Hypereaters Can’t Stop Craving Bad Foods
America’s love affair with unhealthy food may be more disturbing than we realized. According to research conducted by the former chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as many as 70 million Americans probably suffer from some degree of “conditioned hypereating.” Dr. David Kessler defines hypereating as a willpower-sapping compulsion to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods, even when you’re not hungry. Kessler says the phenomenon accounts for the unhealthy food cravings that plague most Americans.
Hypereaters aren’t lured by carrots and celery sticks. Analysis of numerous brain studies led Kessler to conclude that foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt override the brain’s normal hunger cues and trigger the desire to overindulge. Neuroscientists have found that fat and sugar combinations activate the brain’s dopamine pathway — the pleasure-sensing center — in the same way as addictive drugs and alcohol. Kessler says that, like addiction, hypereating is a conditioned response. Each pleasurable experience encourages repetition. The more sugary, fatty foods you eat, the harder they are to resist.
Kessler says it’s a vicious cycle, but one that provides a new way of looking at America’s obesity epidemic. Calling obesity America’s “next great public-health campaign,” Kessler hopes a new perspective will lead to new methods that will help people fight obesity and tame their food cravings. While the problem is multi-fold, Kessler says the food industry must share the blame for America’s widening waistline. “The food industry has figured out what works. They know what drives people to keep on eating,” Kessler told the Associated Press in an interview earlier this year.
Overeaters must also take responsibility for their actions, Kessler said, and retrain their brains to resist the lure of sugar and fat. Just like alcoholics and drug addicts need help leaving their addictions behind, hypereaters may need help from psychiatrists or addiction specialists to retrain their brains before they can successfully resist the fat and sugary foods they’ve been conditioned to crave.
Of course, physical activity, metabolism and hormones all play a role in obesity, and any campaign to fight obesity in America will have to address these contributory issues. But to successfully fight obesity, Kessler believes that America will first have to change its love affair with unhealthy food and recognize the deadliness of the health danger obesity presents.