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Fat, Salt and Sugar Alter Brain Chemistry
April 27, 2009 5:26 PM   Subscribe

David Kessler Knew That Some Foods Are Hard to Resist; Now He Knows Why. Former FDA commissioner David Kessler goes dumpster-diving to investigate the neurological impact of eating junk food. [Via]
posted by homunculus (40 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
God that made me hungry.

To be serious, the "food rehab" method he describes on page 3 really works. Eating smaller portions of absolute garbage is great. I call it "The Jimmy Dean Diet."
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:35 PM on April 27, 2009


I used to work at a Chili's almost ten years ago. There was a huge book in the office of the nutrition information of every single dish that was readily available to employees. Looking through that book at the fat and caloric content would make anyone stop eating there. Most people can't even begin to comprehend how bad it all really is.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:38 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


This man sounds amazing, and I thank him for his efforts. The "no fries, ever" advice is sound.
posted by furtive at 5:43 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The neurological impact of junk food is that it stimulates dopamine release? Then opioids to bring "emotional relief?" It pisses me off when journalists tout their mundane articles as neuroscience, don't really address neuroscientific issues, and then include a throwaway line about dopamine. That's about as informative as saying "eating junk food leads to synaptic transmission."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:44 PM on April 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


This article totally lost me when it described anything at Chili's as irresistible.
posted by !Jim at 5:45 PM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


"It's what's in the food that can't make me stop eating it."

"..how do we break through and help people understand how their brains have been captured?"

What bullshit.

Take control of your life and be aware of what you are putting into your body. How fucikng simple can that be?
posted by Zambrano at 5:47 PM on April 27, 2009


This is news? Fries are kind of pasty with a pablum texture. I would steal fries from your baby, I would steal fries from my baby, I have stolen fries from my baby. I can quite any time. I have quite many times. Can you please pass the ketchup?
posted by caddis at 5:52 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


quite? sheesh......
posted by caddis at 5:53 PM on April 27, 2009


See, this is why I only eat homemade brownies, homemade fried chicken, homemade pot pie, homemade creme brulee, etc. Way healthier for you!
posted by billysumday at 5:56 PM on April 27, 2009


This article doesn't seem like it really adds anything that isn't obvious. People enjoy eating food, so they eat more. This is basic operant conditioning. I suppose comments like Zambrano's show that many people don't think of things this way, but people who actually are looking to solve problems instead of make fun of fatty already know what this article says. I'm not sure that merely knowing that you have been conditioned makes it easier to remove the power of that conditioning.

Take control of your life and be aware of what you are putting into your body. How fucikng simple can that be?

Simple in concept, but difficult in practice.
posted by !Jim at 5:57 PM on April 27, 2009


Take control of your life and be aware of what you are putting into your body. How fucking simple can that be?

Almost as simple as the idea of exercising understanding and getting at root causes of behavior rather than exercising judgementalism.

posted by BrotherCaine at 5:57 PM on April 27, 2009 [13 favorites]


Or perhaps a better statement might be pretty simple for 70% of the population. Self-evidently not so simple for the 30% and growing obese portion of our populace.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:00 PM on April 27, 2009


Zambrano Take control of your life and be aware of what you are putting into your body. How fucikng simple can that be?

However simple it may be to state it, it's a whole lot harder to do, especially since an industry of scientists are devoting a great deal of time and effort to making it even harder. Do you do anything that you know you shouldn't? Smoke, get up late, not get enough exercise, procrastinate, watch too much TV? Why don't you take control of your life? It's the same thing.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2009


The problem with the opioid/dopamine business is that those neurotransmitters are shorhand for the brain system which is basically designed to make fatty, salty, sweet food and sex pleasurable. It's the entire purpose of that system.

That system-- which we link with addictions because that is how we first discovered it-- is not there to make people into drug addicts. It's there to get us to eat, have sex and take care of our kids. It doesn't care if we get fat or have too much sex. The off switch is not as important as the "on."

People like to mystify it with the dopamine/opioid thing as if to say "see, this activates the same system as heroin or cocaine, therefore, it's addictive." The problem is that anything pleasurable activates that system-- OTHERWISE IT WOULDN'T BE PLEASANT.

So, saying that something is addictive because it activates this system is like saying something is pleasant because it's enjoyable. it's a tautology.

