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38 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
David Kessler MD shares his quest to find out why he is a "conditioned hypereater," why certain foods "won't relinquish their hold" on him. The good news- the book has some valuable insights about the American food industry and its calculated, money-making opioid-releasing mixes of fat, sugar and salt, but misses out on major players in why we eat the way we eat- namely restriction and physiology.

There is one paragraph in the book that basically dismisses restriction and dieting as contributing significantly to out of control eating, yet most of his anecdotes pulse with avoidance, restriction and the ghosts of failed diets.

He relates going to NYC and thinking the whole time about a certain ice-cream parlor and how his wife is like an AA sponsor who keeps him from indulging. Maybe dopamine (the "I want it") hormone spikes BECAUSE he thinks he "shouldn't" eat it. There are studies that show that scarcity of food increases dopamine, so why wouldn't self-imposed scarcity (diet and restriction) lead to higher dopamine and obsession with food? He goes on and on about dopamine and the intense wanting of "forbidden foods" but blames fat, salt and sugar alone. Sounds like a fun trip to NYC. (Plus his repeated graphic descriptions of fat on sugar on salt felt like self-indulgent food porn.)

He also barely mentions physiology and blood sugar, hormones or the stress response...
Are these "cravers" providing regular balanced fuel for their bodies or crashing from famished to stuffed with similar spikes and drops in blood sugar and insulin levels? Are they skipping breakfast and lunch to save up calories only to lose control at the office? A person who has fasted all day will be frantic with hunger, and the NORMAL survival instinct is to eat- a lot.

His solution?
Restrict more! Be "flexible," but only eat things that don't trigger you. Have a meal coach berate you for eating too much. Be responsible to your family so that when you "fail" you will feel that you let them down. (Lovely, more guilt and shame, which we know are not positive motivators for change.)
His one size fits all prescription of avoidance, more restraint (though with lots of nice cognitive behavioral language around it) is really more of the same. Want a treat? A single piece of chocolate or a small frozen yogurt should do it- but not yet-maybe after several months of complete abstinence! He implies weight loss will happen if you can just say no-enough.

Dr. Kesslar does not once mention the notion that you CAN learn to eat in a competent, inclusive and joyful way that is grounded in permission, joy and discipline (yes, you have to provide regular meals and enough variety for yourself.)

There is no joy, no balance, no permission.

Consider a competent eater scenario... (see Ellyn Satter's definition of Normal Eating)
Why not look forward to the ice-cream in New York? Plan to enjoy it. Savor it, be in control and then move on and enjoy the other wonderful things in NYC. Eat a good breakfast with some protein, fat and carbs, then plan on a nice meal and ice cream for dessert or skip the meal and enjoy the ice-cream for lunch. Enjoy window shopping and walking through Central Park. (Imagine, actually enjoying NYC, not obsessing about how you can't have ice-cream the whole time!)

Yes, fat and sugar and salt taste good, and they release pleasure hormones, but it doesn't mean these foods can't be enjoyed by competent eaters in a positive way-does it?

The book left me dissapoointed and sad for the many who will read it and think all they have to do is try harder.

"Food might not be addictive on its own, but prohibiting it can set off a cycle of anxiety, craving, and overconsumption that for all purposes looks like addiction."
(can't remember the source, but I love this!)
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68 of 95 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I'll start with what I liked about this book. What Kessler says about fat, salt, and sugar is correct, and needs to be much more widely understood. Processed food is an important reason why obesity is rising.

But I'm not sure that "End of Overeating" delivers this message as effectively as other books - for example Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, which I highly recommend. Kessler's sensual descriptions of junk food make it sound so appealing I wanted to drop the book and run out and buy some! I saw this mentioned in another review, so it's not just me.

The book's most serious flaws are some fundamental inaccuracies. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Kessler states flat out that excess fat is caused by overeating, and there is no significant genetic component. He says there was confusion about this in the past because the studies all involved people recording what they ate, and it was later found that fat people underestimate what they eat in food diaries.

Kessler is an M.D. Does he not read the New England Journal of Medicine? Studies comparing how fat and thin people react to food are by no means limited to food diary studies. There have been numerous twin studies, both experimental and longitudinal. The weight of twins raised apart is more similar to their biological parents than the parents who raised them. In overfeeding studies, identical twins gain very similar amounts of weight whereas unrelated people gain highly variable amounts of weight. Here's a link to an interview with the author of the first twin study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine:

[...]

There is overwhelming evidence for a genetic tendency to be overweight. Some researchers say that as much as 70% of weight is accounted for by genes. What you eat matters, but it's by no means the whole story. Genes load the gun and processed foods pull the trigger. You don't have to read the NEJM to know this is true. Just think about all the thin people you know who eat junk food without consequence!

Kessler is so extreme in his "biology doesn't count" position that he even says, on page 23, that there is no such thing as a setpoint: "I hypothesize that the point where our weight settles is primarily the result of motivation and availability - how much we want to seek out food and how readily we can obtain and get it."

