Add Fat, Sugar, Salt, Sugar, and Fat. Repeat.

Heart Attack Cafe

Dr. David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating was reviewed by Shannon Brown, who notes that Kessler is the person we can thank for curbing the nicotine industry’s desire to target children in advertising, the crusade he took on as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Kessler’s next target is junk food — optimally stimulating and bursting with hedonic value — the curse that fuels the childhood obesity epidemic.

Kessler has been a guest speaker at Princeton University and at the Google HQ, among many other venues. He’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Stephen Colbert, Charlie Rose, Amy Goodman, and by many more. Brown appreciates the enormous amount of information he provides, and concludes,

In the end, Kessler inspired me think carefully about every bite of food that I take, and to stop to think about why I’m eating — is it because I’m actually hungry or are there other factors pressing on me?

Subconscious conditioning is the first cause of overeating, and for any American with unimpaired hearing, the process starts in the womb, when a developing fetus first hears the commercial jingles that urge us to eat at… well, you know which places. Then, courtesy of the family and the society at large, we become enmeshed in the prevailing cultural attitudes.

Once we start down the junk-food road, the very substances themselves go to work rewiring the brain and telling it to want more, more, more. Pretty soon we’re looking at, for instance, a plate of fries, and seeing a friend who’s going to make us feel better. This is, needless to say, a delusion.

Dr. Pretlow concurs up to a point, but thinks Kessler doesn’t go far enough. Here’s an excerpt from Overweight: What Kids Say, based on the self-reported experience of thousands of young people:

Dr. David Kessler argues that obesity is due to what he calls ‘conditioned hypereating.’ He likens this conditioned hypereating and its treatment to tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse — well acknowledged addictions — yet he never refers to hypereating as an addiction. Kessler also contends that conditioned hypereating results from simply consuming ‘hyperpalatable’ foods…

Addiction to highly pleasurable foods […] appears to result from the pleasure of food easing emotional pain (comfort eating). It would be farfetched to suppose that such dependence and apparent dopamine changes in the brain would develop in the absence of easing emotional pain, from simply casual exposure, as Kessler implies.

Many wise people have expressed the idea that, while answers may be fine in their own way, the really important commodity is the question. Once the right questions are asked, a desire for change becomes unstoppable. Once the questions are posed in the right place, at the right time, and most of all to the right people, success is almost guaranteed.

These thoughts arose from Dr. Kessler’s four-minute video, where he asks some very pointed questions, the most important ones being, how has food become so powerful? And how do we take back control? He urges us to wake up and recognize the extent to which we are manipulated by an industry that sells “what looks like food.”

In reality, he says, the food industry has hijacked our brains, and, to reclaim custody of our own gray matter, we need to fundamentally change how we look at food. In other words, the most important questions are the ones we ask ourselves.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The End of Overeating by David A Kessler,”, 05/13/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,”
Source: “Controlling Food Urges,”
Image of Heart Attack Cafe by Michelle Mitchell, used with permission.

0 Responses

  1. So, what’s confusing is this: If high-fat, salty, and sugar-y foods are addictive, we can all eventually quit them, like cigarettes. But if they’re adaptive, that is, we are hard-wired from our cave man days to eat them whenever possible, then we’re fighting biology–like telling people not to have sex. How do you stop biology?

    1. We stop being addicted by going back to basics. After learning from the book “The End of Overeating” I’ve changed my mind about what I eat. I stopped going out to restaurants. When I do go I tried to find the food that has the least fat, salt, and sugar combination I can find on the menu. Shortly after doing this my husband had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. He had to change his eating habits. He was already physically fit since he is a martial arts instructor for a living. He had a history of heart disease and didn’t know it. His heart muscle was strong because of the daily exercise so there was very little damage done to his heart. A month after his surgery he is back teaching martial arts and has more energy than he did before. We are both eating healthier and loving it! We no longer have that desire to eat junk food. We can eat very little food compared to what we used to eat and be very satisfied. We no longer have that insaitiable American appetite we used to have. I’ve lost 22 pounds since starting this new way of eating. I don’t feel like I’m on a diet. I am so happy to be free of the addiction to food. I don’t want to go back to the way I used to be. I think of that every time I eat something that has that combination of fat, salt, and sugar. I’ve simply changed my mind about what I eat now.

    2. Great point catfc. But isn’t this is like saying that combating smoking, alcoholism, and drug addiction is fighting our biology? Granted, it’s “biological” for humans to seek out food, as well as pleasurable stimuli. But what’s actually the biology here? Is it simply the biggest survival bang for the buck, i.e. highest number of calories? If that were the case then humans should be equally driven to consume dry baked potato, which has the same calories per gram as sugar. It may be that the comforting response to pleasurable stimuli is actually a biological coping mechanism. However, it would seem that progressively increasing stress in our population, in conjunction with the overabundant, highly pleasurable comfort food environment, has put that coping mechanism into overload. That’s the biology we need to deal with. It’s well established that even sex can become an addiction (unintended consequences of birth control?).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources