Nightline: 'Your Brain is Hijacked by Food'

Host Martin Bashir raised the question, “And with 1 in 3 adults now clinically obese, it seems the message of eating less and exercising more is still struggling to get through. But is there something in the food we eat that may be adding to the problem?” 

Correspondent Juju Chang thought so. “Greg Wells is a recovering addict. But his vice wasn’t heroin or meth. It was something available over the counter,” she said. “… the grocery store counter.” 

Wells was not alone. Former FDA head David Kessler explained that “he too was a conditioned hypereater.” Chang stated that according to Kessler, “for roughly 70 million people, their brains are wired in such a way that they are literally hooked on food.” 

Kessler later compared food with other addictions and stated, “For some of us, it could be alcohol, it could be tobacco, it could be illegal drugs, it could be gambling, it could be sex. We’re wired to focus on the most salient stimuli in our environment.” 

Kessler tried to describe how condition over hypereater worked, “It’s not because you’re lazy or you’re not self-disciplined. Your brain is being activated.” Chang interrupted to explain, “Your brain is hijacked by fat, sugar, and salt on some level.” Kessler assured Chang that she, “was exactly right.” So if you’re fat, it’s not your fault?    

That’s right, according to Neuroscientist Dana Small. “Brain scans showed scientifically what people know intuitively when they say, ‘I’m a chocholic or I’m addicted to French fries.’” She explained how, “The smell of a chocolate milkshake arouses the brain. For most slender people, once they’re given a taste of the milkshake, the Amygdala turns off. But for conditioned hypereaters, it remains on, which explains why they feel as though they can’t stop.” 

Well, if it’s not our fault we’re fat, whose is it? 

Surprise! “It’s no coincidence that food manufactures have engineered salty, sugary, fatty foods that help trigger exactly what we crave,” Chang said. Right, it’s the food industry’s fault. Chang never considered whether the food companies are making these salty, sugary, fatty products because that’s what consumers want. 

And of course, the only answer is to abridge freedom of choice and free enterprise. Chang mused, “What would compel them to reduce their profits and say, ‘let’s sell less?’” Kessler replied, “You know, we’ve been here before. What did we have to change with tobacco?” Chang, of course, knew the answer. “We change the perception of the product.” 

Unfortunately for the prohibitionists, it’s a bit more complicated with food. Tobacco “was easy because you can live without tobacco,” Kessler said. “Food is harder. But we need to be able to change certainly the way we perceive big food, these huge portions.” 

And as for Wells, he has seemed to come a long way. Kessler reported that, “In the past he would look at that same food and says, ‘I want that. That’s my friend. That’s going to make me feel better.’ He now looks at that food, not as his friend, not as something that’s going to make him feel better. He doesn’t want that. He wants something more.” Actually, food does make you feel better by providing necessary nutrients and allowing you to live.