More interesting is the idea of the mismatch between the availability of these foods in the environment in which we evolved and the current environment and the way corporations use this stuff to manipulate people. but that's somehow less sexy than saying we're all mindless junkies-- and it misses the point entirely that most people who try cocaine, heroin and potato chips *don't* become addicted or out of control.

The interesting question is why those who do, do.
posted by Maias at 6:08 PM on April 27, 2009 [24 favorites]


!Jim I'm not sure that merely knowing that you have been conditioned makes it easier to remove the power of that conditioning.

I'd be interested in reading about any psychological studies on that topic, but anecdotally, it seems that it does: realizing that the guru is a fraud tends to greatly shake people's faith in a cult, for example. Although where the line is between this, and "acquiring new information, that old information can be re-examined in the light of the new" is uncertain.

It's the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy, too. Examine the maladaptive behavior, understand the causes of it, recognize the thoughts that lead up to it, and address it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:13 PM on April 27, 2009


I had to search for it, but I must be the last person in the world to know what, in exercise terms, "spinning" is.
posted by Tacodog at 6:17 PM on April 27, 2009


Hurf-durf FDA commissioner.
posted by sien at 6:24 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Take control of your life and be aware of what you are putting into your body. How fucikng simple can that be?

I was going to snark, but others have done it already, so "meh".

> The interesting question is why those who do, do.

The roads to Hell are many, but it seems the actual (neural) pathways are few.
posted by Decimask at 6:35 PM on April 27, 2009


Just don't run out of fried chicken though.
posted by caddis at 6:37 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested in reading about any psychological studies on that topic, but anecdotally, it seems that it does: realizing that the guru is a fraud tends to greatly shake people's faith in a cult, for example.

That doesn't actually seem to be borne out by studies and observations.


1,960 mg of sodium in an appetizer? That makes my head hurt just to think about it.

There is a lot of "duh" in that article--I don't know if Kessler's argument is stupid or if the journalist misrepresented it. Yes, foods that combine fat and sugar and salt trigger cravings in many people. Water is also wet. I am pretty sure that the "horrifying expose" of restaurants selling food that purposefully triggers cravings has been done over and over since the 1930s (in books like 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs and American Chamber of Horrors back then, and in some best-seller every decade or so since).

It's not like Chili's puts opium in its crappy food.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:03 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The worst thing on the Chili's menu. Although, I think I read somewhere that it's no more. I haven't been to a Chili's in many, many years so I'm curious if this is true. When I worked there, the second worst thing on the menu was the fajitas followed by the chicken fingers.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:20 PM on April 27, 2009


There's a fried dumpling stand in SFO? Are they any good?
posted by stchang at 7:27 PM on April 27, 2009


Food too delicious? Buy my book!

Same shit, different day.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:01 PM on April 27, 2009


By which I mean to say

Please, Dr. Kessler make a difference at your day job rather than selling your research on the side to the same desperate fatties you're supposed to be protecting from capitalism's food consumption paradigm. They're not gonna make it out of the Barnes and Noble without a Crappacino.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:05 PM on April 27, 2009


A food journalist friend says Kessler's book is a sloppy, poorly-written disaster - he didn't interview or cite folks who have been testing his hypotheses for years, nor consult the many other experts who have been working on these topics.
posted by twsf at 8:10 PM on April 27, 2009


Oh, fuck me, he's not IN government anymore. Well, whatever on him anyway.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:17 PM on April 27, 2009


Sodium, for what it's worth, doesn't deserve to be ranked up there with fat and sugar. Even if it's bad--which, apparently, is up for debate--it's still not nearly as bad.
posted by nasreddin at 8:22 PM on April 27, 2009


Take control of your life and stop being such a judgmental adzehole. How fuciking simple can that be? Wait a minute, shouldnt that read how DIFFICULT can it be? I mean how dumb AM I? Argh, i did it again..
posted by jcworth at 8:51 PM on April 27, 2009


He seems like an interesting guy but do you really need to go into a dumpster to figure out that the secret of junk food is that it's full of fat, salt, and sugar?
posted by nanojath at 9:30 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested in reading about any psychological studies on that topic, but anecdotally, it seems that it does: realizing that the guru is a fraud tends to greatly shake people's faith in a cult, for example. Although where the line is between this, and "acquiring new information, that old information can be re-examined in the light of the new" is uncertain.
Well sure, but being in a cult is not at the same level as being conditioned by a very basic and primitive system in our body. It's not really about information per se, since you're not even necessarily aware that you're conditioned.
posted by !Jim at 9:35 PM on April 27, 2009


People like to mystify it with the dopamine/opioid thing as if to say "see, this activates the same system as heroin or cocaine, therefore, it's addictive."

