When I spotted The End of Overeating by David Kessler at a Little Free Library I probably wouldn’t have had any interest in picking it up, except I recently lost weight with intention via calorie restriction. I was curious with how the book compared with my experience.
I ended up having all other kinds of thoughts about the book, which is why I have written three blog posts about it so far (here, here, and here), with this being the fourth (and final) post.
So. How does it compare? Continue reading
According to The End of Overeating by David Kessler, a dramatic rise in ‘overeating’ began in the United States in the 1980s, which led to an increase people’s average weight and obesity. What caused the increase in ‘overeating’? Commercial sellers of food became more competent at making food ‘hyperpalatable’ by using new food processing techniques which made it cheaper to ‘load’ foods with sugar, fat, and salt and add a variety of appealing textures and flavors (provided by industrial chemical processing), while making food easier to chew and make it ‘melt’ more in the mouth so people can fill themselves with more calories before they feel full; this combined with improvements in ‘eatertainment’ which enable firms to entice customers to buy more and more (and then eat more and more). On top of all that, there has been a change in norms – whereas in France (and maybe previously in the United States, Kessler hints) people only ate during official meals, now eating outside of mealtimes has been de-stigmatized, with food being included in more and more workplaces/social events/etc., and people being more used to ‘snacking’ outside of mealtimes.
Much of this wasn’t news to me, but there were details I wasn’t aware of before, and I hadn’t seen it presented in this particular way before. In particular, I hadn’t encountered the insight that it was improvements in food processing technology which allowed companies to produce more ‘hyperpalatable’ foods at lower cost.
This calls to mind something Lucy Worsley says in If Walls Could Talk – that for most of British history, the upper class tried to eat the most processed food possible, and went to great lengths to get more highly processed food, as well as novel flavors (hence the high price of imported spices). Back then, food processing was very labor intensive, and thus expensive. According to The End of Overeating, it’s only in the past few decades that increased mechanization of food processing has allowed restaurants and food retailers to overcome ‘chopping disease’ (i.e. the labor costs of hand-processed food) and make highly-processed food more widely available. Continue reading
The first paragraph of the introduction to The End of Overeating by David Kessler is:
I’ve learned to recognize overeating in restaurants all over America. It’s not hard, because people who have been conditioned to overeat behave distinctively. They attack their food with a special kind of gusto. I’ve seen them lift their forks, readying their next bit before they’ve swallowed the previous one, and I’ve watched as they reach across the table to spear a companion’s french fries or the last morsel of someone else’s dessert. Certain foods seem to exert a magical pull on them, and they rarely leave any on their plates.
I would never take a companion’s french fries without their explicit permission, and I would not eat the last morsel of someone else’s dessert because eating other people’s leftovers grosses me out. But otherwise, this does describe the way that I eat, particularly rarely leaving anything on my plate after I finish eating. By this description, I ‘overeat’. Eh, whatever. I’m okay with this. What I’m NOT okay with is the next paragraph:
As I watch this kind of impulsive behavior, I suspect a battle may be taking place in their heads, the struggle between “I want” and “I shouldn’t,” between “I’m in charge” and “I can’t control this.” In this struggle lies one of the most consequential battles we face to protect our health.
On one level, I have trouble even comprehending this. It is such a firmly entrenched habit for me to eat everything on my plate that it is hard for me to understand people not planning to eat everything on their plates. If you aren’t planning to eat it, why did you put it on your plate? And if a restaurant put too big a portion on your plate to eat in one sitting, you’re going to take the leftovers home since you paid for them, right? As long as I don’t discover something awful about the food as I’m eating it, I always intend to eat everything on my plate. I make the decision about what and how much to eat before it reaches my plate, not after, so it’s pointless to struggle between “I want” and “I shouldn’t” at that point. Is this considered weird in American culture? Continue reading
The book The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler explains how people can change their habits so that they stop overeating.
In this blog post, I’m not going to comment on ‘overeating’ beyond stating that I don’t think anyone is obliged to try to lose weight. But Kessler says that these principles can be used for ‘reversing’ habits in general (i.e. stopping a habit), not just habitual ‘overeating’. And I find his claim credible since, looking back in retrospect, his advice pretty much describes how I transitioned to veganism i.e. ‘reversed’ the habit of consuming animals. I’m going to explain his ideas about ‘habit reversal’ and map them to how I transitioned to veganism. I hope, of course, that this can help people who want to go vegan, but I’m sure this will be useful for other kinds of ‘habit reversals’ as well, so I hope you will keep reading even if you don’t want to go vegan or you’ve already gone vegan.
A sense of powerlessness is one of the biggest obstacles to success. If you feel you have no choice but to engage in a behavior, the arousal that drives it will persist. But if you recognize that you need not engage in habitual behavior, that sense of arousal will begin to diminish.
Yes. About six months before I decided to go vegan, I made a statement along the lines of ‘I could never go vegan because I would never give up cheese.’ Guess what? I did give up cheese, and more than ten years later, I don’t miss cheese at all (yes, I sometimes eat vegan ‘cheezes’ but if all vegan cheese imitations disappeared tomorrow it would not be a big deal to me). This sense of powerlessness probably delayed my transition to veganism.