. Kessler

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Dr. David A. Kessler, the dynamic and controversial former FDA commissioner known for his crusade against the tobacco industry, is taking on another business that's making Americans sick: the food industry. In The End of Overeating, Dr. Kessler shows us how our brain chemistry has been hijacked by the foods we most love to eat: those that contain stimulating


Dr. David A. Kessler, the dynamic and controversial former FDA commissioner known for his crusade against the tobacco industry, is taking on another business that's making Americans sick: the food industry. In The End of Overeating, Dr. Kessler shows us how our brain chemistry has been hijacked by the foods we most love to eat: those that contain stimulating combinations of fat, sugar, and salt.

Drawn from the latest brain science as well as interviews with top physicians and food industry insiders, The End of Overeating exposes the food industry's aggressive marketing tactics and reveals shocking facts about how we lost control over food--and what we can do to get it back. For the millions of people struggling with their weight as well as those of us who simply can't seem to eat our favorite foods in moderation, Dr. Kessler's cutting-edge investigation offers valuable insights and practical answers for America's largest-ever public health crisis. There has never been a more thorough, compelling, or in-depth analysis of why we eat the way we do.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A pediatrician claims that overeating is caused by the way our bodies and minds are changed when we eat foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 4/13/09)
Publishers Weekly

"Conditioned hypereating is a biological challenge, not a character flaw," says Kessler, former FDA commissioner under presidents Bush and Clinton). Here Kessler (A Question of Intent) describes how, since the 1980s, the food industry, in collusion with the advertising industry, and lifestyle changes have short-circuited the body's self-regulating mechanisms, leaving many at the mercy of reward-driven eating. Through the evidence of research, personal stories (including candid accounts of his own struggles) and examinations of specific foods produced by giant food corporations and restaurant chains, Kessler explains how the desire to eat-as distinct from eating itself-is stimulated in the brain by an almost infinite variety of diabolical combinations of salt, fat and sugar. Although not everyone succumbs, more people of all ages are being set up for a lifetime of food obsession due to the ever-present availability of foods laden with salt, fat and sugar. A gentle though urgent plea for reform, Kessler's book provides a simple "food rehab" program to fight back against the industry's relentless quest for profits while an entire country of people gain weight and get sick. According to Kessler, persistence is all that is needed to make the perceptual shifts and find new sources of rewards to regain control. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
former Surgeon General and director of the Centers David Satcher
A compelling book about overeating and the obesity pandemic. Dr. Kessler thoroughly examines the nature of our relationship with food and why it is critical to understand and modify our behavior to reverse this global threat to health and well-being.
former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health Donna Shalala
A fascinating, unique book by a brilliant public health leader.
From the Publisher

“Dr. David Kessler has written a fascinating account of the science of human appetite, as well as its exploitation by the food industry. The End of Overeating is an invaluable contribution to the national conversation about the catastrophe that is the modern American diet.” —Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food

“David A. Kessler, who led the battle against the tobacco industry, now joins the fight against obesity. His message is important: The problem is not only the behavior of profit-driven food companies, but also the daily choices that each one of us makes.” —Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

“David Kessler's fascinating book is essential for anyone interested in learning more about how corporate greed and human psychology have created a national health crisis. ” —Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse

“Disturbing, thought-provoking, and important.” —Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential

“A compelling book about overeating and the obesity pandemic. Dr. Kessler thoroughly examines the nature of our relationship with food and why it is critical to understand and modify our behavior to reverse this global threat to health and well-being.” —David Satcher, former Surgeon General and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“A fascinating, unique book by a brilliant public health leader.” —Donna Shalala, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Read an Excerpt

Can Canada Put on the Brakes?

I walked into Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill in Toronto, an energetic place that draws a young crowd and entertains them with loud music and multiple television monitors. A sign advertised a restaurant gift card: “a gift for every craving.”

The dinner menu descriptions had an over-the-top quality that reminded me of Chili’s, including ultimate nachos, with their “bubbling blend of cheeses,” and a bacon cheeseburger.

I ordered two items from the “start-up” list. The lobster and crab dip was a warm, fatty blend dominated by cream cheese. The Southwest grilled chicken flatbread, with its four-cheese blend and smoky chipotle aioli, was a dish of fat on fat on refined carbohydrates, accompanied by a little protein. There were two flatbreads to an order, each about 10.5 inches long.

My entrée, crispy honey sesame chicken, consisted of fried chicken balls with a substantial portion of vegetables, covered in a sweet sauce. Fat, sugar, and salt had been layered and loaded onto the dish.

But for all that, the food at Jack Astor’s stopped somewhat short of its American counterparts. The preparations had less of an industrial quality. The dishes were cooked to order on site, not par-fried, frozen, and shipped across the country. There weren’t as many fried chicken balls on my dinner plate, and they weren’t as large.

