It comes down to being savvy with scanning the label and ingredient list. Bypass the claims and labels on the front of a product,, many of them are meaningless and are there to lure you into buying it.
Seek a product with real food ingredients and avoid soups that have chemicals as the preservatives.
Avoid soups that host common allergens and fillers like corn, maltodextrin, sugar, gluten, and soy.
Boxed soups are sometimes better than the canned versions. Canned soups can come with toxins due to the packaging. Another option includes frozen soups.
Choose broth and vegetable-based soups
Always have soup on hand. It’s a great resource when you are pinched for time or options when pulling a meal together.
Don’t assume that organic soup is better than it’s the conventional counterpart. Review the ingredient list, opt for one higher in fiber and protein and lower in total carbohydrates.
Soup Formula: use this template when making a homemade soup
1 carton bone broth, 3 vegetables, different colors (ex: cabbage, carrots, and broccoli), meat (ground meat, chicken breast, canned seafood) + spices, garlic, onion. Cook this on high for 4-6 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours (this is an option for when you turn it on in the AM and go to work).
Lemon juice, thyme, s/p, bay leaf, cayenne
Or – lime juice, fish sauce, cayenne, form of soy sauce (tamari) and ginger.
Add in non-flavored collagen to hover around the goal of 25 grams of protein, supporting blood sugar control and weight loss.
Add in your own bone broth. I will often do this, splitting a carton of soup, like lentil or split pea soup, mixing in 1 part bone broth to one part lentil soup.
Slice and dice additional vegetables to add in, adding texture, fiber, and nutrients.
Buy some fresh herbs to toss in once heated to enhance the flavor and comfort of the meal.
Pair the soup with grain-free crackers to add crunch to your meal, a flax muffin or a small salad.
Health is precious, which also includes feeling good, day in and day out, so protect it.
Drink water – divide your weight by 2, and drink this calculated number in ounces.
Don’t sacrifice sleep. Aim for 8+ hours a night. We need more sleep in the winter. Can you tell?
Journal daily. Jot down your feelings and a list of gratitude.
Track habits, not your calories.
Remember food is fuel by honoring physical hunger. Emotional hunger feels real but is for a very specific thing/craving and comes on strong. Real hunger is a quieter sensation and much more manageable. Do you let yourself feel real hunger?
If you want to dig deeper, let’s touch on the hard stuff…
Goals around this time of year are to either lose weight or maintain weight. You must step back and realistically evaluate what makes sense for you. Once you make that decision, commit to a plan (and below will help you with that).
Empowerment and affirmations – can you count on yourself? Even if you feel like you cannot, fake it until you make. Choose an affirmation to repeat to yourself daily, to turn this thinking around. “Of anyone in the world, I can count on myself.”
Your best tool to ground yourself, to improve your health, mindset, even sleep, is a blank notebook/journal. If you struggle with this, invest in the “5 Minute Journal.” There is even a version of this for kids. You can make this a family affair.
Collect any data you need to get to know yourself better and collect facts that will help keep you motivated – I highly recommend taking the Gretchen Rubin quiz to uncover your tendencies in adopting new habits, do a finger prick food sensitivity test (I offer a test from KBMO Diagnostics), journal your food to see if you have episodes of mindless eating, weigh/measure your body, use tape measurements weekly (if you have a hard time separating the number on the scale to your worth). You are worthy.
Understand your mind and your demons. How do you talk to yourself? Do you have any internal beliefs that you are not enough, unfit, incapable, etc. Understand where these thoughts have come from (perhaps childhood). Next, separate these voices and beliefs from yourself, yet embrace them at the same time. These voices are part of us and will be around forever. View these voices as a much younger, child-like version of yourself, that needs parented and advised to view the situation in a more mature way. These voices/beliefs can be viewed as benign, but just like holding a piece of paper, it’s not heavy. Yet, if we hold a piece of paper for days and years, it weighs a lot. Don’t sweep these voices under the rug, and learn to not dull the feelings from them with food.
Find a way to self-soothe that isn’t food. Around the holidays we are exposed to a lot of good and stressful emotions. When we learn to feel our feelings and create an outlet for them, we practice self-care.
Learn and then use the Thought Model (below) – to gain confidence in reaching any goal you have, health-related or not.
Thought Model – 5 Steps – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The Circumstance – facts of what happened (not boss yelled at me. Boss told me I was doing a bad job). This is neutral facts.
Thoughts. Step back and think about what you’re thinking. Do a thought download or on paper or phone/computer. Understand the buzz in your head. Let it out. Do this for 5 minutes straight; you will surprise yourself what all you try to cover up. Do it on whatever topic you want. About your job, about your weight, about your child, whatever is consuming you.
Emotions – a situation creates thoughts, thoughts fuel emotions.
Actions – emotions lead to actions. Our thoughts create our results.
Results – if we thought differently about something, we’d feel differently, we’d make ideal actions and get the results we want. Let me paint your. Few examples below.
Circumstance (facts) – I have a body, a business and I am alive
Thought – I’m plugging through, good enough
Feeling – Unmotivated, resignation
Action – I’ll continue doing the same thing
Result – No growth in my life or health, and business is stagnant
Circumstance – I have a body, a business and I am alive
IMPROVED Thought – Just a little more (compassion, effort, awareness, pushing myself past my comfort zone).
Feeling – Empowered, purpose, motivated
Action – Step up workouts, craft a plan, look at ways to improve/grow business, more attention to nutrition
Result – Moving everything to the next level, I am stronger physically and mentally, I am more confident
There is never a time when you are not responsible for how you feel. It is not what happens to you, it is what you believe about what happens to you that causes your feelings.
Circumstance (fact) – The picture of my body in the mirror
Action – Squeeze into clothes that are too tight because I refuse to buy a bigger size, mentally beat myself up, go and eat a bunch of processed foods.
Result – Continue to gain weight, feel uncomfortable in my clothes, emotional pain/suffering
Circumstance –The picture of my body in the mirror
IMPROVED Thought – This is my body
Feeling – Awareness, neutral feeling, curious
Action – Find clothes that fit and flatter my current body, keep working towards my goals
Result – Clothes I feel good in, less emotional pain, wanting from a place that feels good
The best way I often find to change my thoughts is asking myself good questions. Ex: What if losing weight was easy? What would I do? What if being diabetic was easier or more fun? How would it be? Our brain will seek solutions and we will gain empowerment.
Recipe: Real Food Fried Apples
These are delicious and do not require any additional sugar as the natural sweetness from the apples is enough. This is a great alternative to more decadent desserts, such as apple pie, but far more forgiving on health. Lower in sugar, lower impact in spiking blood glucose levels, more favorable on gut health, energy levels and wellness goals.
With many of my clients, I use food sensitivity testing to uncover food sensitivities and to help put a plan together of what foods work best for each individual. And I am being honest, out of the last 10 tests I have done, every test has come back, showing my clients have an overgrowth of candida.
Yet, what is Candida?
Candida is yeast commonly present in the gastrointestinal tract with no ill effects, but when it becomes invasive it can cause a host of issues. And, of course, yeast infections can occur in various parts of the body.
Anxiety, depression and mood swings
Nail or skin fungus, athlete’s foot, or vaginal yeast infection
Chronic sinus or ear infections
Sore muscles and joints
Feeling chronically fatigued
Poor memory and brain fog
Constipation or diarrhea
Frequent bloating and gas
Feeling worse on damp or humid days
Low blood sugar
Ringing in the ears
Sensitivities to strong chemical smells
Cravings for bread, cookies, sugar, other carbohydrates, or alcohol
How to starve candida?
Candida feeds on glycogen in membranes and sugar in foods and your bloodstream. The only way to starve candida is to avoid sugars. An anti-candida diet should be an extremely low carbohydrate diet. Once the candida has been sufficiently killed off and carbohydrates will be reintroduced to feed the beneficial bacteria (gut flora).
Added Sugars – Like honey, agave, sugar, coconut sugar, etc.
Nuts – Especially avoid high mold nuts like peanuts and cashews. Safer/better nuts include: almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
Dairy Products – (unless Ghee or is fermented and dairy is tolerated)
Once a healthy balance of gut flora has been established we need to feed the healthy microbes by reintroducing carbs. Continue to avoid or restrict refined sugars, sweets, and sugary drinks, white bread, white rice, white pasta, yams, big starchy potato and sweet potato. Reintroduce healthy cereals and grains including millet, buckwheat, rye, oats and barley, if tolerated. Legumes are better tolerated and easier to digest if they are sprouted.
