• Have you wondered why, despite your best efforts, your still overeat your favorite foods?
• As more people in our country are overweight and so many people are “on a diet”, why aren’t we looking at why people overeat?
Perhaps you’re one of the people who simply blame themselves for not being able to stick to a weight loss diet. There is an entire multibillion dollar industry devoted to helping us lose weight, and it’s a terrific business to be in right now. Since most people regain the weight they lose, this industry has a built-in customer base.
Scientists are only now beginning to investigate why people overeat. Dr. David Kessler, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has a new book titled “Why We Overeat”. The book describes current research looking at the causes of overeating. And no, it’s not just that you are lazy or undisciplined.
Research demonstrates that when we eat sugar, fat, or salt, the brain is stimulated to produce dopamine, a chemical that conveys messages from one nerve cell to another. When we consume just sugar, there is a small spike in this chemical, but when the food contains sugar and fat, the spike is larger and lasts longer than with sugar alone. Combine these 3, and the spike in production of this chemical lasts longer still. When you add a variety of temperatures, textures, and aromas, the lure of this food becomes even stronger and harder to resist. These chemicals “activate” the brain and turn on reward circuits, causing the desire for more and more of the food. For example, ice cream contains sugar and fat and is cold. When you add hot fudge (sugar, fat, hot, creamy, chocolate), crumbled cookies (sugar, crispy), and peanut butter candy (sugar, fat, chocolate), the food is more multisensory, and even harder to resist.
The food and restaurant industries know that to make a food more irresistible, they should layer the fat, salt and sugar with the other sensory qualities such as texture, temperature, and color. These industries are smart enough to put these foods on every street corner, grocery store, and drug store. Add the gloss of advertising that says “eat this with your friends and family, have fun”, conditions us to want to eat these foods beyond fullness.
Dr. Kessler points out that not everyone is equally vulnerable to the irresistibility of these foods. We don’t know for sure, but we think that in some people not as much of these brain chemicals are produced in response to foods, or they just don’t have the same effect as in others. Dr. Kessler refers to people whose brains are activated and remain activated by food conditioned hypereaters. When people who are not hypereaters begin to eat very appealing food, they do so until the “reward circuits” in the brain shut off, at a point of satiety. Conditioned hypreaters just don’t seem to have that shut off mechanism.