Book Review and Giveaway: The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD

June 12, 2009

I’ve been hitting the jackpot lately with the books that companies are sending to me- and this one is absolutely being added to my Healthy Recommendations page on the sidebar!

Ever since I began to eat healthier and get away from virtually all processed foods, I’ve found that my body really prefers the natural whole food goodness. My tastes have developed over time so that I no longer enjoy drinking Coke or eating fast food hamburgers. However, I haven’t been able to figure out why it is that even though I know those foods are bad for my body and I don’t even like them anymore, if someone has a Coke or is eating fast food I sometimes think that I want that food.

It wasn’t until I read this book that I really fully understood how it’s possible that we can not like a food but still want it: Kessler, once a commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, illustrates through his book how it is that we can simultaneously dislike and want an unhealthy food. The number of experts that he confers with on the subject is impressive, particularly when he goes on at detailed length about his conversations with insiders in the food industry.

Throughout his book, Kessler likens the combination of fat, sugar, and salt to that of an addictive drug. He refers to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug addictions frequently, pointing out the frightening similarities between these obsessions and the obsessions with food. Reading repeatedly that different kinds of foods are merely different combinations of fat, sugar, and salt created a rather disgusting yet effective image in my mind as I read: shrimp tempura at a Japanese restaurant is described as the shrimp being “rolled in mayonnaise, fried in a sweetened tempura batter, then rolled again in spicy mayonnaise. That’s fat on sugar on fat on fat” (84).  The cinnamon raisin French toast (stuffed with cream cheese and presented with a side of eggs, hash browns, and choice of meat) served at the International House of Pancakes is similarly depicted: “Breaking it down, the French toast is a load of fat on fat on fat and sugar that’s then layered with fat on sugar on sugar and served with fat, salt, and fat” (86). Yum? If that’s not enough to make you think twice about eating out at one of these kinds of restaurants, I don’t know what is.

Kessler refers to these foods as being hyperpalatable; the Western way of eating is to engage as many senses as possible for the maximum experience. Eating for fuel is a thing of the past, and we’re taking all kinds of traditional cuisine and turning it into something unhealthy by adding in unnecessary embellishments. These add-ins really do nothing more than to dull our taste buds and expand our waistlines. [As an aside, I once went to a sushi restaurant and there were approximately two kinds of sushi rolls that did not include mayonnaise or tempura. I was not impressed.]

What rang with me the most was the notion that “we learn to want a food we once liked. We may no longer like that food. But it’s the wanting, not the liking, that drives us to do the work necessary to obtain that food” (52). For myself, I don’t much enjoy milk chocolate anymore. It’s too sweet and I have gotten used to appreciating good quality dark chocolate. But if it’s in the house, or if I see a bar of milk chocolate in the store, my mouth starts watering. I know very well that I won’t enjoy the taste, but I want it nonetheless. And if I start to eat it, I’ll eat the whole darn thing, regardless of whether I’m enjoying it. The power of the sugar-fat-salt combination is terrifying.

Going into great detail about the impact of the food industry’s drive to make more money by consistently designing more and more hyperpalatable foods, Kessler states the harsh facts: “The Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes label indicates that the cereal has 11 grams of sugar per serving. But nowhere does it tell consumers that more than one-third of the box contains added sugar” (103). It’s simply another way to look at a nutrition label, and one which I had not considered at all previously. How many kids (or adults!) eat a bowl of cereal each morning with this same amount of sugar in it? Why would we want to start our day with a meal that is one third sugar?

Another part of this book which I have suspected for a long time but never found any hard evidence supporting my beliefs is Kessler’s discussion on how our self-regulatory systems in our bodies are changing. There was a time when we knew when to start and stop eating, and if we ate too much one day then we would eat less the next without being consciously aware of it: this was especially true for children. However, the times are changing: research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center has shown that small children’s self-regulatory systems have altered from compensating for 90% of extra calories in the 1980’s to compensating for only 45% of added calories in the 1990’s. Children are addicted to high fat/sugar/salt foods just the same as adults, and their learned behavior is going to be that much more difficult to deal with in the future.

I loved how Kessler concluded his book with cautioning against an obsession with food (orthorexia, anyone?). He notes that an awareness and understanding of what is going on, as well as a mental shift, is key to success. If we can alter our habits so that we eat healthy but we are still anxious about food constantly, then it’s questionable if we are successful in beating the food addiction. The mental change, as we often talk about on this blog, is just as crucial as the physical change.