How many people do you think made a weight loss wish when the ball dropped this year? Chances are, quite a few.
With two-thirds of Americans overweight, there are an estimated 45 million people on a diet right now, chalking up $33 billion per year on weight loss products.
Yet, times are changing, and so are the approaches to improving our health. The dogma of calories in, equal calories out has been exploited. There is far more involved with wellness and weight loss than the obsession with eating perfect portions of perfectly healthy food.
Make this year different by relaxing the efforts on dieting, and create a balance between the mind, body, and spirit, emphasizing how you feel, how, what and when you eat, and what you believe makes you healthy. I’ve included a few items to focus on below:
The goal is to drink half your weight in ounces, and more if you are exercising or traveling. Start the day with an inner bath and drink 20 ounces first thing. In the winter, I fulfill this need by carrying a water bottle with me wherever I go, or more often you will see me with my Continga containing hot water with lemon.
2. Don’t Major in Minor Things
Sometimes eating “perfectly” can do us more harm than good. Relax and don’t give up 95% of your life to drop 5% of your weight (or fill in the blank of what you are trying to achieve). The healthiest version of yourself isn’t how good you look in a swimsuit. The healthiest version of yourself is when hormones are balanced, your body and mind are strong and you have the energy to do what you love. When you push your body to extremes, including talking to yourself in a negative way, you’re giving up more than calories. You miss out on life.
3. Avoid Vegetable Oils and Man-Made Oils (Canola. Corn, Sunflower, Soybean oil, Safflower and Cottonseed oil)
These oils have large amounts of biologically active fats called Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are harmful to our health. The more Omega-6s you eat, the more systemic inflammation you will have. Opt for better fats such as coconut oil, avocado oil. palm oil, grass-fed butter or ghee for cooking, and olive oil, macadamia nut oil, sesame oil, walnut oil for cold uses. Make sure to have some sort of fat on your plate at each meal, and the right kind of fat.
4. Know Hunger is the Best Sauce
Master hunger and feel comfortable being hungry 30 to 60 minutes before a meal. Eat when you’re hungry – but only when you’re hungry. Forget the clock and listen to your body instead.
Perhaps my favorite tip: moderation (and I am not talking food). While working hard in your career, parenthood, friendships, life, find a balance in enjoying things like make you happy. Being healthy is a balancing act, and not about deprivation nor perfection.
6. Stress Less – Sleep More
Sleep is the backbone of good health. Guard your bedtime as sleep deprivation decreases the release of growth hormones and increases cortisol levels. Both of these play an important role in blood sugar control.
Put a homemade meal in front of most people, and suggest they will not have an extra bite, let alone an extra serving – I think we can agree, that would be wishful thinking.
It is clear we live in an obesogenic world – food is readily available, cheap and tasty and there are plenty of commercials, ads, billboards and advertisements telling us we need their meal/snack.
However, we need to be able to moderate our portions and be attentive to what we are choosing to eat. Observed practices which have helped clients and myself include:
Eat on smaller plates and eat most foods at home, composed of real food (i.e. meals don’t come out of a box). “For the average consumer, eating one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds a year,” said Lisa Mancino, a food economist for the USDA. How many more calories a diner consumes out depends on the meal. Eating lunch out has the largest effect, adding 158 calories to daily caloric intake, compared to lunch prepared at home. Dinner out increases intake by 144 calories, and breakfast out adds 74 calories, according to the USDA.
Eat a variety of foods. Our bodies require more than 40 nutrients and if we are deficient in one, guess what happens? We get hungry and we get cravings. Diversify your meals day to day and season from season. Most importantly, eat real, clean food. Need assistance understanding what that is, let me know.
Attend to your gut. Yes that’s right. A healthy intestines, housing good gut bacteria, allows for an optimal and controlled appetite. With most clients I recommend a quality probiotic. When our digestion is off and you large intestines doesn’t have support from good bacteria, we can become at risk for infections and inflammation. With both, we get an increased appetite. A healthy gut also entails a good diet avoiding gluten, corny syrup, soy and in some cases dairy.
