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explaining binging

Humans are creatures of habit, and once automated behaviour is programmed into our subconsciousness, we stick with it regardless of its ill effects on us. David A. Kessler in The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite argues that overeating has its roots in the practices of the food industry and natural consequences of modernisation.

People overeat because we are primed by our surrounding environment to do so. Kessler suggests that it is more nurture than nature that percipitates binge eating. Food today is readily available, and served in large portions that encourage overeating. Food comes in all sorts of fancy packing and “new” flavours that encourage people to buy and sample them. Kessler vividly uses the metaphor of the “purple cow”: a person will not bat an eyelid at an ordinary cow, but the sight of a purple cow excites and intrigues.

More damningly, Kessler opined that the food industry has been consciously producing food products that encourages overeating and make consumers want to have more and more, in a bid to earn profits. According to Kessler’s research, the tools are sugar, fat and salt – that is in essence the three elements that trigger off an orgy of overeating. Add more sugar, more salt and more fat, in the right “magic” proportions, and you instantly get a product that the masses go crazy for.

I can see how this is practised in my immediate life. Potato chips come in all sorts of flavours, and they are amazingly salty and not to mention, fried in oil. Fast food are largely all fried and laden with salt – from french fries to old Chang Kee curry puffs. And fast food chains “innovate” by periodically offering new selections made using the same methods.

Reversing a culture of overeating is not easy. The method of adding more salt, sugar and fat takes advantage of deeply-ingrained primal instincts in humans. Our ancestors are programmed to be deeply attracted to high carbo, high salt and high fat foods because of their harsh environment where rich sources of fat and energy are scarce and survival necessitates that a person should gorge whenever he finds food. Obviously the modern human does not require this primeval instinct anymore, but the problem is that we still have this inbuilt mechanism deep within our brains.

The essence of what Kessler propose we do to combat the evil of overeating is consciousness of instinct and active denial of the influence of instinct. We have to know that our brains are telling us to eat and actively decide not to take up what our instincts tell us to do. Easier said than done, that is for sure.

Yet what sets us apart from mere animals is our capacity to deal with our baser instincts to promote the greater good or achieve a more important personal goal. The dominance of will over instinct can and should be the status quo.