I saw that kind of contrast everywhere I looked in Canada. Swiss Chalet offered an all-you-can-eat lunch, a garlic cheese loaf “smothered in melted Jack and cheddar,” and a waiter who assured me that “everythingcomes with dipping sauce.” But portion sizes were a trifle smaller than is typical in the United States and there was a homemade quality to most of the food. At Caroline’s Cheesecake, there were fewer choices than at the Cheesecake Factory, but the portions seemed about as big. The Pickle Barrel had a lot of healthy-sounding food on its menu, but it also served a “triple threat chocolate sundae,” a “mammoth Oreo cookie sundae,” and lemon cranberry and apple cinnamon muffins that were the size of grapefruits.

Canada, it seems, is headed in a troubling direction as the ingredients of conditioned hypereating are assembled. Things aren’t as bad here as they are in the United States, but they aren’t good. One out of four Canadians is now obese, compared to one in three in the U.S. One-third of Canadians who were classified as normal weight a decade ago are now overweight. The upward curve is especially evident in the younger population, with the number of overweight and obese children, ages 7 to 13, increasing by as much as 300% in just two decades.

Human physiology and conditioning are, of course, the same in both countries, so social norms and the environment offer the only possibilities of arresting these trends. It is as if a great natural experiment is being conducted in Canada.

An earlier generation of Canadians recalls a time when eating in restaurants was a rare event and snacking in the street was considered crass. One colleague told me how his father used to love visiting U.S. supermarkets because he was awed by how many more varieties of breakfast cereal were available. Even today, despite changing patterns and the growth of chain restaurants across the country, food is still not quite so ubiquitous or indulgent in Canada. The limitations that once disappointed Canadians may yet save them from the consequences its more overindulgent neighbor is facing.

Nonetheless, candy cane donuts and sour cream donuts are now available at Tim Horton’s, and the small donut balls known as “Timbits” are one of the store’s especially popular features. Even the upscale restaurant, Milestone’s, serves an array of sweet and fatty dipping sauces with its Cajun popcorn shrimp, seafood mixed grill, and yam fries. And the Quebecois tradition of poutine– French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy–has gained traction, with many fast-food restaurants in all of the provinces adding it to their menus. Swiss Chalet gives me the opportunity to “poutinize” my fries for $1.99.

Still, Canada has an opportunity to recognize the trajectory it is on and change course. A publishing professional I met there suggested how it might be done when he confessed to his struggle over Kit Kats. A large, tightly disciplined man, he told me that every evening as he heads to the train for his ride home, he breaks into a run to get safely past a news stand that sells those crispy chocolate wafers. Canada, too, must figure out the direction it needs to start running in order to avoid calamity.

When I asked the manager of Jack Astor’s about portion sizes, he told me, “They’re bigger than they have to be. But it’s not like Cheesecake Factory.”

The question is whether it will stay that way.


Meet the Author

DAVID A. KESSLER, MD, 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 Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kessler is the father of two and lives with his wife in California.