Eat slowly, focus on the flavors, savor the food, chew your food, chew your food. Also be sure to chew your food (hopefully you got that). The digestion process begins in the mouth and helps you to be in-tune with your hunger/satiety. Data from a study out of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who took smaller bites and chewed for an average of 9 seconds vs 3 seconds before swallowing ate significantly less food.
Do not stock your kitchen with nutrient-deficient “domino foods.” This can be a two part recommendation too; domino foods can be something that is good for us like dark chocolate, nuts, dried fruit. For example, I have a hard time moderating my portions of nut butters. Therefore, I make nut butter fresh with raw nuts, when I want it. Yes, nuts are nutrient dense, but I easily eat too much of it (too much of a good thing is bad) and therefore I control portions by making small amounts when I want and involve labor in fulfilling my desire thus reducing the likeliness of going for seconds. As for avoiding nutrient-deficient foods in your kitchen, no need to have goldfish, chips, candy, sub-par chocolate, etc in your house. Let those foods be eaten on an occasion and when socializing with friends. These are the type of things you will want late in the evening. Out of site, out of mind, out of kitchen, out of luck.
Write what you bite. A food log/journal is such a cheap and useful tool. It keeps us accountable and aware of what we are eating on a daily basis. Starting each day, or do this the night before, jot down what your 3 meals and snacks will look like. I find writing my snacks down is very helpful, especially for the latter part of the day.
Drink tea. Tea is great for us (especially herbal caffeine free versions and the process of heating water and seeping a tea bag, can be therapeutic. let along enjoying the flavors.
Learn how to cope with stress. Since stress can be the biggest trigger for cravings and learning to cope with what you have at hand rather than turning to food, is the best thing for your health overall.
Fulfill your craving with quality food. I often tell clients to make some treats out of clean food options. Examples of this is a frozen banana, Lindt dark chocolate, coconut cocoa treats and more.
Eat square meals with plenty of fat (yes, we need more fat than most people think), protein and moderate carbohydrates. The golden rule I provide to clients is starting their day off with protein (20-30 grams) to prevent cravings and snacking later in the day and then follow-up lunch and dinner with a third of calories coming from healthy fat, a third from protein and a third from carbs. The other 10 percent = wiggle room.
Get up and move. Activity can curb cravings and appetite up to two hours. Sometimes boredom and fatigue can be the reason we are hungry and some movement is the solution. This does not mean to skip your meals, but make activity a priority.
Lastly, make your health a priority. Get up earlier to make a healthy breakfast, make homemade meals in bulk, be efficient with grocery shopping, errands, doctor/dietitian appointments, weave movement naturally into your day, etc. You know what you need to do and just do it. You deserve good health.
Chaotic morning, no appetite around noon. Drank water, ran errands, session in the gym (rowing and lifting).
1/2 kangaroo burger
Company Christmas Party: 6:30PM
1 1/2 glasses of Pinot Noir (not sure what kind, but it was awesome)
Sauv Blanc, New Zealand, Marlborough (If you ever crave a ncie crisp white wine, always look for one from New Zealand. You will never go wrong.)
Appetizer – 1 scallop with pork belly
1 cheese poof (not sure what it was made of but was ensured it was gluten free)
Dessert – brie & cheddar cheese, grapes, raisins on the vine and more cheese poof bread balls
You may be wondering, “Hey Kelly, what is up with the dairy when you have trialed this experiment with bad results?” And I am thinking yes, I did cave and I need to take one day at a time on making it goal to eat clean and to consume foods that are best for my metabolism, diabetes, and grain intolerances. Let’s see how I do moving forward, yeah?
Quite hungry this morning
Blood sugar = 83 mg/dl
3 egg version of Sweet and Savory Eggs
11:25AM blazing hot (90 degrees F), walking home from my appointment for my jaw, craving (and not proud of it) a Diet Coke.
Noon: Not hungry yet
Blood glucose 134 mg/dl.
Dissolved some Glutamine in water; assists with healing (jaw)
Leftover steak, about 3 ounces
Leftover sauteed cabbage
Exercise: 1.5 mile walk
Blood glucose 124 mg/dl
Jello, fortified with Glutamine
10 fresh blueberries
3/4 glass of NZ Pinot Noir
Salad with tomato, avocado and sweet potato
1 natural oyster
Blood glucose 116 mg/dl
Surprisingly not satisfied with dinner. Being spoiled with amazing food in Melbourne, I like to think I have mature taste-buds or you can just say, “I have acquired a bit of food snob in me.” Yet, the flavors in my meal just did not seem to work.