This is outrageously wrong. There are mountains of scientific evidence showing that the body attempts to maintain whatever weight it's been at for a period of time, speeding up or slowing down metabolism to compensate for over- or undereating. You can't change your weight by more than 10% without your setpoint pulling you back unless you gain or lose very slowly (and thus readjust your setpoint). How can Dr. Kessler not be familiar with this research?

These errors matter because denying biology puts all blame for the difficulty in losing weight on the individual. This is untrue and unfair, and leads to self-esteem problems and fat prejudice. You can't tell by looking at someone exactly what they do or don't eat. I find it very disturbing that a book getting as wide readership as this one would spread such dangerous myths, and I cannot understand how someone with a medical degree can be so misinformed.

My final criticism of the book is that its tools for dealing with emotional eating are fairly lame and not very helpful. But the factual problems are far more serious.

If "End of Overeating" convinces some people to stop eating processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat, then it will have done some good. But I worry about the misinformation it spreads. Denying the role of biology makes it harder to lose weight. You need to understand your biology and work with it, not pretend it doesn't matter.

Sheryl Canter
Author of "Normal Eating for Normal Weight"
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I think my main problem with this book is too much minutiae about lab experiments with rats, etc. ("When a rat is given 5 ccs of glucose he will run .5 times as fast as a rat given 4 ccs...") I just found that really boring. The stuff about what goes into fast food was useful, but I thought it odd that he doesn't give calorie counts for some of these obscenely fattening foods. And, as others have noted, there is very little in the way of solutions to these problems. Some chapters from Kessler on "If you have to eat fast food, here are some options that aren't too bad for you" would have been helpful. (Stephen Gullo's "Thin Tastes Better" and Yolanda Bergman's "Food Cop" were good in this regard.) Anyway I wish I'd waited for the library's copy rather than buying this.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Most of the book is dedicated to arguing the case that big food companies engineer the palatability of their food (using sugar, fat, and salt) which I think we can all agree on.

That leaves you with only one small chapter of advice on how you can end your own overeating... which can be summed up as "try to remember not to".

~Gee, thanks!~

While the information in this book is presented in convenient, bite-size, easily digestable chapters, most of it you will have probably already read, heard, or seen elsewhere.

Skim this book at the library, or watch a couple of interviews with Kessler, or google one of the thousands of articles on the topic of engineered foodstuffs, and you'll get the same effect as buying this book.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I expected a bit more from Dr. David Kessler, who is a foremost authority in health issues and a medical doctor to boot. There is nothing particularly wrong about the content of the book, but the title is extremely misleading. Only one short chapter at the end of the book even discusses the subject (ending overeating), and then Dr. Kessler's suggestion is "eat sensibly" and "avoid temptation". Gee, my mom could have told me that. Come to think of it, she did.

9/10s of the book consist of information and interviews that Kessler has strung together about the food and restaurant industries, and they certainly are interesting. But does anyone really DOUBT that restaurants serve fattening foods? Was there some halcyon time in human history, 30 or 50 years back, when restaurants ONLY served small portions of fresh, natural foods? Because if so, I do not remember it and I was around then. BTW: you can get fat -- really fat -- eating at Chez Panisse or your local fancy French restaurant. Calories are not better or worse because they are attached to junk food vs. "gourmet" foods.

Applebee's and Outback Steakhouse and Chili's certainly serve heavily processed junk -- no doubt about it -- but how often do people eat there? 1-2 times a week maybe. I don't think you can really place the whole blame on them, or MacDonald's (as in "Supersize Me"), because only a small minority of people have the money to eat every meal out. Do we eat out more than before? Yes -- but that's because women now work full time, and nobody is at home to cook nutritious meals. I don't see anyone addressing this, or having a good solution that doesn't force women to become Ozzie & Harriet-type housewives.

These chapters are interesting -- I was fascinated to learn that the woman who invented Cinnabons (possibly the most concentrated amount of fat and sugar and junk in any one single food item) was herself beset with eating disorders. And the many, many descriptions of mouth-wateringly delicious foods (cookies, milkshakes, candy, fried dumplings) suggest strongly that Dr. Kessler himself (a former fattie, whose weight still flucuates) is jonesing to eat those very foods.

I love food, but honestly many of the things he describes do not appeal to me in the way they clearly do to him, or the individuals he interviews. I think there is a LOT more individual variation than he acknowledges. In one example, he interviews four people, showing them various "irresistible foods" like Snicker bars. 2 are fat women, struggling with their overwhelming desire to eat. 1 is a thin woman, but who is in a constant struggle between eating what she likes and compulsive dieting to stay thin. The last is a thin man who exhibits no desire towards the food on display. Yet Kessler never questions for a second why it is a MALE who is not "turned on" by the chocolate-y treats, and females who are, nor does he analyze the ages of the women (are they menopausal? on hormones or birth control pills?) or their responsibilities (do they have to buy food for a family, cook, etc.?) or other ways in which the female body (metabolism, hormones, age, socialization, media imagery, former dieting) might play a role. For a doctor and researcher, he seems oddly incurious -- which again, makes me wonder how much is about HIS OWN struggles with resisting certain foods and how little is about real scientific research.

