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There's little hype in hypereating

Published February 12. 2011 09:00AM

If you'd add up the time needed to produce a Fitness Master article, you'd realize I'd fare better financially busing tables at any eatery in the area. So why do I feel so fortunate to be the one writing this column?

Because real living is far more than accruing cash. Sometimes it's a nurturing of knowledge that expands awareness and creates a wild time in the amusement park of your mind.

Writing this column grants me that admission.

Contemplating Kessler's theory of conditioned hypereating, for instance, has been like walking seemingly solid ideas through an old-time fun house full of mirrors, stretching and twisting what I had taken to be true. To explain how, here's a bit about David A. Kessler and his theory.

According to a McClatchy-Tribune article, Kessler is "an admitted overeater" who "owns a suit in every size." He also is a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration whose combined experiences with both gaining unwanted weight and heading the FDA have led to "The End of Overeating," a book that explains how people get conditioned to overeat, which he calls conditioned hypereating.

Remember how Pavlov regularly rang a bell as he fed dogs, and then rang the bell without a feeding and watched them foam at the mouth? Kessler feels something similar to that happens to you through advertising but you don't need a master to get fed.

You simply open a kitchen cabinet and grab a bag, take something frozen and nuke it in the microwave, or drive just a few minutes to either a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant.

In any of these instances, you consume what Kessler calls "hyperpalatable" foods, easy-to-chew treats with great "mouthfeel" and a significant amount of sugar, fat, and salt.

Yet Kessler doesn't criticize the use of these three ingredients for what they do to your waistline. Rather, he explains how food producers skillfully use these like drugs to attack the circuitry in your brain.

A combination of all three triggers the release of dopamine and endorphins. Dopamine excites your nervous system in a manner somewhat akin to coffee. Endorphins primarily improve your mood and reduce the perception of pain.

The release of endorphins is chemically similar to the use of opium-derived narcotics codeine, morphine, and heroine and why experts believe something as painful-looking as acupuncture actually feels good.

Eat foods that release your internal equivalent to coffee, mood elevators, and painkillers, and is it any wonder why you want to eat again? And since sugar and fat are nutritionally void and calorie dense, eating repeatedly to feel good has to lead to unwanted weight.

At first, I thought Kessler's theory of conditioned hypereating was just another fat guy's excuse to keep his girth yet shed his guilt, but after that wild ride in my mind that researching this column often provides I no longer believe that.

In part that's because of my mental and physical state before and during the early parts of many bicycle rides.

Even though I'm about to turn 50, there are objective indicators to suggest I'm riding better these last few years (minus the 18 months it took to rehab a J-fracture of my right femur) than ever before.

But I won't lie to you. On many of the days that I'm scheduled to ride hard after a school day, I leave school believing that there's no way that I'll be able to ride hard.

But I talk myself into trying one hard effort at the end of my warm-up and guess what? I almost immediately feel better.

It really should be no wonder. What's happening is what years ago was called the Runner's High, the body's release of endorphins in response to exercise.

Suddenly, doing a series of six hard efforts up a half-mile hill that tops out at 20 percent is not only doable, but also something my body craves.

If endorphins can exert that sort of influence on a nearly 50-year old body, I'm willing to believe it can make a chubby child eat a second and maybe even a third piece of cake as his after-school snack.

Another benefit of this amusement park trip through my mind is remembering being a chubby child myself and that insane desire I felt for mom's yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting.

I couldn't eat just one slice. It just wasn't possible.

So how did I suddenly become svelte by the time I reached junior high?

I dramatically increased the amount of time that I exercised. To use the terminology of the day, I became a gym rat, a hoops junkie.

Interestingly enough, Kessler does suggest exercise as a "substitute reward," a way to help break the pattern of conditioned overeating that society seems so intent to impose upon you.

But I believe that something else helps me just as much as exercise: awareness.

It may sound ridiculously simple, but when I eat, I'm aware I'm eating. I take my time, concentrate on the texture of the food, and how continuous chewing affects the texture and taste.

Keeping a calorie count in a food journal aids my awareness, allowing me to recognize that while both 1000 grams of spaghetti squash or sweet potatoes fills me up, the spaghetti squash does so in far fewer calories.

In short, the way society is presently structured makes it really easy to overeat. If you don't want to fall prey to that, you need to create your own structure through a combination of exercise and awareness.

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