Neuroscience of junk-food cravings, researched in a Chili's dumpster

David A Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, is a doctor and lawyer, med school dean and former FDA commissioner. He's also someone whose weight has yo-yoed back and forth all his life, someone who is plagued with insatiable junk-food cravings. His new book — grounded in research that included dumpster-diving chain restaurants to read the ingredient labels on the foods whose makeup they wouldn't discuss, tries to answer the neurological question of why we crave shitty junk food:

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…

"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?"

Crave Man

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

(via Bioephemera)