“I’ve learned to recognize overeating in restaurants all over America. It’s not hard, because people who have been conditioned to overeat behave distinctively. They attack their food with a special kind of gusto. I’ve seen them lift their forks, readying their next bite before they’ve swallowed the previous one, and I’ve watched as they reach across the table to spear a companion’s french fries or the last morsel of someone else’s dessert. Certain foods seem to exert a magical pull on them, and they rarely leave any on their plates.”
As I read the introduction of David Kessler’s The end of Overeating, I can feel the guilt bubbling up my chest; the kind of guilt that comes hand in hand with the message that I am up for yet another major lifestyle change. Over the course of the past five years I’ve completely reinvented my eating habits: I became a vegetarian, gave up milk, coffee, alcohol, smoking and excessive sugar, all because I decided to listen to my body’s messages, asking for more health, energy and vitality.
Just when I thought I had dealt with all my food addictions and reached my ideal health standard, I realized that I had been unconsciously struggling with a surprisingly common addiction: Conditioned Hypereating. I first learnt about Kessler’s term in a Geographies of Food lecture at university last year. Reading more about it, I was awakened to the meticulous detail and research that goes behind the production of food, all for the purpose of indoctrinating us with needs and beliefs that drive our appetite.
Life on the fast food lane
In a society where “time is money,” food is no longer the leisurely activity it used to be. Our ridiculously sped-up lives call for fast foods, ready-meals and to-go lunches, and the food industry has gone to great extents to assure the needs of our manic lifestyles. Consequently, time thinking and planning about the food we eat takes up a miniscule fragment of our busy timetables. As a result, we become victims of marketing, advertising and packaging, and we eat go through life, subconsciously picking up and responding to well-thought sensory signals, that literally propel our eating practices.
I most palpably realized I was a victim of conditioned hypereating when I found myself at a Mexican all-you-can-eat buffet last Thursday. I am the kind of person who prefers ending the day with a light dinner. Yet, all of a sudden, I was confronted with table after table of delectable Mexican dishes, all made up in an impeccably addictive way that smothered all sense of abstemiousness. I was caught up in what is referred to the book as, “a carnival of delicious, fatty, salty, sugary, and, more to the point, accessible and cheap delights. How could you expect to go to the carnival and not want to go on the rides?”
Ignoring all sense of logic and wisdom, I gave in to the pleasures of the carnival and went on every single ride three times. For the fourty minutes that it all lasted, I let all my healthy boundaries and inhibitions fade in the background, and I gave myself permission to devour. I was high on flavours and enraptured with the potential for deliciousness. Unavoidably, as quickly as it all begun it was over, and I had to deal with the aftermath – fatigue, heaviness and sleepiness, glazed with a plentiful amount of guilt, resentment and mild depression. It took me fourty minutes to turn what could have been a magical night of Latin music and playful socializing into a total mind-body-spirit annihilation.
Thinking back on my behaviour the following day, I concluded that, had I consciously thought about my actions instead of blindly following my impulses, I could have still enjoyed the plethora of Mexican delights to their fullest, and not suffer the consequences of conditioned hypereating.
Kessler argues that it’s the “stimulation, or the anticipation of that stimulation, rather than genuine hunger, that makes us put food into our mouths.” This quote unfurls that the aim of the food industry is not to alleviate hunger, but to find ways of increasing the demand for food when the population is already fed. This is subsequently achieved through marketing and the manipulation of foods to contain highly addictive substances and ingredients. In the case of my Mexican disaster, I didn’t really need to refill my plate three times to satisfy my hunger, but I did anyway because the foods and desserts were carefully designed to exhilarate the senses and create conditioned hypereating, camouflaged under the title of hunger.
Vowing to deprogram myself from the subversive traits of conditioned hypereating, I came up with three concepts to help me stay on track and inspire mindful eating:
- Knowledge is power. I’ve found that, acquainting myself with the workings of the food industry, and learning about the qualities of fat, sugar, salt and other addictive ingredients, was the easiest way to recognize conditioned hypereating in my eating practices. A handful of Google searches was all that it took to empower myself, and take conscious control over the food I eat.
- Self-Respect. This involves making the conscious decision to love and care for your body. I made a vow a long time ago to honour my physical body for being my spirit’s vehicle in this lifetime. As a result, I ensure to give it plenty of love and nurturing, listen to its messages and take the necessary action to restore its balance when I stray from my purpose.
- Mindfulness. It’s really easy to make positive life changes when we simply pause and think before we do something. From now on, I don’t just respond to my body’s impulses in an unconscious way. I take the time to think about the food I eat, and ensure that I provide my body with organic, healthy and nutritious food that will assure my health and vitality.