1 mini square of 85% dark chocolate
For some women, weight control is more important than sex, according to a new poll of 1,001 people.
About half of women say they would rather go without sex for the summer than gain 10 pounds. A fourth of men feel the same way.
More people say they would rather shed 10 to 20 pounds during the summer than get promoted at work.
Of course, weight loss would make them feel sexier. About 66% of people say they need to lose weight to feel sexier than they currently do. It would take a loss of an average 23 pounds to feel hotter.
“What this shows is that people are highly motivated to not gain weight,” says Bruce Daggy, vice president of research and development for Nutrisystem. “They recognize what it will do to their feeling of well-being and fitness.”
Another poll conducted a few years ago for Fitness magazine found more than half of Americans say they’d rather lose their jobs than get fat.
Other findings from the Nutrisystem poll, conducted by Kelton Research for the diet company:
•Three-quarters of both men and women would have been willing to give up something — such as watching TV, shopping, using a cellphone or computer for the summer — for a flat tummy.
•Almost half say they don’t diet because they don’t want to give up their favorite foods.
•About a third don’t want the inconvenience of dieting, and a quarter don’t want to deal with the stress.
•Half of dieters have tried to lose weight within the past two years.
•A third have tried over the past year.
•About half say that you have to start planning in the winter (January through March) to get your body in shape for summer.
•Participants in the survey attemped to diet an average of 13 times in their lifetime — women, 16 times; men, 8.
You’re dieting, and you know you should stay away from high-calorie snacks. Yet, your eyes keep straying toward that box of chocolates, and you wish there was a pill to restrain your impulse to inhale them.
Such a pill might one day be a real possibility, according to findings presented Tuesday at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in San Diego. It would block the activity of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” that stimulates the appetite centers of the brain.
The study, reported by Dr. Tony Goldstone, a consultant endocrinologist at the British Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Center at Imperial College London, showed that ghrelin does raise the desire for high-calorie foods in humans.
“It’s been known from animal and human work that ghrelin makes people hungrier,” Goldstone said. “There has been a suspicion from animal work that it can also stimulate the rewards pathways of the brain and may be involved in the response to more rewarding foods, but we didn’t have evidence of that in people.”
The study that provided such evidence had 18 healthy adults look at pictures of different foods on three mornings, once after skipping breakfast and twice about 90 minutes after having breakfast. On one of the breakfast-eating mornings, all the participants got injections — some of salt water, some of ghrelin. Then they looked at pictures of high-calorie foods such as chocolate, cake and pizza, and low-calorie foods such as salads and vegetables.
The participants used a keyboard to rate the appeal of those pictures. Low-calorie foods were rated about the same, no matter what was in the injections. But the high-calorie foods, especially sweets, rated higher in those who got ghrelin.
“It seems to alter the desire for high-calorie foods more than low-calorie foods,” Goldstone said of ghrelin.
That effect was especially pronounced when the participants fasted overnight before the study was done. “We know that when you fast, you tend to crave high-calorie foods more,” Goldstone said. “We mimicked that effect.”
So a pill that blocked ghrelin’s activity could be useful for dieters, and several drug companies already are working to develop one, he said. It wouldn’t be something you could pop when a tempting dish appeared, because the blocking effect would take some time to happen, but it could be part of an overall weight-loss regimen, Goldstone said.
“If developed, it might have the particular effect of blocking the desire for high-calorie foods,” he said.
The study results come as no surprise, said Alain Dagher, an associate professor of neurology at McGill University in Montreal, who has been studying ghrelin.
In his research, MRI scans of animals found that “ghrelin increases the brain response to food,” Dagher said. “So, it’s not surprising that a single injection in humans supports a shift to high-calorie foods in general.”
Dagher is continuing his studies. “We’ve been trying to get more specific about exactly how ghrelin acts on the brain, which brain regions it affects and how those effects translate to eating,” he said.
Ghrelin might not play a role in causing obesity, but it might act to keep people obese by reducing their ability to lose weight, Dagher said.
SOURCES: Tony Goldstone, M.D., Ph.D, consultant endocrinologist, Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Center, Imperial College London; Alain Dagher, Ph.D, associate professor, neurology, McGill University, Montreal; June 22, 2010, presentation, Endocrine Society annual meeting, San Diego
David Kessler Knew That Some Foods Are Hard to Resist; Now He Knows Why
The former head of the FDA says certain foods alter brain chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat.
He went in the middle of the night, long after the last employee had locked up the Chili’s Grill and Bar. He’d steer his car around the back, check to make sure no one was around and then quietly approach the dumpster.
If anyone noticed the man foraging through the trash, they would have assumed he was a vagrant. Except he was wearing black dress slacks and padded gardening gloves. “I’m surprised he didn’t wear a tie,” his wife said dryly.
The high-octane career path of David A. Kessler, the Harvard-trained doctor, lawyer, medical school dean and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration had come to this: nocturnal dumpster diving. Sometimes, he would just reach in. Other times, he would climb in.
It took many of these forays until Kessler emerged with his prize: ingredient labels affixed to empty cardboard boxes that spelled out the fats, salt and sugar used to make the Southwestern Eggrolls, Boneless Shanghai Wings and other dishes served by the nation’s second-largest restaurant chain.
Kessler was on a mission to understand a problem that has vexed him since childhood: why he can’t resist certain foods.
His resulting theory, described in his new book, “The End of Overeating,” is startling. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar alter the brain’s chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat. “Much of the scientific research around overeating has been physiology — what’s going on in our body,” he said. “The real question is what’s going on in our brain.”
The ingredient labels gave Kessler information the restaurant chain declined to provide when he asked for it. At the FDA, Kessler pushed through nutritional labels on foods sold through retail outlets but stopped short of requiring the same for restaurants. Yet if suppliers ship across state lines, as suppliers for Chili’s do, the ingredients must be printed on the box. That is what led Kessler, one of the nation’s leading public health figures, to hang around dumpsters across California.
The labels showed the foods were bathed in salt, fat and sugars, beyond what a diner might expect by reading the menu, Kessler said. The ingredient list for Southwestern Eggrolls mentioned salt eight different times; sugars showed up five times. The “egg rolls,” which are deep-fried in fat, contain chicken that has been chopped up like meatloaf to give it a “melt in the mouth” quality that also makes it faster to eat. By the time a diner has finished this appetizer, she has consumed 910 calories, 57 grams of fat and 1,960 milligrams of sodium.
Instead of satisfying hunger, the salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate that diner’s brain to crave more, Kessler said. For many, the come-on offered by Lay’s Potato Chips — “Betcha can’t eat just one” — is scientifically accurate. And the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want, Kessler found.
His theory, born out in a growing body of scientific research, has implications not just for the increasing number of Americans struggling with obesity but for health providers and policymakers. “The challenge is how do we explain to America what’s going on — how do we break through and help people understand how their brains have been captured?” he said.
Kessler is best remembered for his investigation of the tobacco industry and attempts to place it under federal regulation while he was FDA commissioner from 1990 to 1997. Although he was appointed by George H.W. Bush, Kessler became popular among Democrats for his tough regulatory stance. He got the nickname “Eliot Knessler” after he authorized the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota to seize a large quantity of Citrus Hill Fresh Choice orange juice in 1991 because it was labeled “fresh” when it was, in fact, partially processed. After he was elected in 1992, President Bill Clinton asked Kessler to continue to run the FDA.
Kessler’s aggressive approach toward the tobacco industry led to billion-dollar settlements between Big Tobacco and 46 states and laid the groundwork for legislation now pending in Congress that would place tobacco under FDA regulation.
Kessler, 57, sees parallels between the tobacco and food industries. Both are manipulating consumer behavior to sell products that can harm health, he said.
Whether government ought to exercise tougher controls over the food industry is going to be the next great debate, especially since much of the advertising is aimed at children, Kessler said.
“The food the industry is selling is much more powerful than we realized,” he said. “I used to think I ate to feel full. Now I know, we have the science that shows, we’re eating to stimulate ourselves. And so the question is what are we going to do about it?”
The idea for the book came seven years ago as Kessler was channel-surfing and came across an overweight woman named Sarah on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” While Sarah was successful in nearly every aspect of her life, she tearfully told Winfrey, she could not control her eating.