I'm wondering whether all that work on anti-addiction vaccines is really all about turning off the responsiveness of the pleasure centre? It would be such an American thing to do, wouldn't it? To say,

'Because some people have an inability to moderate their desire for unearned pleasure -- that is, pleasure that is unrelated to pain, hard work or religious faith -- we're going to turn off the opioid receptor system in the whole population. It really won't make people less happy than they should be, it'll just stop them falling prey to the sinful behaviours of smoking, drinking, eating, fucking and getting high.'

Like the Final Solution in the War on Drugs.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:41 PM on April 27, 2009


Dude, this week I went to Der Winerschnitzel for the first time in over 15 years. I discovered...Chili Cheese Fries Burrito. Really. Chili cheese fries in a tortilla, all wrapped up so you can eat them in your car. For just a dollar. I have been back twice since then. In one week. Unbelievably tasty. I swear they put bacon in the chili.

Follow this link, and look under "Specialties".

Oh, and the Jalapeno poppers are surprisingly good, too.
posted by Xoebe at 11:43 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Food too delicious? Buy my book!

Same shit, different day. - Ambrosia Voyeur

True enough! But I am still interested enough to get it out of the library. It can't hurt -- well, it can't hurt as much of some of that Crack I will no longer buy at Trader Joe's. Trader Joe. Man. He's mastered some serious food science mumbo jumbo.
posted by nnk at 6:51 AM on April 28, 2009


How can people eat this crap. Awesome Blossom? Chili Cheese Fry Burrito? Seriously?

I'm all for the occasional burger and burrito but I grow more and more convinced that people who eat even semi-regularly at places like Applebees, Chili's, and these other other pushers of shit food could have never really eaten actual good food before in their lives. I look at that heaping pile of monstrous mutation of so-called food and it makes me simply want to puke. Disgusting.
posted by tkchrist at 2:50 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now I'm staaaaaaaaaaaarving. Food. Mouth. Now.
posted by madh at 5:00 PM on April 28, 2009


Chili cheese fries in a tortilla, all wrapped up so you can eat them in your car. For just a dollar. I have been back twice since then. In one week. Unbelievably tasty.

That sounds totaly disgusting.

I've got to try it.
posted by homunculus at 5:55 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eating fatty foods can help boost memory, a US study suggests.
posted by homunculus at 8:55 PM on April 28, 2009


Kessler was on Colbert last night.
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2009


I'm wondering whether all that work on anti-addiction vaccines is really all about turning off the responsiveness of the pleasure centre? It would be such an American thing to do, wouldn't it? To say,

'Because some people have an inability to moderate their desire for unearned pleasure -- that is, pleasure that is unrelated to pain, hard work or religious faith -- we're going to turn off the opioid receptor system in the whole population. It really won't make people less happy than they should be, it'll just stop them falling prey to the sinful behaviours of smoking, drinking, eating, fucking and getting high.'

Like the Final Solution in the War on Drugs.


I wouldn't put it past us Americans-- but in fact, the anti-addiction vaccines are very specific to drugs like nicotine or cocaine and they don't cross the blood brain barrier, so that's not what they are doing.

Closer to doing that are naloxone and naltrexone (which block opioids) and antipsychotics (which block dopamine). Neither drugs have caught on as addiction cures, though they have their uses in some people which means that there's more going on. One thing could be tolerance: if you get tolerant to opioid blockers, you're probably producing more opioids.

However, the Chinese *have* done the "final solution"-- they've both killed addicted people and more recently , short of that, destroyed the nucleus accumbens (AKA pleasure center) in their brains as an attempt at curing addiction. This, not surprisingly, was not only cruel, but not especially effective and obviously would have potentially dire side effects-- including death, as it is a lower brain region close to things like the stuff that controls breathing.

I urged some scientists to protect the fact that a Western journal had published the results of this clearly unethical human experimentation and the Chinese did apparently stop this line of research-- but whether it had to do with the scientists/ the alert to the journal, the bad publicity or bad results or something entirely different, I do not know.
posted by Maias at 7:26 PM on May 1, 2009


"protect" should have been "protest."
posted by Maias at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2009


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