After seeing this picture the other day, I began to think about how deceptive food advertising really is. As you can see, the actual product you receive is by no means the picture perfect image that led you to the fast food joint in the first place. So if it isn’t the pretty food that keeps us coming back for more, then what is it?
Author, David A. Kessler, the Harvard-trained doctor, lawyer, medical school dean and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, took to the dumpster to find out the answer in which he shares with us in his book, “The End of Overeating” (click for a Washington Post article about the findings). His mission was to figure out why we cannot resist certain foods. His findings: “Foods high in fat, salt and sugar alter the brain’s chemistry in ways that compel people to overeat.” And Kessler found that the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want.
This conditioned hyper-eating is triggered by the dopamine surge we receive after eating these “pleasurable” foods. Over time, we end up like Pavlov’s dog and salivate at just the sight of these foods even when we are not hungry. This is precisely what advertisers are trying to achieve.
How do we stop this vicious cycle? We must “re-wire” the brain’s response to this type of food without depriving ourselves. Which is very difficult in our culture’s toxic food environment. Kessler’s answer is to change the way we think of these foods. He uses the example, Instead of viewing a huge plate of nachos and fries as a guilty pleasure, we have to . . . look at it and say, ‘That’s not going to make me feel good. In fact, that’s disgusting.’ ” Another option is to avoid exposure to the temptation. If you pass the vending machine each day, go another route to avoid it or if you are driving to work and pass a specific fast food restaurant that is a weakness, maybe find an alternate path to travel. Out of sight, out of mind!
On a similar note, you may have heard about the push in San Francisco to remove toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals that don’t meet specific nutritional criteria. The thinking behind this is, if we don’t lure our kid’s in with toys, then they will not choose those foods. But, what about the brain chemicals at work in their little heads? This leads to an even larger debate. Whose responsibility is it to make sure our kid’s eat healthy? Is it the restaurants or the parents?
What are your thoughts about food advertising and/or their use of fat, salt, and sugar to power cravings and make us come back for more?
Krista Haynes, R.D.