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The End of Overeating Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

David A. Kessler, MD

Rodale Books



352 Pages


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Most people know what it feels like to fall under the spell of food—when one slice of pizza turns into half a pie, or a handful of chips leads to an empty bag. But it's harder to understand why it's so difficult to stop eating—even when one knows better.  Dr. David Kessler, the dynamic former FDA commissioner who reinvented the food label and tackled the tobacco industry, now reveals how the food industry has hijacked the brains of millions of Americans, making obesity number-one public health issue. Dr. Kessler cracks the code of overeating by explaining how bodies and minds are changed by the consumption of foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. Food manufacturers create products by manipulating these ingredients to stimulate appetites, setting in motion a cycle of desire and consumption that ends with a nation of overeaters. The End of Overeating explains for the first time why it is exceptionally difficult to resist certain foods and why it's so easy to overindulge.
Dr. Kessler met with top scientists, physicians, and food industry insiders to help uncover the shocking facts about how Americans lost control over their eating habits—and how to reclaim that control. Dr. Kessler presents groundbreaking research, along with what is sure to be a controversial view inside the industry that continues to feed a nation of overeaters—from popular brand manufacturers to advertisers, chain restaurants, and fast food franchises.
For the millions of people struggling with weight as well as for those who simply don't understand why they can't seem to stop eating our favorite foods, Dr. Kessler's cutting-edge investigation offers new insights and tools to help find a solution. There has never been a more thorough, compelling, or in-depth analysis of why Americans eat the way they do.


Praise for The End of Overeating

"In perversely fascinating detail, Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, reveals how industrial chefs engineered the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel at Panera, the Parmesan-Crusted Sicilian Quesadilla at T. G. I. Friday’s and other 'hyperpalatable' concoctions undreamed of in any traditional cuisine. Such foods, he argues, artfully layer fat on sugar on salt on fat to trigger a release of the brain chemical dopamine, leading to a kind of 'conditioned hypereating.' Kessler, who confesses to utter helplessness before SnackWell’s, throws in a particularly grisly description of the Margarita Grilled Chicken at Chili’s, which is mass-marinated in cement-mixer-like machines until it is essentially 'pre-chewed.' (Whereas Americans typically used to chew each bite of food 25 times, today we chew only 10 times, according to one expert.) Even the humble Snickers bar comes off like a criminal, designed for 'even disappearance and clean getaway,' clearing the way for the next bite."—Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times Book Review

"David Kessler's bestseller, The End of Overeating, [is] both a thinking person's diet book and an investigation into an industry that wants us to eat more . . . Kessler is a scientist, not a conspiracy theorist. But he writes about how the food industry has learned to produce 'hyperpalatable combinations of sugar, fat and salt' that not only appeal to us but 'have the capacity to rewire our brains, driving us to seek out more and more of those products' . . . He takes you to an industry meeting where a food scientist on a panel called 'Simply Irresistible' offers tips on 'spiking' the food to make people keep eating."—Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe

"Dr. David Kessler has written a fascinating account of the science of human appetite, as well as its exploitation by the food industry. The End of Overeating is an invaluable contribution to the national conversation about the catastrophe that is the modern American diet."—Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food

"David A. Kessler, who led the battle against the tobacco industry, now joins the fight against obesity. His message is important: The problem is not only the behavior of profit-driven food companies, but also the daily choices that each one of us makes."—Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

"David Kessler’s fascinating book is essential for anyone interested in learning more about how corporate greed and human psychology have created a national health crisis."Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse 

"Disturbing, thought-provoking, and important."Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential 

"A compelling book about overeating and the obesity pandemic. Dr. Kessler thoroughly examines the nature of our relationship with food and why it is critical to understand and modify our behavior to reverse this global threat to health and well-being."—David Satcher, former Surgeon General and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"A fascinating, unique book by a brilliant public health leader."—Donna Shalala, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 

"Kessler surveys the world of modern industrial food production and distribution as reflected in both restaurants and grocery stores. To his chagrin, he finds that the system foists on the American public foods overloaded with fats, sugars, and salt. Each of these elements, consumed in excess, has been linked to serious long-term health problems. Kessler examines iconic foods such as Cinnabon and Big Macs, all of which have skilled marketing machines promoting consumption. Such nutritionally unbalanced foods propel people who already tend to eat more than mere physical need might otherwise warrant into uncontrolled behavior patterns of irrational eating. These persistent psychological and sensory stimuli lead to what Kessler terms 'conditioned hypereating,' which he believes is a disease rather than a failure of willpower. There is hope, however. Kessler identifies the cues that lead to overeating and offers some simple, practical tools to help control one’s impulses."—Mark Knoblauch, Booklist

"'Conditioned hypereating is a biological challenge, not a character flaw,' says Kessler, former FDA commissioner under presidents Bush and Clinton. Here Kessler describes how, since the 1980s, the food industry, in collusion with the advertising industry, and lifestyle changes have short-circuited the body's self-regulating mechanisms, leaving many at the mercy of reward-driven eating. Through the evidence of research, personal stories (including candid accounts of his own struggles) and examinations of specific foods produced by giant food corporations and restaurant chains, Kessler explains how the desire to eat—as distinct from eating itself—is stimulated in the brain by an almost infinite variety of diabolical combinations of salt, fat and sugar. Although not everyone succumbs, more people of all ages are being set up for a lifetime of food obsession due to the ever-present availability of foods laden with salt, fat and sugar. A gentle though urgent plea for reform, Kessler's book provides a simple 'food rehab' program to fight back against the industry's relentless quest for profits while an entire country of people gain weight and get sick. According to Kessler, persistence is all that is needed to make the perceptual shifts and find new sources of rewards to regain control."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

DAVID A. KESSLER, MD, served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School, and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kessler is the father of two and lives with his wife in California.

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  • David A. Kessler, MD

  • David A. Kessler, M.D., served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School, and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kessler is a father of two and lives with his wife in California.