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End of Overeating 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 165 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like others, I believe this book is well-written and an easy read. However, for me the value lies in the awareness of how I've been led into overeating. That awareness now allows (helps) me break the addiction to sugar, fats and salt. Some of the edible substances (it's difficult to call them food anymore, since they provide "pleasure" rather than proper nourishment) I've been addicted to: chocolate bars, ice cream, potato and corn chips. It seems so much easier to keep the mindset that I just do not need such things anymore.
VitaminDdaily More than 1 year ago
After working in an obesity treatment center for over a decade, I came to understand that the paradigm the medical community utilized to help people lose weight was greatly flawed. Any other treatment protocol with a 95% failure rate would have been halted immediately. For many that came through the clinic, food and beverage had become an addiction and overeating beyond their power to control. This book benefits everyone that has struggled with weight, whether 10 pounds or 200 pounds. The book is well researched and easy to read. And it will give you answers and understanding that has not been discussed in the scientific community or the weight loss industry before. Thank you for researching and writing this great book.
NWNJ More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. I found the information to be both interesting and informative. I had thought for years that certain foods were nearly as addictive as drugs or alcohol, and this book explains that they are, and how the food manufacturers do this. I am not an avid reader but I could not put this book down. Anyone who wants to lose weight would benefit greatly from reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seriously, this book will open your eyes to what is really going on. It's hard to lose weight and be fit and healthy when there is so much confusion. It's not necessarily a diet book, per se, it's more like just an understanding of what's going on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is most helpful to people who struggle with "Compulsive Overeating" as it clears up many myths about why will power may not be as big of an issue with resolving the problem. It clearly explains how and why many people become what to me is a compulsive overeater, the author calls "conditioned hypereaters" and it gives hope for recovery from this condition. How we may in fact be "Powerless" over some foods, but certainly are not helpless, and without hope. As Dr. Kessler so clearly explains not only what has happened to us, but how we can overcome this problem, he states "we still have the ability to make choices about whether we allow this triumvirate to dominate our behavior." With his help and advice I think there is hope in taking a different route.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book, and provides the answers needed to understand the rapant overeating that is going on in our society today. If anyone is wondering why they cannot resist eating salt, fat and sugar, they will find out by reading this book. This book really helped me to eat healthier, and to understand and resist my food cravings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Insightful revelations on how and why we eat the way we do. As a society we have drifted into fast, processed foods that are engineered to make us consume more. Dr. Kessler dissects the food, the industry, and our motivations to eat. While not a diet book, by explaining why we eat the way we do, how food is produced or engineered you quickly gain an understanding of overeating. Since reading this and by incorporating other changes in the food I eat, I have lost 20 pounds in just over 4 months. This book has helped me get off the diet roller-coaster and on to life-style changes that are healthier for me. While not for everyone, if you are serious about learning why we eat the way we do or just learn about how processed and restaurant foods are "engineered" to make us crave them, then this is a worthwhile read.
DJ_Bjorklund More than 1 year ago
Reading this was a revelation for me. It both confirmed some suspicions and helped me learn other information. I love good food, but this book helped me understand that what I've formerly seen as "flavor" (in the highly processed food foisted on us by a very smart food industry, usually made up of salt, fat and sugar) is a deceptive concept. Descriptions of its effect on us, incredible cravings for those food products, also hit home as fact. Many of us are overweight as a result, but like anything we want to change its up to us to first recognize the drivers, and use that to drive our own commitment to ourselves and change our eating habits. This book may do that for you as it has for me.
gynogrl More than 1 year ago
Dr. Kessler explains comprehensively what I knew to be true about my compulsive eating. It is an addiction. This problem has to be dealt with as instensively as an addiction to cocaine or alcohol. A lightbulb finally went off after reading this book. My approach to eating is beginning to change. I am on my way to having a healthier relationship with food.
jrsedivy More than 1 year ago
Three things make this book better than the average dieting/nutrition book - the author's diligent research, the author's credibility, and the author's presentation of the information. I will not delve into the details here - you are more than capable of figuring that out - just be rest assured that the research is top-notch, the author has the background in the field to support this book, and finally the humor (at least in the audiobook) makes for a fun experience. The only downside is that book seems a bit long and repetitious at times, but despite this is worth a read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This a great book to read for anyone who is struggling with overeating. The book does a great job of explaining why we overeat on both the physiological and the psychological levels. The book also gives strategies which help with controlling your appetite. After reading the book, By understanding why I overate, I was able to control y craving much more effectively. As the book states, overeating is a life long struggle. With the knowledge about overeating, many people can help themselves control their indulgences. The only flaw in this book is that some of the explanations are not very detailed. This was probably done from an editorial point of view of making the book easier to read. However, there were some studies which are discussed which are hard to believe without more information.
FitnessAuthor More than 1 year ago
I am a fitness and nutrition professional, and I recommend this book to my clients! This book is a resource, first and foremost. This (nor any book) is the end-all-be-all for dieting or overeating. Dr. Kessler makes some very good points that can be incorporated into a sincere effort to change eating habits. If you are looking for this book (and only this book) to change your life---why not change your way of thinking, and look at this book as a major step on your way to a healthy life. That will release some of the "do or die" pressure on making this book the end-al-be-all for you. I also recommend to ALL of my clients (and family): "Build Your Mind, Your Body Will Follow". It is a quick and very powerful read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some of it was quite cruel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once I got past the initial scientific background in the first couple chapters, I had trouble putting the book down and eventually, went back to the beginning to re-read the reasearch portion at the start of the book. Very relevant and enlightening. I am a healthy eater compared to most yet some of the items I thought to be healthy are not at food establishments such as Chili's. How can you destroy a chicken breast! I will never be the same or think the same after reading this book. Thank you Dr Kessler
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative book with many facts and explanations. I did find that the book was a slow read since there are many medical and scientific terms used that may not be easily understand by someone not familiar with medical or scientific terminology. I did find myself rereading some of the text to better understand what is being stated or explained. The positive of the book is it has given me a personal insight into the patterns of overeating and what the food industry is doing to contribute to the obesity rate of this country.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent expose of the food industry and how they manipulate the food we eat. I'm sorry Dr. Kessler is not still the head of the FDA. There would not have been the Fen/Phen and Vioxx deaths. He is a true man of science and cannot be bought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. David Kessler has been a hero of mine since "60 Minutes" did a story on him back in the 90's when he was head of the "Food & Drug Administration." I enjoyed the information he gathered on the food industry, information that I probably wouldn't be handed on a sunny day. I loaned the book to my neighbor and her daughter and husband are mildly upset with me for changing their diets. "Where's the icecream!" DM
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book tells it like it is....the primary reasons why we are prone to overeat throughout our lives. It is a great help to those of us who have to be careful!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very well read, and written audio book. It confirmed what I already suspected, that foods were scientifically engineered to make us want more. It was very well documented and made me re-think my food choices.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was fascinating! As a dietician technician student, I am aware of the so called "tricks" that food companies put in our foods to make them more palatable. This book was well written with interesting facts as well as studies. I hope that consumers who read this book will realize that overly processed foods are truly "junk" and will turn to whole and natural foods instead.
IggyMom More than 1 year ago
This book has very valuable information that is life changing!
Crystal15 More than 1 year ago
This book is very informative. It's a bit redunant and boring, though. Although, there is truth to what the author is writing.
bookloverMD More than 1 year ago
Easy to read, full of information, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago