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on July 5, 2009
Okay, the back story: when I graduated from high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

I chose that moment to lose the weight, as I began my adult life. It was costing me too much--in self esteem, ability to be active, a good social life, and limitations I would always face because of the way people perceived me.

I lost 65 pounds, and I kept it off my whole life. What I did was completely change my orientation to food. (And I became a life-long exerciser.)

A friend of mine who has repeatedly dieted and regained the weight bought this book; and I decided to take a look at it, because it looked interesting.

I am trying to find words to describe how important this book could be for anyone who seriously wants to stop overeating. Let's try this: THE ANSWERS ARE HERE. Everything Dr. Kessler writes about is something I did to successfully control my weight for my entire life, not just a few months or a year.

But he gives the reader something I never had: an EXPLANATION of how this works biologically and psychologically, how certain foods trigger the pleasure center of the brain, etc., etc. And how food manufacturers in this country have found a way to use this to make profits.

Enough said. If this is your issue, this is your book. It will set you free.
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on July 7, 2009
I am a woman much like one of the people interviewed at the beginning of this book. I am constantly stuffing myself with junk food. I will be in a supermarket and will veer over to a box of Zingers, putting them in my basket, hardly able to contain myself until I can get home and then begin to stuff them in my mouth. I repeat this behavior over and over again, anguishing at my weight gain, lack of self control, and inability to exercise any restraint in front of gooey salt, sugar, and fat laden "food".

There is a line in this book that said it all to me: the author asked a woman, whose job it was, by the way, to make food "irresistable" (to us) "why do I have no control over this cookie?" The woman pointed to the cookie and said, "because this is the dragon, and the dragon is stronger than you are".

I had no idea, zero idea, that our brains get involved in overeating, compulsive eating, and reaching for sugar, fat, salt laden foods. In reading how lab rats were tested, I saw myself. That's right. I discovered that I am nothing but a little lab rat, pushing down the lever for another Zinger. Some animals even walked over flooring that gave them electric shocks for the sugar laden food they wanted. Others ate it even when it made them sick. I was stunned at the similarity between these lab animals, and my own behavior!

I honestly don't know if, armed with the incredible information this book has to offer, I can beat the dragon. But I am sure going to try. This book sobered me up, like nothing else has, about the way I've been eating. I found it very sad that there is an entire section of the food industry whose only goal it is to make people addicted to sugar, fat and salt and make sure they are kept in addiction to it. This may sound stupid and naive, but it really hurt me. I have spent many years frustrated with my eating, unable to understand why I have no control. I hope the education I received from this eye opening book will help me start a new way of thinking....and eating.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon February 25, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ever wonder why those diet cookies like Nabisco Snackwell's keep you coming back for more? Is it true you really "can't eat just one"? What is "Butter Plus" and how does 1 lb of "fake" butter turn into 50 pounds of junk for your gut? These and many other mysteries are covered in this newly released book by former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler.

A few items worth mentioning, I am reviewing an advance copy so there may be small changes from the final product. With that explanation, there are some odd areas of the book that leave the reader wanting more. In fact, one chapter seems to end very abruptly (the description of the Cinnabunn entreprenuer) to the point that it appeared the chapter wasn't complete. Other areas of interest - particularly those related to concepts such as chemical engineering of foods and flavors - seemed very incomplete. While the author does a fine job discussing the cognitive foundation related to food addiction including brain chemisty related to the "big three" (fat, sugar and salt), little explanation was provided for how flavor enhancers, chemicals and other engineering impacted the brain. Outside of wishing more attention/depth had been provided to some of the areas, this was still an enjoyable read with some interesting tidbits. It is very reader friendly - written for the lay consumer - not scientific audience.

The author freely admits to facing his own challenges regarding his relationship with food which I suspect will appeal to readers fed up with instructive discussions about food that lack the emotional and mental pull. However, as a person with a few of my own food related vices but generally very conscientious about what I eat or bring home from the grocery store, I was personally a bit "put off" by the abundant and very descriptive examples the food relationship. I suspect a large number of readers interested in ths book will be health conscious rather than overweight...if so, be aware this book is geared toward weight loss and/or food addiction more than actual healthy alternatives to what is being done to the food supply.

There are some common sense approaches to taking control - without any attempt to sell an expensive diet plan or other services...just good advice on breaking free of the contamination and manipulation that is behind the addiction, cravings and weight gain associated with processed foods. Big tip - you need to cut and chew food! If it "dissolves" in your mouth or requires minimal chewing then avoid it. Other tidbits are scattered throughout such as how the industry avoids having to list sugar at the top of the ingredient list by using various types of sugars - for example, cereals. By using several forms of sugar they can list each individually lower on the ingredient list thereby making the food seem less diasterous than it really is.

Overall, a good read! I enjoyed the authors easy - conversational tone. It was informative yet not condescending whatsoever. Very reader friendly although I personally would have preferred more in-depth discussion of some topics and even more facts. I would have also enjoyed citations and resources for more information but guess I might be in the minority on that count. Strong appeal for those fighting against weight gain or food addiction as well as those concerned for their children's health. The author brings up startling research related to changes in diet, satiation and other factors related to children - even toddlers - which will have profound impact on the future of this nation.

Quick has been brought to my attention via the comments section that citations and references WILL be included in the final copy - a terrific addition for those of us who are data driven. Apparently they will be fairly extensive which may widely enhance the appeal of this book for those with more than a passing consumer interest in the topic.
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on May 14, 2009
I found this book only marginally insightful. The basic premise is that foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt are virtually addictive, and the food industry works hard to create and market these foods. Some may find this surprising, but this seems like old news to me. The chief problem I found with the book is that, at least to my mind, Dr. Kessler did not focus sufficiently on the extreme unhealthfulness of these foods and how over-consumption of modern foods sets people up for truly dreadful diseases, including diabetes. Kessler's idea of controlling one's intake of these foods was more focused on changing one's thought process to something like "I won't have that food because I know I will feel terrible about myself afterwards." For me at least, knowing I won't feel good about myself after eating certain foods was not enough for me to stop eating them. I stopped only after I genuinely understood, from other sources, how terribly unhealthy many of the foods in the Western diet are for us (including sugary foods, and foods made with refined flours and high-fructose corn syrup). I am not only longer attracted to these foods, but I actually find them disgusting and repellant. I would spend my money on books like Real Foods (Nina Planck), Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food. I found these books far more helpful in thinking about food choices. Also, I found the format of the book somewhat scattered and unfocused.
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on June 4, 2014
I will make this short and sweet - this book has CHANGED MY LIFE. For most of my life, I have always struggled with overeating and obsessing over food (almost binge eating). I always attempted to rely on willpower to overcome these struggles but had minimal success. This book does a phenomenal job of explaining how the reward centers work in the brain and also exploits the restaurant industry's goal to encourage overeating with excessive usage of fat/sugar/salt. Sick! After reading this book, i now understand why i have behaved this way all these years and have spent the last month creating NEW habits. I realize that I cannot have 'just one' of something. Not an option for me. I have virtually eliminated added sugars from my diet and i feel incredible. I highly recommend this book!
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on January 26, 2012
I'm the kind of person who really can't have just one cookie! Kessler explains my compulsive cookie eating in a way that showed me that I'm one of millions. My addiction is similar to cigarette addiction, and the food companies design their products to feed my addiction exactly the way the tobacco companies target smokers.

I've read the low-carb theories and the low-fat theories....and they make lots of sense. But I believe Kessler really has it right...we've got to get a grip on our appetites.

I've lost 50 pounds in the past year. How? No ice-cream, pizza, or other junk food for the past 8 months, that's how. I not only didn't eat these things--I didn't touch them. It was as hard as quitting smoking. I can't have cheat days...they don't work. They turn into 4000 extra calories less than 40 minutes after I order the pizza.

Good luck to all the addicted foodies!
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on March 12, 2010
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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on June 22, 2009
I'm not fat but I struggle with overeating. This book provided me with some helpful tips on how to stop (most of which I already knew like eat slowly, don't eat until I'm full). It also described the components of the popular items at chain restaurants very scientifically - so much so, that it almost made me want to stop eating at the Cheesecake Factory when I was reading those bits.