Want to win a copy of this book for yourself? Leave me a comment on this post about your experiences with overeating; be they struggles or triumphs, share your woes and suggestions for how to regain control. Contest will close next Thursday, June 18th, and the winner will be announced on Friday June 19th (U.S. and Canada only, sorry!).

E-mail me if you feel as though you’ve been beating your head against a wall with your struggle with overeating and have yet to find a solution- I’ll post your story here next week and we can all brainstorm together to find ways to help you out!

For another chance to win this book, check out Rupal’s review of this book at 101 Exercises!

*Edited to add that you’re in luck- there’s another chance to win a copy of this book at Cranky Fitness!


  1. Sagan,

    You are such a great writer! Thanks for the shout-out! Have a great weekend!

  2. as always I lovelove your book reviews.
    Saw Rupals and already was longing to check this one out.

    and no.
    They wouldnt send me a copy as I honestly told them I.So.Backlogged.
    (who knew honesty wouldnt work in my favor? :))

    Have a great weekend!

  3. There really is no end to the mischief the food industry comes up with…

  4. I feel the exact same way…I’ve just realized that eating any sugar almost always leads to MORE sugar (for me). But like you, sometimes I still think I want those foods. It’s the battle of my brain vs. my tummy!

  5. Can’t wait to read this one! I think I struggle just a bit every day with the desire to eat more a little more than what my body actually needs. Crabby over at “Cranky Fitness” reviewed this book today, too.

  6. Rupal- right back at you!

    MizFit- this is one book you want to make time for 😀

    Hanlie & Holly- it is really scary just how powerful food can be.

    Nic- thanks for letting me know! I’ve added their post in a link too.

  7. Thank you for the review of this book, Sagan. It sounds incredibly interesting, and confirms what I’ve been suspecting for a long time…. the food industry is evil. 🙂

    (And between all the reviews of the book on your three blogs, I am definitely going to look for it the next time I’m shopping!)

  8. You did a much better job of explaining this than I did Sagan! (I have to confess to a bit of skimming). Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful review!

  9. granted, two of my favorite rolls at my sushi place include tempura and/or mayonnaise (i can’t help it if charlie invented a blt roll! and that it’s so delicious!), but my favorite FAVORITE roll is the nice and simple cucumber roll. mmmm.

    this book looks really interesting. i’ve had my bouts of overeating (hasn’t almost everyone at one point or another?), but luckily i’ve had a tendency to stay active enough to combat it. mostly.

  10. This is a great post – can’t wait for my copy of the book to arrive, though unless it shows up tomorrow I won’t see it till we’re back from France. I’m sure the addiction theory is right – I certainly find it much easier not to eat sweets / chocolate at all, than to just have one or two of something. Thinking of things as fat, salt and sugar is quite a powerful idea!

  11. I’ve been seeing mention of this book floating about the blogosphere. I really appreciate your thorough, well-written review of it.

    This makes a lot of sense. I can especially relate to your experience of *wanting* the milk chocolate when you *know* you would enjoy dark chocolate more. I’ve had a lot of “why did I eat *that*?” moments in the past year, and I’ve gotten a lot better at spitting out food that I thought I wanted. (Now to get better at not putting it in my mouth in the first place….)

  12. what a great post!

    It is so true that sometimes I think I want something even though I won’t enjoy it. For me it is more about the experience or memory it would provide. For example popcorn and diet soda- reminds me of going to the movies with my mom- but I know I wouldn’t enjoy that (for the most part)

  13. Ah, the saga of the three anti-amigos, sugar, fat & salt! Would love to win a copy of this book.


  14. Oh man, I hope I win this giveaway so badly!!! This sounds like a fantastic book!!!! I’ve been eating healthfully for over 4 years now and, like you describe, my taste has adjusted. Honestly, I don’t even crave things anymore. The bread basket at restaurants no longer tempts me, and the smell of fast food actually makes my stomach churn. All good here! But I have to say, I did enjoy my tempura… well, until I read your post! Which is fine, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest choice in a Japanese restaurant anyway, so I actually thank you! I now only have wakame salad and those delicious baked eggplant thingies to rely on… don’t say anything about them 😉
    About that hyperpalatablility issue: just this morning I read in Maclean’s an article that compared Canadian and US markets on several fronts. One of them was the food/fastfood/restaurant markets, and the article cited that Canadians actually prefer less salty, less sweet, less fatty foods, and that restricts the market place for an astonishing amount of US companies. So, I guess we’re doing well here, but there’s still vast room for improvement.
    Great post, like always Sagan!

