Dr. David A. Kessler's "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite" should be required reading for anybody who's waged a battle with weight.
Here's the gist: It's not you. Salt, sugar and fat are highly addictive -- and the combination much more so. I can't cite the details off the top of my head, but the book is chock full of research citations and anecdotes from scientific studies. I tell friends they all add up to the same thing: A perfectly well fed mouse gets a taste of something salty or sweet, and runs through the electric fence until he's dead to get more.
I know this well. A day of good behavior on the Weight Watchers plan can go out the window after a couple of tortilla chips. Spurred on by that craving for more salt and fat, two chips becomes seven. And seven becomes a whole basket.
Kessler was appointed commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration by President George H.W. Bush and also served in that role under President Bill Clinton. He's a Harvard Med School grad.
Besides the scientific information, the book features comments from anonymous folks who work in product development for major restaurant chains. They strive to make foods super appealing by combining these addictive elements. It's why chicken fingers, coated in a salty batter and then deep fried, are doused in a honey chipolte sauce. The dish hits all three addictive compass points -- fat, salt, sugar.
I'm not pointing a finger at just the chains. Many restaurants go heavy on sugar, salt and fat because people like the taste. Bland food is unsold food; bland restaurants are empty restaurants. Other ingredients that impart flavor to a dish -- say fresh herbs or vegetables at the peak of season -- can be expensive and require more prep time in the kitchen, which also costs. So using fat, salt and sugar is economical.
When I'm vigilant, I turn the basket of chips away. Or don't take any at all. I know that if I slip, it's off to the races for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I can blunt the desire to keep eating by taking a banana, whose potassium counteracts the sodium.
All you can really do is be aware, and that's why you want to read Kessler's book. At least understand that it's not some character flaw on your part.
Thanks Dr. Kessler.
You can follow him @DavidAKesslerMD on Twitter.