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Welcome to the continuing diary series "Let's Read a WHEE Book Together!" This week, we're continuing with David Kessler's The End of Overeating, Chapter 35. If you're just discovering this diary series, you will find links to the previous installments at the bottom of this diary.

WHEE (Weight, Health, Eating and Exercise) is a community support diary for Kossacks who are currently or planning to start losing, gaining or maintaining their weight through diet and exercise or fitness. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are working on your weight or fitness, please -- join us! You can also click the WHEE tag to view all diary posts.

The End of Overeating, by David Kessler, M.D.
Chapter 35: The Culture of Overeating

In the first part of The End of Overeating, Kessler laid out the problem of increasing rates of overweight and obesity in the American populace. In the second part of the book, he looked at the food industry, and in the third part, turned his focus to the neurological roots of what he calls "conditioned overeating. In chapter 35, the last chapter of part 3 of the book, Kessler looks at culture.

For Kessler, the most important change in American culture is in the direction of greater availability of food. He points out that the number of restaurants and 24-hour food stores has greatly increased since the 1980s, at the same time that rates of overweight and obesity have skyrocketed. He notes:

We have drive-through fast food; cars outfitted with cup holders; and gas stations, pharmacies, and even health clubs that sell snacks and other food.

But the ready availability of food affects more than our ability to purchase it easily. It also means that we're able to eatit easily, whether it's in our cars or on the run, in social settings or at work. Social mores once kept us from eating on the street...

A Unilever scientist gives the European viewpoint on eating at work:

We go to a meeting in America and somebody will inevitably bring in a huge plate of bagels and cream cheese and muffins and all of these things. For Europeans it comes off as bizarre, but it just seems to be expected here.

For comparison, Kessler looks at the "French Paradox." As Kessler notes, this is the name given to the fact that although the French diet is higher in fat than ours, the French enjoy lower rates of overweight, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. What Kessler does not emphasize is that the French Paradox is also a challenge to the central thesis of his own book. After all, if the French eat a diet rich in fat and sugar, how is it that they don't seem to suffer from "conditioned overeating" in the way that we do? Instead of choosing larger and larger portions, the French manage to eat smaller portions at chain restaurants and local bistros alike. Recipes in French cookbooks result in smaller servings of meat and larger servings of vegetables than comparable recipes from the current Joy of Cooking.

Although the French have lower rates of obesity than Americans, they do have obesity researchers. One is France Bellisle, a researcher at the Hôtel-Dieu (the oldest hospital in Paris):

When she teaches, Bellisle often says to her students, "What, you have not brought anything to eat into the classroom? If we were in America, you would have brought your coffee, your doughnuts, your chocolate bar with you to eat."

Not in France. "Nobody has given even a fraction of a second to the thought that they could have brought food into the classroom," she said. "They've never done it before, and they are not tempted to do it. There is nothing in the environment that stimulates such inappropriate eating at an inappropriate time."

Or at least, that's the way things have been. Bellisle and another researcher, Jean-Pierre Poulain, have both noticed that the French are becoming more like Americans - they're snacking more often, and more casually, while still eating regular meals. Poulain uses the memorable term "vagabond feeding" to refer to this turn away from traditional meals shared with family and friends and toward snacking and eating alone.

Kessler asserts that

...as the French gain cultural flexibility in when and where they can eat, eating for reward begins to overtake eating for hunger.

This assertion - that France, the home of haute cuisine, is only now discovering eating for reward - seems bizarre to me.

Kessler further asserts:

A segment of the [American] population seems especially vulnerable to the stimuli that lead to conditioned overeating, but in the end this is behavior that anyone can develop.

This to me begs the question, if conditioned overeating is a behavior that anyone can develop, what about the traditional French attitude toward meal times and portion sizes? Is that also a behavior that anyone can develop? And if not, why not? It certainly seems that it would be a more pleasant lifestyle than experiencing oneself as the helpless victim of the food industry.

Kessler wraps up Chapter 35, and part 3 of the book, by noting

Ultimately it begins to seem more surprising that some people manage to eat normally than that many do not.

Previous chapters from The End of Overeating:

Part 3: Conditioned Hypereating Emerges
Chapter 34: Warning Signs in Children (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 33: Nature or Nurture? (reviewed by me)
Chapter 32: Tracing the Roots of Conditioned Hypereating (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 31: Conditioned Hypereating Emerges (reviewed by me)
Chapter 29 (part 2 - emotional eating) (reviewed by me)
Chapter 30: How We Become Trapped (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 29 (part 1): Why We Don't Just Say No (reviewed by me)
Chapter 28: What Weight-Loss Drugs Can Teach Us (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 27: Overeating Becomes More Dangerous (reviewed by me)

Part 2: The Food Industry
Chapter 26: Purple Cows (reviewed by Clio2)
Chapter 25: The Science of Selling (reviewed by me)
(there are links to Chapters 14 through 24 in my Chapter 25 review)

Part 1: Sugar, Fat, and Salt
Chapter 13: Eating Behavior Becomes a Habit (reviewed by me)
(there are links to Chapters 1 through 12 in my Chapter 13 review)

Scheduled WHEE diaries:
December 27
   Sunday AM - ???
   Sunday PM - louisev

December 28
   Monday AM - NC Dem
   Monday PM - Wee Mama

December 29
   Tues AM - ???
   Tues PM - Clio2 (Kessler, Ch. 36)

December 30
   Weds AM - ???
   Weds PM - Edward Spurlock (Geek My Fitness)

December 31
   Thurs AM - ???
   Thurs PM - ???

January 1
   Fri AM - kismet
   Fri PM - ???

January 2
   Sat AM - ???
   Sat PM - Edward Spurlock (Kessler, Ch. 37)

Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 08:36 PM PST.

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