Baker aspires...

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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby Baker » 20 Jun 2013, 08:15

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler

4stars

This might seem like an odd book for me to read, and it's one I learned about in the comments section of a blog. However, obesity, and the way Western society regards it, is another of those issues that plenty of people want to treat as a morality play. The parallels with austerity are striking: those least affected by it have the most to say, and they largely regard those on the receiving end as morally deficient or deserving of whatever society dumps on them because they are weak or their condition (which is bad!) is totally their own fault. Considering how prevalent obesity is becoming, it strikes me as rather sanctimonious and simplistic to blame individuals for what is clearly a societal trend--though no doubt some people get a self-righteous thrill about blaming other people and feeling smug about themselves because they are not affected. Again, the parallel with economics is strongly visible to me.

If I measure a non-fiction book on how much I learn, this book must rate highly. Kessler is an MD and former commissioner of the USA's FDA. He is also, as he admits in the afterword, a person who has struggled with weight issues. He says he has suits in every size, because he loses weight then gains it all back again. So, this is not another dieting book and it's written by someone for whom this is not a piece of mental masturbation. He also cites an impressive array of experts and researchers; many of whom he has personally interviewed. Kessler is not a gifted writer, but the material he lays out is thoroughly absorbing. When Kessler explains the science behind our responses to stimuli and cues, including the nifty stuff about dopamine etc, I learned a lot. When he described how some people are fixated on food, that entered eye-opener territory. It's not just physiology and biology, though, he also includes plenty of material on psychology, too.

Much of the book seems specific to the USA, but with the USA exporting its food culture around the globe, none of us are immune. I found myself remembering food in the USA, then comparing that to NZ food. If you eat at a USA chain, like McDonald's or KFC, then that is a trivial exercise since it's all the same. As for other eateries, I vividly remember how enormous the portion sizes are in the USA (not an accident, according to Kessler), and also how incredibly sweet desserts were. Lots and lots of salt, fat, and sugar.

Unlike the recent fiction books I read, this book engaged me and had me actively participating with the material and ideas it presents. Trust me, that makes for a much better reading experience (hint, hint fiction writers). For example, when he was describing how eating can be pleasurable and trigger dopamine and stuff, I found myself pausing my reading to remember how I feel when I eat. In fact, I even ate a sweet so that I could concentate on what sensations my body experienced. This brings me to the profound but utterly banal point that, because our experience of eating is wholly internal, unless we actively seek out information on other people's experiences, we have only ourselves to go on. I am totally guilty of using myself as the base normal and thinking everyone is the same. They are not. Like so many human characteristics, eating and our individual relationship with food is both complex and varied. One of the most arresting points for me was in a footnote (I do love ebook footnotes that are hyperlinks!) which contained extracts from a book in which a woman describes her obsession with food. It was one hell of a revelation to me. What she describes is something I haven't experienced, so I had no idea there were so many people out there for whom this is a constant part of their lives. Now, combine that with how (many) human beings (in Western countries) now have abundant food, and our social mores have changed to make eating at any time and in a massive array of locations perfectly acceptable, and I have a much better idea why obesity is becoming an increasing problem.

The bit that disgusted me was when he was covering how food providers create their products. It's more engineering than cooking. Their aim is to make people eat more. They make money if people are buying their product. How best to encourage people to eat more? Well, for starters you can side-step satiety. If people are eating but don't feel full, they keep eating. Also, if you get people to eat quickly, they are more likely to eat more. This includes making food that doesn't need to be chewed. One industry insider he talked to used the phrase "adult baby food" to describe the ideal texture, which I found particularly graphic. One of the case studies he covers is Cinnabon, wherein he traces the development of the product through the knowing use of sugar, salt, and fat and layering of flavours. When I say knowing, I mean that while many of the food creators don't know the science behind how some of those ingredients get processed in the body, or the behavioural science at play, but they sure as heck know how to engage our evolved sensitivities to sugar, salt, and fat.

Carbohydrates are addictive.

I reccommend this to anyone. Now, to those who have never struggled with weight issues and who like to feel superior by muttering about will-power and moral deficiences, you might like the bear in mind that there is no virtue in resisting a temptation you do not feel.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby Nurse Jo » 20 Jun 2013, 09:42

Baker wrote:Carbohydrates are addictive.

I reccommend this to anyone. Now, to those who have never struggled with weight issues and who like to feel superior by muttering about will-power and moral deficiences, you might like the bear in mind that there is no virtue in resisting a temptation you do not feel.


That is so true. I was one of those who had never struggled, until about 5 years ago. I thought I just had will power, but actually the last clause in the last sentence was true of me then. Now, I understand a little bit more, and feel very humble.
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby Baker » 30 Jun 2013, 09:31

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

4stars


Wild reccommended this book a year or so ago. I enjoyed it enormously. Easy to read, highly engaging, and informative. Not just for scientists. Tells a very human story of many people connected with Henrietta Lacks' cancerous cervical cells, including her family and people who have used the cells. :-) Some of the stuff those scientists in the 60s and 70s did... :uh:
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby wildlx » 01 Jul 2013, 01:35

:) Glad you liked it! It is very true that it is not just for people with a science background. I've given the book as a gift to several people with a science background and they all loved it!
And, yes, the lack of ethics at that time was staggering!
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby ElaineB » 03 Jul 2013, 04:15

I loved it too! :me:
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby Baker » 03 Jul 2013, 07:50

Good stuff, E! :-)
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby Baker » 07 Nov 2013, 05:24

Lucrezia Borgia by Sara Bradford
2+stars


Yeah, I'm a sucker for biographies. This was okay. Solid stuff, but rather pedestrian in reconstructing events of her life. Sometimes this left me perplexed: for example, I never really got a handle on Lucrezia's affair with her brother-in-law Francisco Gonzaga. The author kept referring to it whenever she excerpted letters between the pair--usually of an official nature--but I didn't have much idea when and what other interactions beside letter writing were involved. I can't remember at any point reading when the author thought they initiated their affair: in fact, I am left in considerable doubt as to there having been any physical component at all. I'm not sure if this is the author studiously avoiding any and all mention of sex--perhaps in an effort to nullify the general lurid associations with her subject--or whether the author simply does not know but isn't admitting it. No poisonings. No orgies mentioned, except in connection with Cesare. In fact, this book follows the scope of what I was hoping for: the life of an important Renaissance woman who was at Ground Zero for a lot of the turmoil in Europe at the time. Execution from the author was a tad lacking, though.

Confession: I bought this book because it's a dead tree edition and I was staying for a few nights in a motel with a spa bath, and I didn't want to risk reading from my tablet whilst soaking. lol


Now I'm going to start The Luminaries.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby wildlx » 07 Nov 2013, 07:28

I still haven't started The Luminaries ... Maybe tomorrow.
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby FranW » 07 Nov 2013, 11:25

I got a hundred or maybe two hundred pages in, and told Bakey I'm SOOOO glad she doesn't write Man Booker Prize Winning Literary Fiction.
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Re: Baker aspires...

Postby wildlx » 07 Nov 2013, 22:41

That is not very encouraging!
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