A couple of weeks ago, Diane Rehm had Dr. David Kessler on her NPR show promoting his new book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Dr. Kessler believes there is an active and growing conspiracy against the American people, spearheaded by the agencies that are supposed to be protecting us.
Dr. Kessler is no weirdo food crackpot. He has a million credentials, but his most notable is his tenure as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (under the first George Bush’s administration and a repeat performance during Bill Clinton’s), and he is a self-declared food-aholic. By the time the show was over, he had altered how I look at my local grocery store and I was half-way to the nearest bookstore.
Dr. Kessler’s new book touches on two very clear and hard truths. The first is not necessarily shocking, but I don’t think our egos would allow us to readily admit it. Here goes: We are fat because we eat too much. Earth-shattering, right? But most Americans, spurred on by the diet industry, believe that if you try a magic food or pill or drink we will be “cured” of our fat. But the reality is much plainer and harder than that. Fewer calories in, more calories out. If you eliminate 400 calories from your diet on a weekly basis, you would lose weight or at least stave off any additional gain.
Second truth: The food industry is aiding and abetting in the expansion of your waistline. Specifically, the folks responsible for the processed food that most of us consume on a daily basis. Three simple ingredients, utilized in consistent and amplified amounts, keep us addicted to food like your local heroine addict. Sugar, fat and salt are the building blocks for most of our diets. Even if you are not adding them to your food directly, often they are being added during the processing. Dr. Kessler likens this “adding during processing” to what the tobacco industry has been accused of in making cigarettes addictive. Tobacco smoked in its purest form would not have you chain smoking a pack a day, but the additives are what make you crave it. The same goes for processed food. The double helping of salt, fat and sugar (often in the most unlikely recipes) keeps you eating long after you should be satisfied.
Along with the three magic ingredients, the food industry has hired an army of savvy and creative folks that market food to you in such a way that it literally becomes irresistible.
Now according to Dr. Kessler, there are 15% of you out there that this all sounds ridiculous to. You are the folks who could take your food in pill form and go about your day. For whatever reason (genetic, culture, trauma), food just doesn’t get you off like us 85%-ers. For the rest of us, food is a valid way to nurture, reward, soothe and celebrate. We connect with food in a way that goes beyond our biological needs – and that’s how the food industry has engineered it.
Example: How many of us have been at a restaurant and returned a soda because it has been deemed “flat?” Technically nothing is wrong with the soda, except it hasn’t arrived at your table the way that that giant billboard that you pass every morning says it should. It is not cold and powerful and full of pop! Because a can of soda is more than a can of soda. Madison Avenue is selling you something besides those 16 ounces. It is selling you refreshing, sexy, thirst-quenching goodness. They have assigned a set of attributes to that soda that goes beyond the 200 calories in the can.
As I finished reading the book, I realized it was a great argument for going raw or, at the very least, eliminating all the things that your supermarket sells in those middle aisles completely out of your diet.
New York Times food writer Mark Bittman (during a talk at Ted 2007) has come to the same conclusion. Take a look.