Kessler was mesmerized by Sarah — she was describing his own private struggle. “I needed to not only figure out Sarah — I needed to figure out myself,” he said. “Little did I know it would lead me into real fundamental issues of what makes us human and how our brains are wired.”
At 5-foot-11, Kessler’s weight has swung from 160 pounds to 230 pounds and back, many times over. He owns pants in sizes ranging from 34 to 42.
“I was a fat kid,” he said. “I grew up in the world of Entenmann’s cakes. I was pretty much of a science nerd. If you looked in my refrigerator in college, it was Entenmann’s.”
Every few years, Kessler would go on a diet and apply the kind of discipline that enabled him to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago while attending Harvard Medical School. “I’d lose weight and over time gain it back,” said Kessler, who also completed a medical residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore at the same time he worked as a staffer to Sen. Orrin Hatch. “I couldn’t control it.”
The man who took on Big Tobacco was helpless when confronted with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. He couldn’t focus on anything else until he had eaten them all.
“My weight was yo-yoing all the time,” said Kessler, who estimates that 70 million Americans struggle with conditioned hyper-eating. “And I never understood why.”
He embarked on a mission to figure it out while serving as dean of the medical school at Yale University and later the University of California at San Francisco. UCSF fired Kessler from his position as dean in December after he alleged financial malfeasance at the institution. The university maintains there were no financial misdeeds; Kessler says he was forced out because he blew the whistle. He remains on the faculty at the medical school and lives in San Francisco with his wife, Paulette, a lawyer. They have two grown children, both of whom live in Washington.
Paulette says that she was not taken aback when her husband of 34 years would disappear in the middle of the night on his dumpster tour. “Nothing surprises me anymore,” she said. “When he wants to find something out, there’s really no stopping him.”
Through interviews with scientists, psychologists and food industry insiders, and his own scientific studies and hours spent surreptitiously watching other diners at food courts and restaurants around the country, Kessler said, he finally began to understand why he couldn’t control his eating.
“Highly palatable” foods — those containing fat, sugar and salt — stimulate the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure center, he found. In time, the brain gets wired so that dopamine pathways light up at the mere suggestion of the food, such as driving past a fast-food restaurant, and the urge to eat the food grows insistent. Once the food is eaten, the brain releases opioids, which bring emotional relief. Together, dopamine and opioids create a pathway that can activate every time a person is reminded about the particular food. This happens regardless of whether the person is hungry.
Not everyone is vulnerable to “conditioned overeating” — Kessler estimates that about 15 percent of the population is not affected and says more research is needed to understand what makes them immune.
But for those like Kessler, the key to stopping the cycle is to rewire the brain’s response to food — not easy in a culture where unhealthy food and snacks are cheap and plentiful, portions are huge and consumers are bombarded by advertising that links these foods to fun and good times, he said.
Deprivation only heightens the way the brain values the food, which is why dieting doesn’t work, he said.
What’s needed is a perceptual shift, Kessler said. “We did this with cigarettes,” he said. “It used to be sexy and glamorous but now people look at it and say, ‘That’s not my friend, that’s not something I want.’ We need to make a cognitive shift as a country and change the way we look at food. Instead of viewing that huge plate of nachos and fries as a guilty pleasure, we have to . . . look at it and say, ‘That’s not going to make me feel good. In fact, that’s disgusting.'”
Kessler said he’s made that shift in his own life, eating small portions of foods that contain fat, salt and sugar, part of a “food rehab” plan he suggests in the book. He has certain rules — no french fries, ever — that help him navigate through vulnerable moments.
He has embraced spinning — the first time he has regularly exercised. “I hated physical activity, all of my life, mostly because I was fat and it was hard to do,” he said. “But I just wanted to do something. I picked spinning because you can’t fall off the bike.” He worked with a private trainer for weeks just to be ready to take a class. “I was embarrassed to go into the class,” he said.
Now Kessler tries to spin every day and belongs to multiple health clubs so that he has more options for class times.
He avoids the cues that focus his brain on “highly palatable” foods, going so far as to chart a different route through San Francisco International Airport so that he doesn’t walk past the fried dumpling stand.
Kessler’s weight is relatively stable at 162 pounds. But there’s something else that’s changed. As he has come to better understand himself, the food cravings and the resulting anguish he felt have subsided.
“So I’m at peace,” he said. “After 30 years, I’m at peace.”