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Compulsive Overeating and How to Stop It

A former FDA commissioner explains why people overeat -- and how to end poor eating habits.

Taking Control of Your Eating Habits continued...

The last time Kessler took on an industry, as FDA commissioner, he fought unsuccessfully to give the agency the power to regulate tobacco and was involved in efforts to secure a hefty settlement from tobacco companies to recover public health costs. With food, he wants to raise awareness of the cues that set many people into a hard-to-break cycle of overeating.

Instead of simply going on a diet, conditioned hypereaters need to change the way they approach food, he says.

Here are some of his tips:

  • Structure your eating -- knowing when and how you're going to eat. That plan helps you avoid the situations or foods that trigger overeating and establishes new eating patterns to replace destructive ones.
  • Set rules, such as not eating between meals. If you know you're not going to eat something, he says, your brain won't be as stimulated to steer you to that food.
  • Change the way you think about food. Instead of looking at a huge plate of french fries and thinking about how good it will make you feel, he advises saying that it's twice as much food as you need, and will make you feel bad. "Once you know you're being stimulated and bombarded," Kessler says, "you can take steps to protect yourself."
  • Learn to enjoy the foods you can control.
  • Rehearse how you'll respond to cues that set you up to overeat.
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Reviewed on May 06, 2009

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