walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The End of Overeating_, David Kessler

Published by Rodale. (<-- I could say a lot, but I decline.)

First, there are a couple David Kesslers out there writing books. This is the pediatrician/FDA Kessler, not the writes-about-dying Kessler.

Amazon has a sale on 600 mainstream published ebooks for .99, 1.99, 2.99. I think Amazon is trying to convince publishers that they can move enough additional product at lower price points to make up for the lower price points. A lot of the books involved have been out for a few years and some of them appear to have not moved as well as their publishers might have expected them to (e.g. this book is also available as a "bargain book").

This particular book is about food/health policy and thus exactly the kind of book I would ordinarily love to read. However, I declined to buy it for over two years, because I was pretty sure I wasn't going to enjoy it. And I was right. In the interests of identifying the rhetorical "bones" of the book, I skimmed.

Kessler spends the first portion of the book arguing that in the 1980s, adult Americans started gaining weight in a way that they had never done previously. A certain segment of adult Americans was gaining a disproportionate amount of that weight. The next chunk of the book is devoted to understanding how this segment of adult Americans differs from other adult Americans, and how it isn't just poor impulse control (that is, not just a willpower deficit). Having spent time understanding the psychology and biology of this group of people and deciding that it isn't actually possible to identify whether they are this way due to heredity or biology, he explores how in the 1980s and later, our environment became increasingly obesigenic. His focus is on pervasiveness of food and lack of structured eating patterns, portion size increases, etc.

About the point at which you might expect him to say, it's wrong for an industry to exploit a group of people who are innately unable to resist and we should change things again (either go back to a previous way of doing things, regulate industry, blah, blah, bleeping, blah), he instead embarks on a relatively standard CBT approach to establishing new habits as a way of controlling his invented disorder "conditioned hypereating". After motoring through the usual (just saying no isn't enough, you need to have an alternative action to trigger when you encounter a cue; avoid people and places you associate with your addiction, blah, blah, bleeping, blah), he concludes with thinly disguised advocacy for an Atkins style diet (lots of protein -- yet all examples given are animal products and usually flesh -- some vegetables, occasional fruit).

At the very end, he has a list of things we might do to deal with the obesigenic environment: menu labeling, food labeling, PSAs, etc.

That's the structure. Here's what's wrong with the structure.

He set up a very detailed, specific problem (some people in our society cannot resist the temptations that the food industry has sneaked into every corner of our world). He spent a lot of time on the science of this inability to resist. Yet somehow, a very, very typical strategy for self-control is presented as the solution. His "problem" and his "solution" do not match. (You can speculate about which one was wrong. This isn't a guy who is big on nuance, for one thing. That's partly why I started skimming. Any attention to detail just makes him impossible to read at all.)

He spent a handful of paragraphs on exercise, and described exercise as one of the few things which can be as rewarding as food and how it can change the way you see yourself and so forth. In the whole freaking book, he spends a handful of paragraphs on what he himself describes as the best predictor of whether you'll keep weight off once you lose it.

He has bought into the "choice" framework. His few regulatory solutions (menu labeling) suggest that somehow there might _be_ a good-enough choice if we just knew which one it is. I've spent years trying to figure out things to order that satisfy my personal dietary constraints (milk allergic, sodium sensitive, problems with some shellfish, and a few other odds and ends). There are a lot of places where there is genuinely nothing that I can eat at all, and many, many, many places where there is nothing I can order that won't cause me at least some problems. "Choice" frameworks, even with more information, are inadequate (_you_ try to find something low sodium -- let's define it as 1 mg of sodium or less per calorie -- on the McDonald's Menu. Other than the side salad. Good luck.).

There are a lot of other ways to go after this book, this author, and his very, very, very anti-regulatory approach to an extremely serious social problem. I decline.

Don't waste your time or your money.
Tags: book review, food, health, politics
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