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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Junk food industry capitalizes on 'hyper-eating'

Advertiser Staff

Q. What is conditioned hyper-eating?

A. The book "The End of Overeating," by former Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. David Kessler, describes "conditioned hyper-eating" as a drive to eat high-fat, high sugar foods, even when you aren't hungry. Some people find that once they start eating foods such as bread, cookies, candy bars or chips, they lose all sense of fullness and find it difficult to stop.

Foods with high amounts of sugar, fat and salt alter the brain's chemistry in ways that compel many people to overeat. Neuroscientists report that fat and sugar combinations stimulate the part of the brain that senses pleasure, releasing dopamine, a "feel good" brain chemical. The more you eat these foods, the more you crave them. Some similarities exist between this process and what occurs in the brains of people experiencing tobacco, drug or alcohol addiction.

These types of foods also can interfere with the hormonal messages the body usually sends to the brain to signal it is time to stop eating. Foods such as chips, fries, cookies and pastries are often so processed that you don't have to chew much. Chewing gives the body time to sense when it is full.

The food industry capitalizes on this connection by creating foods with excess salt, sugar and fat to stimulate the brain to crave more. These foods tend to be cheap and continually advertised. Portions sold have also gotten larger, inducing us to eat more. Snacking any place, anytime has become socially acceptable, which only adds to the problem.

The way to control conditioned hyper-eating is to retrain your brain. Start by eating foods that take time to chew, so your brain gets the signal you've had enough. This means foods that are high in protein, fiber and water, such as lean meats, beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Don't skip meals. Going more than four hours without food causes hunger hormones to rise, intensifying the urge for sweet and salty snacks. Skipping breakfast or lunch often leads to overeating at dinner and late night snacking, turning more of your calories into fat.

Avoid cues for unhealthy eating behaviors by changing the channel when fast food or snack commercials come on. Bypass the chips and cookies aisle in the grocery store. Lastly, use physical activity to increase dopamine and decrease your appetite.