  15. Oh man, you got me thinking about McDonald’s french fries which I haven’t had in more than 10 years because they’re so bad for you but… they taste so good!!
    Great post!

  16. Bag Lady- “the food industry is evil”, yep, I’m pretty sure that sums it all up! 🙂

    Crabby- thanks!

    T- “mostly”, ah yes, isn’t that the truth for so many of us.

    Liz- yeah, thinking of food in that way makes you think twice about eating it.

    Pubsgal- if we could stop after just a taste, then we’d be fine!

    Rhodeygirl- popcorn has the same connotations for me, too. Same with slurpees and vendor hot dogs and… why do so many good memories involve junk food, I wonder?

    Lee & MC- it’s just astonishing how that little trio can affect so much.

    Marta- I’ll have to look for that article! Very interesting. I hope that means that there will be less of a focus on overwhelming our senses and more of a focus on getting healthier foods on the market.

  17. I definitely going to check that book out at my local library – thank you for the excellent and well-written review!

    I’m a food addict, and am just coming off a 3 month “trip”. People think I’ve been cured because I’ve lost 90 lbs since September 2008), but I struggle daily with temptations and cravings. What Dr. Kessler says about the “wanting” vs the “liking” is so amazingly true.

    I’m taking things one day at a time – and as long as I end each day better than the last, I am a success.

  18. Good review, as always, Sagan.

    As usual, I’m somewhere in the middle. I *ant some things that aren’t necessarily good for me, because I *do* like the taste. The trick, as I’ve learned, is to distinguish real wants from false ones and then to indulge those real wants sparingly. (It was that ‘sparingly’ part I had problems with in the past. :))

  19. I think you probably know that I struggle with this… but I’m actually getting better. I haven’t had a true binge in almost 2 months (WOW). I’ve used other healthy foods to replace what I used to binge on. Yes, I still eat a lot, but I feel good, scratch that, GREAT, about what I’m eating now. I hope I win 🙂 The book sounds awesome.

  20. A very interesting post!This will surely go on my list as a must read! Having a strong willpower to eat healthy definitely helps and will prohibit one from falling prey to the bad.I wish though that certain parents should “step up to the plate” and prepare healthier meals for their kids.If they stop buying those sugary cereals, then maybe, those manufactures will get the message and make them fit for healthier consumption!

  21. I’m constantly struggling with overeating. I’m thinking of going back to OA or doing the Structure House Plan

  22. I have no triumphs–I am still struggling and always looking for new insight into why I overeat. I really need to read this book, I think. Thanks for the excellent review!

  23. One thing that really helped me out as I started eating healthier was to stop eating when I wasn’t hungry anymore as opposed to stop eating when I was “full”. I realized that by the time I was “full” I already over ate. By slowing down how fast I ate and paying attention to my body I was able to realize that I didn’t need quite so much food in order to be satisfied. 🙂 Great post!

  24. Interesting comment he makes about the nutritional labels. I have always suspected that those things could be manipulated. Is there a governing body that oversees those? I don’s believe so. It seems people are free to post whatever they wish and can certainly manipulate their contents.

  25. […] End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, at Living Healthy in the Real World (ends June 18, US and Canada) Note: post also has links to two other giveaways of this same […]

  26. Overating is a way of life. It is very hard to overcome it because society encourages, in a way, people to overeat. From being a child and being told to clean your plate, that there were other children in the world going hungry, to feeling that you should eat everything in your plate when going out to dinner (and the food is way too much for one person). Thanks for the insights.

  27. I only know how to overeat and I blame everything for my over eating except myself. I have not always been an overeater but have had some bad things happen and that has added stress.
    Please include me in your giveaway.

  28. My experience? Even one little piece of anything with sugar – one cookie, one m&m – breaks down all will power and leads to more.

    nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

  29. Great book review! I actually saw this book at the bookstore yesterday and couldn’t decide for sure but I think I may have to go back for it. You are a great writer girl!