If the only solution is the old saw "eat less...eat sensibly...exercise more", then I am afraid this book has added nearly zero to the obesity debate. Everybody over the age of four knows this, and the vast majority of obese people (even those with serious medical issues) have failed at it. And if the changes are meant for the food industry, well, every restaurant from Applebees to Mickey D to the fanciest French eatery has a "lite" menu and diet selections...fast food places all now serve salads, grilled chicken and yogurt. Yet we are all apparently fatter (as a population) then when they served nothing but french fries (fried in beef lard, no less) and milkshakes. And most customers don't order the lo-cal selections (or do, gag the tasteless crap down and then promptly order dessert).

Sorry, Dr. Kessler, but your advice has been tried -- and been found a total failure. Try harder next time. There are better books on this subject from a scientific POV. Also, several members of my book club stated that the slavering, drooling descriptions of fatty foods were so enticing, that the book actually made them WANT to run out and indulge -- pretty much the opposite of what I assume was the intent. Conclusion: FAIL
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As someone who used to over-eat, this book didn't offer me any news. If you're overeating, Kessler won't offer you anything better than what your doctors have already told you.

All this book tells you is that food with the right combination of fat, sugar, and salt are hard to resist. This statement is reiterated about 200 times in this book, with different examples. You don't need a professional to tell you that cheetos are more appealing than carrot sticks, just you don't need a professional to tell you you shouldn't eat at McDonalds every day. Food high in fat, sugar, and salt trigger our award systems, and eating large portions will lead to eating more. Well, no duh.

There are certain things I don't agree with in this book. For example, he says that American food doesn't offer much flavor as long as it has a high fat/sugar/salt combination that trigger our reward system. American restaurants change all cuisine and increase the amount of sugar and salt to get us addicted. I'd have to disagree and defend American restaurants. First of all, Americans simply eat out more than everybody else, it's not really what our chefs are doing with our food. Chefs aren't evil people trying to get you fat, they're just trying to serve good food.

What I do like about it is the insight it provides about the food industry, and how marketers target our emotions when it comes to food. This made me think about how I sometimes still eat out of nostalgia and food associated with my youth.

The end also offers you some good advice on controlling overeating. But they're mostly about self-control. But honestly, everyone is different. Some people have a much harder time saying no and making rules than others. In the end, he still can't explain why my roommate is indifferent about brownies, and I still go crazy over them. I personally have to just never have treats around, while my roommate can let a whole box of cookies, ice cream go untouched in their respective places for months.

This book is good if you've never reflected on your relationship with food before and eat it mindlessly. But chances are, that if you're picking this book up, you have already. And it's useless reading about how other people think cinnamon buns are so soft, and warm, and gooey, and sugary, with the perfect amount of butter and whatever they put in there. Really, just read the reviews on this and you'll get the jist of it. It's packed with filler and can be a real time waster.
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to read this book to see the scientific approach to the food industry's brutally powerful methods to create powerful, hard-to-resist foods that are partially to blame for a national epidemic of weight gain and over-eating.
Considering how widely publicized this book is, it is poorly structured, with too many meaningless chapters (48), most of which tediously describe animal lab experiments, and give an almost pornographic description of processed foods and their appeal. It does want you to drop the book and run out to grab a bite (or devour a whole plateful) of otherwise really not that satisfying chain restaurant concoctions.
What I was most disappointed to see was the at the end (past page 181) where the redemption, the secret formula, the protective weapon is supposed to be revealed to defend yourself from this mighty and powerful enemy (junk food loaded with sugar, salt and fat) there is NO ANSWER whatsoever, other than mindful eating, and engaging your frontal cortex. Hah, as if that was so easy to do.
I wish the author or someone else would sit down and tediously and elaborately develop a vaccination, a defense mechanism that we, sheer mortals with underdeveloped willpower, and lack of discipline could follow to the last sentence and defend ourselves from the long-term negative effects of over-eating.
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Surprisingly unscientific given the author's background. Basically blames overeating on conditioning to sweet, salty, and fatty foods, and his "solution" is to avoid these "hyperpalatable" foods. Doesn't address issues of insulin resistance, biochemical role of carbohydrates, Atkins-type diets, etc. - not even to try to discredit them. It would be interesting to know what Kessler would say about "Good Calories, Bad Calories," by Gary Taubes, which I found very worthwhile even though I'm not sure I accept Taubes's conclusions.
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on April 5, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this book because I remember seeing the author's interview on the Colbert Report several years ago when I was in college. As someone who struggles with overeating/weight control I figured it would be a helpful insight into the factors that lead many Americans to do so, not necessarily a self help book but find out things to look for and improve. I did not find much of that in this book. This book is extremely repetitive and very boring to read. Read the back cover of the book or see the author's interview on Colbert and you have 95% of the book's content. I'm disappointed in my purchase.
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on April 16, 2015
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Good but boring. I haven't actually finished reading this book yet. It is long and seems to repeat a lot of information. Although it was boring it did bring up a few good points about why we tend to choose to eat the things we do.
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