But then, the author uses the most luscious and delicious words to describe the tastes of the food at these restaurants and I wanted to stop reading and go eating. Seriously, his description of the Cinnabon is ridiculous and though I very rarely have the urge to eat them, his description of the soft, pillowy, doughy roll made me want to drop everything I was doing and go stuff my face. Oh, and the descriptions of hot, gooey, cheesey nachos didn't help either!

Therefore, not a very effective book if you want to stop overeating. I appreciate the fancy chemical compounds and science behind how the chains make you eat more, but the enticing food descriptions allow my stomach to overpower my rational brain.

In general, I'm a little tired of food related books after reading Fast Food Nation and Omnivore's Dilemma. The general idea is to eat as few processed foods as possible because processing removes the satiation you get from eating. Now, go do as I say not as I do.
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on May 12, 2009
If you're a diet junkie (like most Americans) whose attempts to keep the weight off have proved futile, read this book, and you'll know beyond a doubt just WHY you're such a failure. The facts Kessler presents about the brain-body collusion on the one hand, along with the unscruplous U.S. food industry's role in keeping our brains coked up on the other, are as clear as the fat, salt, and sugar layered in your Cheesecake Factory appetizer. Once you've been debriefed this thoroughly about the consequences of food-as-megadrug, there's really no way to pretend that you're defenseless against insatiable hunger. This should be the only "diet book" you'll ever need.
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on July 9, 2009
I've often wondered why I don't crave broccoli or carrots in the same way that I love chocolate chip cookies. Now I have a good answer.

David Kessler has written a wonderful book that explores and explains the rise of obesity that has occurred in the U.S. over the past quarter century better than anything else I have read to date. Originating out of his own struggles with overeating, Dr Kessler, a pediatrician and former FDA commissioner, lays bare the social, economic and biological underpinnings of "conditioned hyper-eating". As a medical oncologist I have been continually dismayed by the fact that many of my patients can be cured of cancer, only to slowly succumb to the ravages of obesity. (Also, I think there is now fairly good evidence to suggest that obesity is a risk factor for certain cancers.) And as the father of 3 small children, I am deeply concerned about the epidemic of obesity in young children. Lastly, as a taxpayer, I wonder how we will ever pay for the care of all the obesity related illness that I see each day.

Dr Kessler begins by exploring how the food industry (not unlike the tobacco industry) has intentionally engineered and marketed hyper-palatable foods which combine sugar, fat and salt in combinations and concentrations not found in nature. These foods are only slightly more difficult to swallow than baby food and produce changes in the brain that, with repeated and long term exposure, alter subsequent behavior in a large portion of the population producing what he terms "conditioned hyper-eating syndrome".

Kessler presents an abundance of evidence from neuroscience research demonstrating that the brains of those who suffer from "conditioned hypereating syndrome" have interesting parallels to other types of addictive behavior such as smoking, gambling, alcohol and drug abuse. He argues that this syndrome represents a maladaptation of evolutionary traits that once served our species well in former times when food was much less abundant than it is now.

He also demonstrates how the break down of family meal times and other social norms, the phenomenon of "supersizing" and the rise of what I have previously called "the snack culture", both deliberately encouraged by the marketing efforts of food conglomerates and fast food chains, has further undermined our ability to keep our caloric scales in balance. In a convincing explanation of the "French paradox" (ie. the French diet is higher in fat than ours, but their rates of obesity and heart disease are lower) Kessler describes how social norms of eating reasonable portions mostly in family groups and only during prescribed meal times (ie. not snacking at meetings or in the car) keeps the French population significantly leaner and healthier.

The last part of the book focuses on taking personal responsibility for overeating by recognizing the problem and developing rules and habits that can help us slowly rewire our brains so that our perceptions of previously irresistible foods can be changed. Kessler makes an interesting analogy with A.A.: "Alcoholics anonymous tells alcoholics that they're not to blame for their disease---but they must take responsibility for their behavior."

Although an argument could be made for stricter regulation of food products, it is doubtful that the government will have the willingness to regulate food the way tobacco is regulated. In the meantime, Dr Kessler's book points a way to fight the good fight with understanding and savvy.
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