  30. Thanks for the book review. I keep saying I have to read more…so maybe I will start with this.

  31. Michelle- even though we may SEEM as though we have control, our mind doesn’t always agree. Thanks for sharing.

    Cammy- that’s definitely the trick! And it’s a toughie.

    Maggie- GO YOU!!

    Nazarina- yes, parents have the potential to change so much about their kids perspectives.

    Just_kelly, Alleykatt & Carlene- *hugs* there’s so much struggle when it comes to food.

    Andrea & Vivian- yes: we really need to listen to our bodies.

    Tyler- There’s definitely a HUGE amount of manipulation!

    Rhapsodyinbooks- does it ever.

    Crystal & Kristisummer- I really think that you both would like this book very much!

  32. this book sounds amazing. i love it when things make me think!

  33. I’m just starting the process of getting control of my eating (thanks WW!). I’ve had control in the past – though it didn’t seem like “control” b/c I wasn’t consciously thinking about needing control – so I’m having a hard time right now and hopefully this book could help!

  34. I’m not so tempted by sugar these days, but mmmm, salty fat! Fortunately for me, I have learned how to automatically eat less the day or two after overeating. It took about three days until I was hungry again after Thanksgiving (I still ate, but mostly veggies-the thought of any fat made me ill). I don’t know where or how I managed to refind this skill, but I’m glad I did. It’s automatic-if I eat a small breakfast, I’m hungry in 2 hours. Large breakfast, I’m hungry in 6. No worrying or calculations needed! I still like chocolate (soy) milk, because my cereal is so healthy and high fiber I won’t be able to eat it with regular milk.

    The local NPR is interviewing him tomorrow, I’ll be listening while I clean my apt.

  35. I feel like I’m making great changes overall, but I still can’t resist some sort of processed pick-me-up (that never actually helps me concentrate or gives me energy) in the afternoon. This book looks like it really explains it!

  36. I have struggled with weight since having my last child some 15 years ago. You’d think I’d have the determination and willpower to take control by now, but I have just recently started eating healthier. I have not lost weight yet, but feel SO much better. This book would be invaluable.

  37. Ok, I’m off to e-mail you. Because this bump on my forehead is not getting any smaller and I just keep banging my head into the wall.

  38. This sounds really interesting…I have always had issues with eating too much of certain foods. I still struggle with a bit when eating out, but I’ve found not to buy the processed stuff that I’ll eat in large quantities for my house. Can’t eat it if it’s not there!

  39. Whoa! You know me and books, this sounds really, really good. Thanks for your review, I want to read this! I think there is so much that goes into over-eating – food intolerances, hormones, neurotransmitters, emotions, junk food addiction vs. whole food etc. I’m so interested in reading Kessler’s take on this subject, thanks for the head’s up!

  40. i just discovered your blog and it’s great! i’ve been procrastinating on many things, it helps to read and get motivated!

    pls count me in

    gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

  41. Hi Sagan

    I’ve finally managed to read David Kessler’s book, and your review is spot on. It’s a compelling analysis, and what he says rings so true. His tips sound excellent too, and resonate with how I finally gave up smoking all those years ago!
    There is one aspect that puzzles me though. He only cites one study that shows what % of obese people demonstrate conditioned hypereating, and this gives a figure of 50%. I wasn’t clear whether the rate of increase in obesity was such that 50% accounted for all the growth, but my impression is that it doesn’t. And if that’s right, then either the study under-estimated the effect, or there must be another factor out there that is driving eating to the point of obesity for the other 50%. Maybe he could clear that up for the paperback edition!

    But I’m certainly going to be out there practising my competing behaviours and competing thoughts from now on!

  42. […] David Kessler’s The End of Overeating, he talks about the parallels between the tricks that food manufacturers and tobacco companies use […]

  43. I just heard the replay of the interview of Dr Kessler by Michelle Norris. I was so disappointed in her as she let him get away with not answering any of her questions – not that her questions were very hard. But she did mention that he sat there drinking diet coke as he talked about eating right. !!! Does he not know about aspertain and it’s terrible health effects? For years studies have shown that it causes depression as well as a lot of other bad stuff. Then she asked him about genetically modified food and he casually defended it and brushed off her question to talk about something else. THIS GUY IS AN IDIOT!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: